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Sisal

Sisal

Overview
Sisal is an agave
Agave
Agave is a genus of monocots. The plants are perennial, but each rosette flowers once and then dies ; they are commonly known as the century plant....

 that yields a stiff fibre traditionally used in making twine
Twine
Twine is a light string or strong thread composed of two or more smaller strands or yarns twisted together. More generally, the term can be applied to any thin cord....

, rope
Rope
A rope is a length of fibres, twisted or braided together to improve strength for pulling and connecting. It has tensile strength but is too flexible to provide compressive strength...

 and also dartboards. The term may refer either to the plant or the fibre, depending on context. It is sometimes incorrectly referred to as sisal hemp because hemp
Hemp
Hemp is mostly used as a name for low tetrahydrocannabinol strains of the plant Cannabis sativa, of fiber and/or oilseed varieties. In modern times, hemp has been used for industrial purposes including paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, construction, health food and fuel with modest...

 was for centuries a major source for fibre, so other fibres were sometimes named after it.

The plant's origin is uncertain; while traditionally it was deemed to be a native of Yucatan
Yucatán
Yucatán officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Yucatán is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in 106 municipalities and its capital city is Mérida....

, there are no records of botanical collections from there.
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Encyclopedia
Sisal is an agave
Agave
Agave is a genus of monocots. The plants are perennial, but each rosette flowers once and then dies ; they are commonly known as the century plant....

 that yields a stiff fibre traditionally used in making twine
Twine
Twine is a light string or strong thread composed of two or more smaller strands or yarns twisted together. More generally, the term can be applied to any thin cord....

, rope
Rope
A rope is a length of fibres, twisted or braided together to improve strength for pulling and connecting. It has tensile strength but is too flexible to provide compressive strength...

 and also dartboards. The term may refer either to the plant or the fibre, depending on context. It is sometimes incorrectly referred to as sisal hemp because hemp
Hemp
Hemp is mostly used as a name for low tetrahydrocannabinol strains of the plant Cannabis sativa, of fiber and/or oilseed varieties. In modern times, hemp has been used for industrial purposes including paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, construction, health food and fuel with modest...

 was for centuries a major source for fibre, so other fibres were sometimes named after it.

The plant's origin is uncertain; while traditionally it was deemed to be a native of Yucatan
Yucatán
Yucatán officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Yucatán is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in 106 municipalities and its capital city is Mérida....

, there are no records of botanical collections from there. H.S. Gentry
Howard Scott Gentry
Howard Scott Gentry was an American botanist recognized as the world's leading authority on the agaves.He worked for the United States Department of Agriculture, and was a research botanist with the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona after 1971...

 hypothesized a Chiapas
Chiapas
Chiapas officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Chiapas is one of the 31 states that, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in 118 municipalities and its capital city is Tuxtla Gutierrez. Other important cites in Chiapas include San Cristóbal de las...

 origin, on the strength of traditional local usage. In the 19th century, sisal cultivation spread to Florida
Florida
Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, located on the nation's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 18,801,310 as measured by the 2010 census, it...

, the Caribbean
Caribbean
The Caribbean is a crescent-shaped group of islands more than 2,000 miles long separating the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, to the west and south, from the Atlantic Ocean, to the east and north...

 islands and Brazil
Brazil
Brazil , officially the Federative Republic of Brazil , is the largest country in South America. It is the world's fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population with over 192 million people...

, as well as to countries in Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

, notably Tanzania
Tanzania
The United Republic of Tanzania is a country in East Africa bordered by Kenya and Uganda to the north, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west, and Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique to the south. The country's eastern borders lie on the Indian Ocean.Tanzania is a state...

 and Kenya
Kenya
Kenya , officially known as the Republic of Kenya, is a country in East Africa that lies on the equator, with the Indian Ocean to its south-east...

, and Asia
Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

. The first commercial plantings in Brazil were made in the late 1930s and the first sisal fibre exports from there were made in 1948. It was not until the 1960s that Brazilian production accelerated and the first of many spinning mills was established. Today Brazil is the major world producer of sisal. There are both positive and negative environmental impacts from sisal growing.

Traditionally used for rope and twine, sisal has many uses, including paper, cloth, wall coverings and carpets.

The sisal plant


Sisal plants consist of a rosette
Rosette (botany)
In botany, a rosette is a circular arrangement of leaves, with all the leaves at a single height.Though rosettes usually sit near the soil, their structure is an example of a modified stem.-Function:...

 of sword-shaped leaves about 1.5 to 2 metres tall. Young leaves may have a few minute teeth along their margins, but lose them as they mature. Sisals are sterile hybrids of uncertain origin; although shipped from the port of Sisal
Sisal, Yucatán
Sisal is a seaport town in the municipality of Hunucmá in the state of Yucatán, Mexico. It was the principal port of Yucatán during the henequen boom, later overshadowed when the more modern port of Progreso was built to the east. It lent its name to the agave-derived sisal fiber which was shipped...

 in Yucatán
Yucatán
Yucatán officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Yucatán is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in 106 municipalities and its capital city is Mérida....

 (thus the name), they do not actually grow in Yucatán, the plantation
Plantation
A plantation is a long artificially established forest, farm or estate, where crops are grown for sale, often in distant markets rather than for local on-site consumption...

s there cultivate henequen (Agave fourcroydes) instead. Evidence of an indigenous cottage industry in Chiapas
Chiapas
Chiapas officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Chiapas is one of the 31 states that, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in 118 municipalities and its capital city is Tuxtla Gutierrez. Other important cites in Chiapas include San Cristóbal de las...

 suggests it as the original location, possibly as a cross of Agave angustifolia
Agave angustifolia
Agave angustifolia is a plant which is native to Mexico and Central America. It is used to make mezcal and also as an ornamental plant, particularly the cultivar 'Marginata'....

 and Agave kewensis.

