Friday, November 5, 2021

Plant Profile: Furcraea selloa marginata (Wild Sisal)

Latin name: Furcraea selloa marginata ("fur-KRAY-ah sell-OH-ah marj-in-AH-tah") 
Common name: Wild Sisal, Variegated False Agave

Originally from: Quetzaltenango, Guatemala
Blooms: Monocarpic with 20 foot tall flower stalks in spring.
Light: Full sun to part sun.
Water: Winter rain is enough.
Height x width: 10' x 10'
Zones: 9b - 11
Where to find in P. Garden: Several are planted at PRG, in the left bed

It's an agave on a stick, basically. By that I mean it grows a trunk, which will be quite epic, if you have the patience - stick around for a couple decades to see what happens! If you can't wait that long see the photo at left (not our plant. Or greenhouse) - quite impressive, right?

Unless you walk near it, or fall in it: those leaves are lined with hooked spines, and the effect will likely not be impressive so much as painful. Perfect for a plant that has to survive on the street, to be fair.

Similar to an agave it's monocarpic, meaning it flowers and then dies. The flowers are green, and held on a 20' tall flower spike which will be ultra cool. After that, bulbils (mini plants) are produced along the flower stem, which in the wild would fall on the ground and root. No fiddling around with seeds here! This plant also creates pups at the base (which is why we have quite a few plants.)

As the common name Wild Sisal suggests, the fibers extracted from the leaves of Furcraeas can be used to make twine, rope, cloth, tapestries, mats, hammocks and sacks. However, real sisal is made from Agave sisalana. They just look pretty similar... hence the name confusion.

Another use for Furcraeas is saponins - those bitter tasting organic chemicals that are foamy and used for making soap.

This plant was thought to have come from Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, though no current specimens have been found growing in the wild in Central America, so it's a bit of a mystery.  It certainly has the glossy-leaved tropical look to it, and with very low water requirements is a great choice for SF's water deprived gardener looking for a jungly effect.


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