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Agave sisalana - Perrine

Common Name Sisal
Family Asparagaceae
USDA hardiness 9-11
Known Hazards Sisal plants, Agave sisalana, consist of a rosette of sword-shaped leaves about 1.5-2 metres (4.9-6.6 ft) tall. Young leaves may have a few minute teeth along their margins, but lose them as they mature.[4] The sisal plant has a 7-10 year life-span and typically produces 200-250 commercially usable leaves. Each leaf contains an average of around 1000 fibres. The fibres account for only about 4% of the plant by weight. Sisal is considered a plant of the tropics and subtropics, since production benefits from temperatures above 25 degrees Celsius and sunshine.
Habitats Planted abundantly in some regions, and, often escaping, seen in many localities in hedges or fence-rows[ 331 ].
Range C. America - southern Mexico.
Edibility Rating    (2 of 5)
Other Uses    (4 of 5)
Weed Potential Yes
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Care (info)
Tender Well drained soil Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Agave sisalana Sisal

Agave sisalana Sisal


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Sisal or Agave sisalana belongs in the Asparagaceae family and is native to southern Mexico but largely cultivated in many other countries of the tropics, subtropics, and warm temperate areas for its high quality fibre. The sisal fibre is used for rope, twine, paper, cloth, bags, dartboards, footwear, and carpets. It is an evergreen, succulent plant with a large rosette of leaves 60 ? 160 cm long that eventually forms to a flowering stem of up to 6 m in height. Few minute teeth are visible along the margins of young leaves but vanish as leaves mature. The plant typically produces about 250 commercially usable leaves throughout its 7-10 years life-span, with each leaf containing an average of around 1000 fibres. The sharp leaf spines are used traditionally in Central America as needles. The heart of new shoots are cooked and eaten as vegetables. The sweet sap is fermented to make beer and the roots, as well, are used in the production of alcoholic beverage. Further, sisal plant is a folk remedy for dysentery, leprosy sores, and syphilis. Other Names: Mkonge, Shikwenga, Te robu, Umugweegwe, Yaxci.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of flower
Agave sisalana is an evergreen Perennial growing to 2 m (6ft) by 2 m (6ft) at a fast rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 10 and is frost tender.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils, prefers well-drained soil and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers dry or moist soil and can tolerate drought.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Agave amaniensis Trel. & Nowell Agave rigida sisalana (Perrine) Engelm. Agave segurae D.Guillot & P.

Plant Habitats

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Leaves  Root  Sap  Shoots
Edible Uses:

Edible portion: Leaves, Sap, Plant heart, Vegetable. Root. The heart of new shoots - cooked[ 301 ]. The sap from the flower stalk is fermented to make an alcoholic drink[ 301 ]. The roots are used in the production of an alcoholic beverage[ 301 ].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Dysentery  Leprosy

Sisal is a folk remedy for dysentery, leprosy sores, and syphilis. It is a source of hecogenin[ 317 ]. The leaves contain hecogenin used in the partial synthesis of the drug cortisone[ 418 ].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Compost  Fibre  Hedge  Mulch  Needles  Paper  Soil stabilization

Other uses rating: High (4/5). Agroforestry Uses: The plant is cultivated for fences as well as for protection against soil erosion[ 317 ]. Short fibres from the leaves, obtained as by-products, are used for production of compost[ 317 ]. Other Uses A high quality fibre is obtained from the leaves[ 317 ].The leaves provide one of the most important hard fibres, it is used for making ropes and all kinds of strings, fishing-nets, hammocks, door-curtains, floor-covers, bags etc[ 317 ]. The fibre cannot be spun as finely as jute and ropes tend to break suddenly[ 418 ]. Short fibres, obtained as by-products, are used for production of cellulose, paper as well as for upholstery material[ 317 ]. Fibres are also used to reinforce plaster boards and paper[ 418 ]. The waste material, after extraction of the fibre, is reported to be molluscicidal and fungistatic and can be used as mulch for plants[ 317 ]. The sharp leaf spines are traditionally used as needles[ 317 ].

Special Uses

Carbon Farming  Food Forest  Hedge

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Agroforestry Services: Living fence  Industrial Crop: Fiber  Management: Standard  Minor Global Crop

A plant of the drier tropics and subtropics, where it is found at elevations up to 2,000 metres. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are within the range 15 - 27c, but can tolerate 10 - 45c[ 418 ]. It can be killed by temperatures of -5c or lower[ 418 ]. It prefers a mean annual rainfall in the range 900 - 1,250mm, but tolerates 500 - 1,800mm[ 418 ]. Requires a sunny position in a well-drained soil. Prefers a pH in the range 6 - 7.5, tolerating 5.5 - 8[ 418 ]. The plant has escaped from cultivation in many of the areas in which it is cultivated and has become invasive in some areas including several of the Pacific Islands and Australia[ 305 ]. Harvesting the leaves for fibre can begin 2 - 4 years after planting, depending on temperature, and usually continues for about 10, occasionally up to 20, years before the plant flowers and dies[ 418 ]. The average yield is about 0.9 tonnes/ha of dried fibres[ 418 ]. On the best plantations in East Africa, yearly yields of 2.0 - 2.5 tonnes/ha of dried fibres are obtained[ 418 ]. A monocarpic species - the plant lives for a number of years without flowering but dies once it does flower. However, it normally produces plenty of suckers during its life and these continue growing, taking about 10 - 15 years in a warm climate, considerably longer in colder ones, before flowering[ 11 ]. The roots rarely go deeper than about 35cm[ 418 ]. One ton of fibre removes about 30 kg N, 5 kg P, 80 kg K, 65 kg Ca and 40 kg Mg from the field. Because the fibres themselves contain few minerals, the majority of the nutrients can be returned to the land with the pulp[ 418 ].

Carbon Farming

  • Agroforestry Services: Living fence  Simply managed rows of shrubs and trees.
  • Industrial Crop: Fiber  Clothing, rugs, sheets, blankets etc. Currently, almost none of our fiber are produced from perennial crops but could be!
  • Management: Standard  Plants grow to their standard height. Harvest fruit, seeds, or other products. Non-Destructive management systems.
  • Minor Global Crop  These crops are already grown or traded around the world, but on a smaller scale than the global perennial staple and industrial crops, The annual value of a minor global crop is under $1 billion US. Examples include shea, carob, Brazil nuts and fibers such as ramie and sisal.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

Type a value in the Celsius field to convert the value to Fahrenheit:



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Plant Propagation

Propagation method by dividing rhizomes, tubers, corms or bulbs (including offsets) From bulbils. Seed Collecting: Allow pods to dry on plant; break open to collect seeds. Plants are normally grown from suckers or from the bulbils on the flower stalk. Mostly very few of the seeds will grow. After flowering the whole plant dies. Flowering normally occurs after 7 years.

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Mkonge, Shikwenga, Te robu, Umugweegwe, Yaxci.

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Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Found In:Africa, Angola, Asia, Australia, Belize, Botswana, Burma, Central Africa, China, East Africa, East Timor, El Salvador, Fiji, Guatemala, Haiti, Hawaii, Honduras, India, Indochina, Indonesia, Kenya, Kiribati, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Mediterranean, Mexico, Mozambique, Myanmar, North America, Pacific, Pan tropical, Papua New Guinea, PNG, Rwanda, SE Asia, South Africa, Southern Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Timor-Leste, Uganda, USA, Venezuela, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

This plant can be weedy or invasive in Florida. [1c] Invasive in Cuba, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Pacific Islands, and Spain. Weedy in Queensland's east coast. [1d]

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : This taxon has not yet been assessed.

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Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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