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Scientific: Agave sisalana
Common: sisal, sisal hemp
Family: Asparagaceae (subfamily Agavoideae)
Origin: Native to tropical eastern Mexico, but has naturalised in southern Florida, the Caribbean, Madagascar, and on some Pacific islands. It has become invasive in eastern Africa, most notably in Kenya and Uganda.

Pronounciation: A-GA-ve si-sa-LAN-a

Hardiness zones
USDA 9-11

Landscape Use: Strong, blue-gray accent, focal point for desert gardens, xeric landscape design themes, rarely used in large tubs or containers, needs space to grow.

Form & Character: Broadly stiff and upright, sharp, dangerous, robust, imposing, visually striking.

Growth Habit: Evergreen, succulent to fibrous, herbaceous perennial, monocarpic, moderately rapid to 8-feet tall with equal spread. Sisal produces copious rhizomes that can make a clump or thicket of basal off shoots (called 'ramets' or 'chupones').

Foliage/Texture: Rosettes of elongated, blue green lanceolate leaves to 5 feet in length, tapering to a stout and sharp tip; coarse texture.

Flowers & Fruits: Flowers borne on a tall, long spike that can reach 20 feet in height. Individual flowers are many on a stalk and are urceolate shaped (like an urn or pitcher) and yellow-green in color.

Seasonal Color: None, except when flowering (usually after 7 to 10 years).

Temperature: In Phoenix, relatively cold sensitive, damaged below 28oF and killed below 23oF. Conversely though, sisal is very heat tolerant.

Light: Full sun required.

Soil: Tolerant

Watering: Apply only occasional water once established. It readily responds to water by increasing growth and eventual size.

Pruning: None, though one should clip the tips of leaves to lessen the danger of some unsuspecting person becoming a human shish-kabob.

Clown College landscape design: Every now and then one comes across a landscape planting that was designed by graduates of the Clown College of Landscape Architecture (location unknown). Here is one such planting....Agave sisalana densely lining an apartment building walkway. Fortunately, the local 'Horticultural clods of Phoenix' (aka 'Hort clods') were called in to tip prune all the leaf apexes so that residents do not become an unintended or unexpected human sish-kabob.

Propagation: Seed or asexually by division of copious basal shoots from rhizomes.

Disease and Pests: None

Additional comments: Sisal is best thought of as a tropical agave that is quite cold sensitive and was once easily damaged during the colder Phoenix winters of yesteryear (mostly a memory thanks to the Phoenix urban heat island). Otherwise, it is a striking and VERY dangerous agave that demands much space and respect in the landscape.

Ethnobotanical tidbits: Sisal is widely grown in tropical and subtropical regions of North America, South America, Caribbean Islands, Africa, Australia, and Asia where it is used as an ornamental, vegetable or cultivated plant. Tanzania is one of the largest producers of sisal in the world today. The foliage contains stiff fibers that are used to make rope. Parts of the plant are also used as medicine.