Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Datasheet

Agave sisalana
(sisal hemp)

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Datasheet

Agave sisalana (sisal hemp)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 16 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Pest
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Agave sisalana
  • Preferred Common Name
  • sisal hemp
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Monocotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • A. sisalana is a perennial succulent plant and is included in lists of invasive species in Cuba, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Pacific Islands, and Spain. This species has been listed as a Category 2 invader in Flor...

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
Agave sisalana (sisal); Fruiting habit mixed with other agave at Rd to Kuheia, Kahoolawe.  February 10, 2008
TitleHabit
CaptionAgave sisalana (sisal); Fruiting habit mixed with other agave at Rd to Kuheia, Kahoolawe. February 10, 2008
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Agave sisalana (sisal); Fruiting habit mixed with other agave at Rd to Kuheia, Kahoolawe.  February 10, 2008
HabitAgave sisalana (sisal); Fruiting habit mixed with other agave at Rd to Kuheia, Kahoolawe. February 10, 2008©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Agave sisalana (sisal), Flowering habit at Kanaha Beach, Maui.  July 24, 2003
TitleHabit
CaptionAgave sisalana (sisal), Flowering habit at Kanaha Beach, Maui. July 24, 2003
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Agave sisalana (sisal), Flowering habit at Kanaha Beach, Maui.  July 24, 2003
HabitAgave sisalana (sisal), Flowering habit at Kanaha Beach, Maui. July 24, 2003©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Agave sisalana (sisal). Habit at La Perouse, Maui.  January 24, 2007.
TitleHabit showing leaves
CaptionAgave sisalana (sisal). Habit at La Perouse, Maui. January 24, 2007.
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Agave sisalana (sisal). Habit at La Perouse, Maui.  January 24, 2007.
Habit showing leavesAgave sisalana (sisal). Habit at La Perouse, Maui. January 24, 2007.©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Agave sisalana (sisal). Flowers at Maliko, Maui.  May 17, 2010.
TitleFlower spike
CaptionAgave sisalana (sisal). Flowers at Maliko, Maui. May 17, 2010.
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Agave sisalana (sisal). Flowers at Maliko, Maui.  May 17, 2010.
Flower spikeAgave sisalana (sisal). Flowers at Maliko, Maui. May 17, 2010.©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Agave sisalana (sisal). Close-up of flowers. Maliko, Maui.  May 17, 2010.
TitleFlowers
CaptionAgave sisalana (sisal). Close-up of flowers. Maliko, Maui. May 17, 2010.
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Agave sisalana (sisal). Close-up of flowers. Maliko, Maui.  May 17, 2010.
FlowersAgave sisalana (sisal). Close-up of flowers. Maliko, Maui. May 17, 2010.©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Agave sisalana (sisal);  Fruiting habit at La Perouse, Maui.  January 24, 2007
TitleFruiting habit
CaptionAgave sisalana (sisal); Fruiting habit at La Perouse, Maui. January 24, 2007
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Agave sisalana (sisal);  Fruiting habit at La Perouse, Maui.  January 24, 2007
Fruiting habitAgave sisalana (sisal); Fruiting habit at La Perouse, Maui. January 24, 2007©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Cut sisal being gathered by workers to be crushed.
TitleCut sisal
CaptionCut sisal being gathered by workers to be crushed.
CopyrightRuth Ibbotson
Cut sisal being gathered by workers to be crushed.
Cut sisalCut sisal being gathered by workers to be crushed.Ruth Ibbotson

Identity

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Agave sisalana Perrine

Preferred Common Name

  • sisal hemp

Other Scientific Names

  • Agave rigida Mill. var. sisalana (Perrine) Engelm
  • Agave sisalana var. armata Trel

International Common Names

  • English: agave; century plant; hemp (sisal); sisal; sisal agave
  • Spanish: agave; agave sisal; henequen; maguey; sisal
  • French: agave sisal
  • Chinese: jian ma