Propagation of sisal is generally by using bulbils produced from buds in the flower stalk or by suckers growing around the base of the plant, which are grown in nursery fields until large enough to be transplanted to their final position. These methods offer no potential for genetic improvement. Invitro multiplication of selected genetic material using meristematic tissue culture (MST) offers considerable potential for the development of improved genetic material.
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.

Extracting the fibre


Fibre is extracted by a process known as decortication
Decorticator
A decorticator is a machine for stripping the skin, bark, or rind off nuts, wood, plant stalks, grain, etc., in preparation for further processing....

, where leaves are crushed and beaten by a rotating wheel set with blunt knives, so that only fibres remain. In East Africa, where production is typically on large estates, the leaves are transported to a central decortication plant, where water is used to wash away the waste parts of the leaf. The fibre is then dried, brushed and baled for export. Superior quality sisal is found in East Africa, once washed and decorticated. Proper drying is important as fibre quality depends largely on moisture content. Artificial drying has been found to result in generally better grades of fibre than sun drying, but is not feasible in the developing countries where sisal is produced. In the drier climate of north-east Brazil, sisal is mainly grown by smallholders and the fibre is extracted by teams using portable raspadors which do not use water. Fibre is subsequently cleaned by brushing. Dry fibres are machine combed and sorted into various grades, largely on the basis of the previous in-field separation of leaves into size groups.

Environmental impact


Sisal farming initially caused environmental degradation, because sisal plantations replaced native forests, but is still considered less damaging than many types of farming. No chemical fertilizers are used in sisal production, and although herbicides are occasionally used, even this impact may be eliminated, since most weeding is done by hand. The effluent from the decortication process causes serious pollution when it is allowed to flow into watercourses. In Tanzania there are plans to use the waste as bio-fuel.

Uses of sisal


Traditionally, sisal has been the leading material for agricultural twine (binder twine and baler twine) because of its strength, durability, ability to stretch, affinity for certain dyestuffs, and resistance to deterioration in saltwater, but the importance of this traditional use is diminishing with competition from polypropylene and the development of other haymaking techniques, while new higher-valued sisal products have been developed. Apart from ropes, twines, and general cordage, sisal is used in low-cost and specialty paper, dartboards, buffing cloth, filters, geotextiles, mattresses, carpets, handicrafts, wire rope cores, and Macramé. In recent years sisal has been utilized as an environmentally friendly strengthening agent to replace asbestos and fibreglass in composite materials in various uses including the automobile industry. The lower-grade fibre is processed by the paper industry because of its high content of cellulose and hemicelluloses. The medium-grade fibre is used in the cordage industry for making ropes, baler and binder twine. Ropes and twines are widely employed for marine, agricultural, and general industrial use. The higher-grade fibre after treatment is converted into yarns and used by the carpet industry.

Other products developed from sisal fibre include spa products, cat scratching posts, lumbar support belts, rugs, slippers, cloths, and disc buffers. Sisal wall covering meets the abrasion and tearing resistance standards of the American Society for Testing and Materials and of the National Fire Protection Association.

Despite the yarn durability sisal is known for, slight matting of sisal carpeting may occur in high-traffic areas. Sisal carpet does not build up static nor does it trap dust, so vacuuming is the only maintenance required. High-spill areas should be treated with a fibre sealer and for spot removal, a drycleaning powder is recommended. Depending on climatic conditions, sisal will absorb air humidity or release it, causing expansion or contraction. Sisal is not recommended for areas that receive wet spills or rain or snow. Sisal is used by itself in carpets or in blends with wool and acrylic for a softer hand.

As extraction of fibre uses only a small percentage of the plant, some attempts to improve economic viability have focused on utilizing the waste material for production of biogas
Biogas
Biogas typically refers to a gas produced by the biological breakdown of organic matter in the absence of oxygen. Organic waste such as dead plant and animal material, animal dung, and kitchen waste can be converted into a gaseous fuel called biogas...

, for stockfeed, or the extraction of pharmaceutical materials.

Sisal is a valuable forage for honey bees because of its long flowering period. It is particularly attractive to them during pollen shortage. The honey produced is however dark and has a strong and unpleasant flavour.

Global production and trade patterns

Major sisal
producers—2007

(China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 2006) (thousands of tonnes)
113.3
36.9
34.0
27.6
9.1
2.2
1.6
World Total 240.7
Source: FAO Fibres Statistical Bulletin

Global production of sisal fibre in 2007 amounted to 240 thousand tonnes of which Brazil, the largest producing country, produced 113,000 tonnes.

Tanzania produced approximately 37,000 tons, Kenya produced 27,600 tonnes, Venezuela 10,500 tonnes and 9,000 tonnes were produced in Madagascar. China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 contributed 40,000 tons with smaller amounts coming from South Africa, Mozambique, Haiti, and Cuba. Sisal occupies 6th place among fibre plants, representing 2% of the world’s production of plant fibres (plant fibres provide 65% of the world’s fibres).

As one of the world's important natural fibres, sisal is covered by activities of the International Year of Natural Fibres
International Year of Natural Fibres
The United Nations General Assembly declared 2009 as the International Year of Natural Fibres, as well as the International Year of Astronomy.The proposal for this international year originated in FAO at a joint meeting of the Intergovernmental Group on Hard Fibres and the Intergovernmental Group...

 2009.

Heraldry


The sisal plant appears in the arms of Barquisimeto
Barquisimeto
Barquisimeto is the capital city of the State of Lara located in west central Venezuela, halfway between Caracas and Maracaibo on the Turbio River.-Overview:...

, Venezuela.

The Yucatan State in Mexico features a deer bounding over a sisal plant on its coat of arms.

External links