Fiber from sisal and henequen

(Agave sisalana / Agave fourcroydes)


English common nouns. Sisal, henequen. The name sisal comes from Sisal port in the Yucatan. This port was very famous in the nineteenth century because, from here this product was exported.

dibujo 1Photo of sisal (Agave sisalana)

– Spanish / Castellano: Sisal, Pita, Ki, Henequén

– French / Français: Agave Sisal, sisal

– Catalan / Català: Sisal

– Basque / Euskara: Sisala

– Portuguese / Português: Sisal

– Italian / Italian: Agave Sisal

– Romanian / Română: Sisal

– Turkish / Türkçe: Sisal

– Dutch / Nederlands: Sisal

– German / Deutsch: Sisal-Agave

– Polish / Polski: Agawa sizalowa

– Danish / Dansk: Sisal

– Norwegian / Norsk bokmål: Sisal

– Finnish / Suomi: Sisalagaave

– Swedish / Svenska: Sisal, sisalagave, sisalhampa

Scientific names: Agave sisalana and Agave fourcroydes

Family: Asparagaceae, before included in Agavaceae (and these, in turn, in the lily family (Liliaceae).

Habitat: Plants from Yucatan, Mexico. Today there are only cultivated forms and no wild plants of these species are known.

Description of sisal

Sisal is the plant from which the most leave fiber is produced. Of all the plant fibers, sisal is the second fiber extracted after cotton fiber.

Lance-shaped leaves, 60 cm to 1.8 m in length and about 5 cm wide; young ones are grayish green. Leaves with small lateral thorns but spineless and bright green as the plant ages.

It form rosettes on a distinct stem that can reach one meter high and 20 cm in diameter. The fibrous roots are long, reaching 3 meters deep.

The yellow flowers grow on the branches of a central flower stem, offering a rather unpleasant odor.

Fruits in capsule within which lie the seeds.

Sisal components

Carbohydrates (plant): Fiber,

Steroidal sapogenins: Chlorogenin, hainangenin, tigogenin (leaves), neotigogenin, sisalagenin, gentrogenin (plant)

Hecogenin (plant): Material used in the synthesis of cortisone

Pectin (Plant)

Medicinal properties of sisal: remedies with sisal

In addition to producing fiber, the species Agave Sisalana has been used in the Caribbean region as a medicinal plant for wounds, including those of leprosy, for the treatment of syphilis and as purifying plant.

Sisal, a plant for fiber production

The cultivation of this plant for the production of fibers dates from the time of the Maya and Aztecs and became a popular culture in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century.

At this time, sisal farming was devoted to the production of ropes and cords. Since there were no synthetic fibers, sisal ropes and cords were used for virtually everything.

Today it is cultivated in many countries around the world, being the top 10 producers, in order of importance: Brazil, Mexico, Kenya, Tanzania, Colombia, Madagascar, China, Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua.

How henequen or sisal fiber is made?

The fiber is obtained from the leaves. The leaves are defibrated and scraped bark is removed. The pulping is typically performed in a mechanical way, although in some places it is still done manually.

Subsequently, washing and drying the fiber is performed. Once it has dried, it undergoes a brushing process to separate the fiber and clean all the impurities.

Once cleaned and separated, it begins to develop sisal thread that is still quite thick. Depending on what you intend to do with this thread, a final spinning process is carried out in which different thicknesses are produced.

Sisal fiber is a creamy white fiber, each fiber typically measures about one meter in length. It is a rough and strong fiber, not very suitable for making fabrics but very strong, making it effective as a fiber to make ropes or lint that have to be subjected to a great force. Given that it resists humidity, it is not surprising that it has been developing the ropes and other work tools for vessels.

Why is sisal fiber used for

With the fiber extracted from these plants ropes, sacks, hammocks, cords, carpets, scratching posts for cats, and all kinds of fabrics are produced.

The sisal industry was very important during the nineteenth century because the rope and work tools of ships were dependent on this type of fiber. Similarly, until the synthetic fibers were discovered, hay or straw was baled with sisal. Coffee, corn, cocoa were transported in sacks made of sisal.

Of the two varieties mentioned, Agave fourcroydes was that being used originally in Mexico and the one which is known as henequen, while Agave sisalana is the species used when the industry was established in other countries like Brazil. Agave sisalana provides more resistant fibers than Agave fourcroydes.

The use of sisal nowadays

Both varieties, in addition to fiber, are also currently used to produce different industrial products:

– Pulp, to make paper

– Component in fiberglass, which improves: vehicle bodies, pipes, etc.

– Manufacture of furniture

– Substitute of abestos in brake pads

– Component of cement, providing more resistance and ecology.

– Insulation of walls: It has little capacity to absorb moisture

– Guiding the plants vertically, as hops, tomatoes, beans, etc.

– Composition of plastic to reinforce it

– Biomass for gas production

– Biomass to produce thermal energy

– Biomass as fertilizer

– Biomass for production of feed.

Sisal is a sustainable plant

Sisal is a suitable plant for the environment. The products manufactured with its fibers are completely biodegradable.

Hot, dry lands can be occupied with this plants that is adapted to withstand prolonged droughts in places where other plants would be very difficult to live.

They are plants that require fewer resources in terms of water and nutrients. Moreover, its total green surface is capable of doing the photosynthesis, providing oxygen to the atmosphere and sequestering carbon dioxide.

In addition sisal protects the environment because its deep and strong roots hold the soil and prevent erosion. They can be used as screens to prevent the entry of animals

*More information:

Hazards and contraindications of agave syrup

Agave syrup for diabetes

More information on agave.

This article was endorsed by Elisenda Carballido - Dietitian nutritionist. Postgraduate in Phytotherapy and master in Nutrition and Metabolism.
Written by Editorial Botanical-online team in charge of content writing

12 October, 2021

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