Local Common Names

  • Dominican Republic: cabuya ceniza; henequén; pita sisal
  • Fiji: dali; natali
  • Germany: Sisal- Agave; Sisalhanf
  • Mexico: yucatán
  • Netherlands: sisal
  • USA/Hawaii: malina

EPPO code

  • AGVSI (Agave sisalana)

Summary of Invasiveness

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A. sisalana is a perennial succulent plant and is included in lists of invasive species in Cuba, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Pacific Islands, and Spain. This species has been listed as a Category 2 invader in Florida (i.e., invasive exotic plant that has increased in abundance or frequency but has not yet altered Florida plant communities; Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council, 2011) and also as a Category 2 invader in South Africa’s NEMBA (National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act) list (i.e., invaders with certain qualities such as commercial use, animal fodder, etc). In Australia, A. sisalana is listed as a priority environmental weed in the state of Queensland where it is ranked among the top 200 most invasive plant species. It is also listed as one of the 35 most troublesome weed species occurring on sandy beaches and dunes along Queensland's east coast (Australian Weeds Committee, 2012). It is also known to be invasive in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, and Tanzania.

A. sisalana is adapted to growth in a wide variety of habitats and often escapes from plantations into adjacent natural areas. Additionally, this species has been recorded growing in disturbed areas, roadsides, and arid ecosystems (i.e., deserts and dry forests) which suggest that it has the potential to spread much further than it has to date. A. sisalana reproduces vegetatively by bulbils (developed from sterile meristems) and it is able to develop dense monospecific stands which may prevent the establishment of native vegetation (Badano and Pugnaire, 2004).

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Monocotyledonae
  •                     Order: Liliales
  •                         Family: Agavaceae
  •                             Genus: Agave
  •                                 Species: Agave sisalana

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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While many botanists have adopted the APG III system of classification for the orders and families of flowering plants which places Agave in the family Asparagaceae, the CAB Thesaurus continues to use the Cronquist system which places it under Agavaceae. The taxonomic tree in the Identity section reflects this positioning. The Notes below describe how Agave and A. sisalana are placed within the APG system.

The family Asparagales includes about 153 genera and 2480 species that are distributed worldwide. This family is subdivided into seven subfamilies: Aphyllanthoideae, Agavoideae, Brodiaeoideae, Scilloideae, Lomandroideae, Asparagoideae, and Nolinoideae. For some authors, the classification of this family is highly unsatisfactory. There are no specific traits that characterize the family, some of the subfamilies are difficult to recognize while others are very distinctive. Flowers for the most part are a rather undistinguished "lily"-type. Asparagoideae, and especially Nolinoideae and Agavoideae are very heterogeneous, and several segregate families having been recognized in the past (Stevens, 2012). The subfamily Agavoideae, that comprised the genera Agave and Yucca, has previously been classified as a separate family, Agavaceae: this family is still used in the Cronquist system.

The genus Agave includes 210 species widespread in the tropical and subtropical regions of the world mainly in desert, dry and semiarid environments (Gentry, 1982). A. sisalana is considered by Kew’s World Checklist of Selected Plant Families as “probably a sterile cultivar derived from Agave vivipara”.

 

Description

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Tropical succulent perennial of 1.5–2 m height, with thick leaves in a basal rosette of elongated sword-shaped leaves from the base. 

Stems
Two to three years after transplanting, a 20 cm tall stem is formed, which will reach a height of about 1.2 m when flowering. White, fleshy stems develop from underground buds at the base of the plant, first growing sideways and then upwards to form new plants. These new plants are known as suckers (DAFF, 2015).

Trunk
The plant base is a short trunk (30–150 cm), from the top of which the spirally arranged leaves grow (DAFF, 2015). 

The components of the dry weight of sisal fibre are approximately 55–65% α-cellulose, 11–18% hemicelluloses, 7–15% lignin, 1% pectin and 1–8% ash (Elzebroek and Wind, 2008).

