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Agave sisalanais

Agave sisalanais, resized image

Brief Description

This article belongs to our "exotic pets and plants series" pages which do not focus on aquatic fish, but to other species that are often kept or grown by hobbyists. Feel free to share your experiences with this cactus at the bottom of this page!

Agave sisalanais part of a family of plants that are classed as succulents and many people would probably not recognise the name but if it’s common name is mentioned it instantly becomes recognisable as an important part of many Central American cultures. The common name used is “Sisal” which is instantly associated with the manufacture of ropes or twine due to the fibrous content that this plant houses in its leaves.

Even before modern explorers discovered the ancient tribes, these tribes were making ropes and twines and once discovered a commercial interest from the west was soon initiated and this plant was grown commercially in many African countries to provide a need for strong and reliable ropes which have many uses.

Agave sisalanais is quite a large succulent, the stems can reach a height of up to 3 feet and they produce a rosette of sword shaped leaves on stalks which can reach a diameter of up to 12-15 inches. The actual leaves are large, at the stalk they can reach a size of 3 inches which will widen out at the midway point to a size of up to 7 inches and these finish in a point at an average size of 4-5 feet in length.

This plant only produces a flower stem once it matures after 4-5 years of growth, the flower stalk can reach a height of up to 20 feets where the flowers will display a yellow colouration. If allowed to go to seed they flower head will produce buds that will detach themselves in time and fall to the ground to produce new plants in their own right. These buds are commonly known as “bulbils” and will self set in the ground unless moved by the plant owner to a more desirable position.

Propagating this plant can be achieved in a couple of ways, as mentioned above if you allow the flowers to develop the “bulbils” these can be easily gather when fallen and planted in separate pots using a suitable cactus soil. Like most cactus and succulent species it is best to allow a few days before re-planting to allow them to dry out. This replicates their natural growing conditions and once planted they should be watered sparingly, this will still allow a good root growth.

Mature plants will produce suckers which can be set in pots until they root and then they can be separated from the mother plant. In some areas this plant is classed as invasive as they do produce a lot of suckers when mature in the wild but with careful management they can be kept under control and only inhabit as much space as you wish to grow them in. It should be stressed that these are slow growing plants and it can take up to 5 years before any propagating project can be undertaken.

During warmer months it is advised to supply Agave sisalanais with a suitable succulent fertiliser to keep them growing and healthy but as temperatures drop you should refrain from this until the next year when temperatures rise again.

Notes on cactus soil

A reputable cactus soil that is available from suppliers is designed to have excellent drainage, they will hold small amounts of water but are designed to provide drought conditions which replicates the natural habitat of cacti. Cacti do not like wet feet, they prefer an occasional water but any excess water must drain away quickly. There are many components used and these could be mixed in various ratios depending on the supplier but many common ingredients can easily be listed, many experienced growers prefer to make their own mix which works for them.

Common ingredients used include grit, pumice and sand. On a personal basis I experimented with a mix of 10% multipurpose compost, 45% vermiculite and 45% baked clay cat litter, this worked well for me but as mentioned everyone has their own way of mixing soil and a little experimentation goes a long way!

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