Leaves
Stiff, heavy, persistent leaves that are 0.6–1.2 m long, 10.2–20.3 cm wide, and 2.5–10.2 cm thick when mature. Leaves are spirally arranged around the trunk, greyish-green in colour and covered by a layer of wax. Leaves contain coarse, cream-coloured or pale-yellow fibres (3%) (DAFF, 2015). Young leaves may have small spines along their margins; they disappear when the plant matures. Leaves have a terminal, dark brown, rigid, very sharp spine, 2–3 cm long. The cross-section at the base of the leaf resembles a flattened triangle (Elzebroek and Wind, 2008).

Inflorescences
A large panicle with flowers arranged on the terminal portion in dense clusters, sessile, 4–5 cm long. Perianths with 6 segments, 6 stamens, filaments longer than the perianth segment, 3–4 cm long anthers. Style exserted, stigma 3-lobed (EOL, 2018). It only flowers once at around 2 years. Before flowering, a flower stalk of 4.5–6.0 m develops from the growth point. The flower stalk subdivides to form branches that bear the flowers. The flowers do not produce seed, but form bulbils, which are used for reproduction. Bulbils are borne in the axils of the bracteoles of the inflorescence after flowering. Flowers are yellowish green, with reddish filaments. 

Roots
A. sisalana has a shallow, fibrous root system up to 60 cm deep. The 2–4 mm thick root arises from leaf scars at the base of the bole beneath the soil surface, and extends up to 5 m horizontally way from the mother plant, forming suckers. These can be used for propagation (DAFF, 2015). Sisal produces subterraneous rhizomes from buds in the axils of the lower leaves. Along the rhizomes there are buds that may grow into new plants, forming colonies. Most of the roots are concentrated in the upper 40 cm of the soil, where they spread horizontally up to 5 m. A number of roots grow deeper than 40 cm, which results in good anchorage (Elzebroek and Wind, 2008).

Fruit 
This species is monocarpic (i.e., dies after fruiting). Fruits are capsules up to 6 cm long, 2–2.5 cm diameter, stipitate and beaked. Capsules rarely formed, and seeds (if any) are probably not viable. Vegetative bulbils are commonly produced below the flowers in the axils of bracts (Weber, 2003; Acevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2005).

Plant Type

Top of page Perennial
Succulent
Vegetatively propagated

Distribution

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A. sisalana is native to Mexico. It has been introduced into tropical and subtropical areas in North America, South America, Caribbean Islands, Africa, Australia and Asia. It has been used as an ornamental, vegetable  and cultivated plant. Currently, A. sisalana is widely cultivated in tropical areas in Brazil, Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya to produce fibres.

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes

Asia

JapanPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2012Offshore islands (Ogasawara)

Africa

BotswanaPresentIntroducedWitt and Luke, 2017
Cape VerdePresentIntroduced Invasive USDA-ARS, 2012
EthiopiaPresentIntroduced Invasive Witt and Luke, 2017
GabonPresentIntroducedORSTOM, 1988List Vasc. Pl. Gabon
KenyaPresentIntroduced Invasive BioNET-EAFRINET, The East African Network for Taxonomy; ISSG, 2012
LibyaPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2012
MadagascarPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2012Naturalized
MalawiPresentIntroduced Invasive Witt and Luke, 2017
MauritiusPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2012
RwandaPresentIntroducedWitt and Luke, 2017
Spain
-Canary IslandsPresentIntroducedBadano and Pugnaire, 2004
TanzaniaPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2012Cultivated
UgandaPresentIntroduced Invasive ISSG, 2012Cultivated
ZambiaPresentIntroducedWitt and Luke, 2017
ZimbabwePresentIntroducedWitt and Luke, 2017

North America

BermudaPresentIntroduced1918Britton, 1918Cultivated
MexicoPresentWitt and Luke, 2017
USAPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-FloridaPresentIntroduced1826 Invasive Brown, 2002; Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council, 2011
-HawaiiPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2012

Central America and Caribbean

ArubaAbsent, no pest recordBoldingh, 1914; Burg et al., 2012
BahamasPresentIntroduced1914Britton and Millspaugh, 1920Cultivated
BelizePresentIntroducedGarcía-Mendoza and Lott, 1994
Cayman IslandsPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
Costa RicaPresentWitt and Luke, 2017
CubaPresentIntroduced Invasive Gonzalez-Torres et al., 2005
CuraçaoPresentIntroducedBoldingh, 1914; Burg et al., 2012
Dominican RepublicPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
El SalvadorPresentIntroducedGarcía-Mendoza and Lott, 1994
GuatemalaPresentIntroducedStandley and Steyermark, 1952
HondurasPresentIntroducedGarcía-Mendoza and Lott, 1994
JamaicaPresentIntroducedAdams, 1972
NicaraguaPresentWitt and Luke, 2017
Puerto RicoPresentIntroduced Invasive Acevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2005Mona Island
Sint MaartenPresentIntroducedBurg et al., 2012
United States Virgin IslandsPresentIntroduced1913 Invasive Acevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2005Reported for St. Croix on a 1913 collection made by W. Trelease

South America

BrazilPresentIntroducedFAO, 2012; Forzza et al., 2012Cultivated, sub-spontaneous
-AlagoasPresentIntroducedForzza et al., 2012Caatinga; antropic
-BahiaPresentIntroducedForzza et al., 2012Caatinga; antropic
-CearaPresentIntroducedForzza et al., 2012Caatinga; antropic
-PernambucoPresentIntroducedForzza et al., 2012Caatinga; antropic
-PiauiPresentIntroducedForzza et al., 2012Caatinga; antropic
-Rio Grande do NortePresentIntroducedForzza et al., 2012Caatinga; antropic
EcuadorPresentIntroducedJørgensen and León-Yánez, 1999

Europe

SpainPresentIntroduced1940 Invasive Badano and Pugnaire, 2004South-east of Spain (Almería, Cabo de Gata, Punta Entinas). Also on Canary Islands

Oceania

FijiPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2012
French PolynesiaPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2012
Marshall IslandsPresentIntroducedPIER, 2012
New CaledoniaPresentIntroducedPIER, 2012Cultivated
PalauPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2012
Papua New GuineaPresentIntroducedPIER, 2012Cultivated
Solomon IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2012

History of Introduction and Spread

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In the 19th century, the cultivation of A. sisalana spread to Brazil, Florida and the Caribbean Islands, as well as countries in East Africa (i.e., Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda) and Asia (ISSG, 2012; USDA-ARS, 2012). In Florida, the first plants of A. sisalana were introduced at Indian Key in the year 1826 by Dr. Henry Perrine, to establish a plantation of this species (Brown, 2002). In Brazil, the first commercial plantings of sisal were made in the late 1930s. In the 1960s the production of sisal in Brazil was accelerated and today Brazil is the major world producer of sisal fibres (FAO, 2012). A. sisalana and other Agave species were introduced in Spain in the 1940s as ornamental and cultivated plants (Martín-Galindo, 1988), and a recent study indicates that these species are spreading into new habitats, mainly on coastal sandy soils in the south-eastern end of the country (Badano and Pugnaire, 2004).

For the West Indies, A. sisalana appears reported as “established” in a 1913 collection made by W. Trelease in the island of St. Croix (US Virgin Islands). Collected in the Bahamas by Eggers in 1888, but only reported by Britton in 1920. This species was also reported as a “cultivated plant” by I. Boldingh in 1914 for the islands of Aruba, Curaçao and Bonaire (Boldingh, 1914). In Puerto Rico, this species is known from Mona Island and Guánica Dry Forest Reserve, where it is spreading and forms dense monospecific stands (Acevedo-Rodríguez, 2005). Its occurrence has been reported in Puerto Rico since 1923 (Britton and Wilson, 1923) and in the Virgin Islands (St. Croix) since 1913 (Trealease, 1913).

Risk of Introduction

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The risk of introduction of A. sisalana is high. The international trade of this species is not prohibited. The species is dispersed vegetatively by bulbils and rhizomes and the risk of introduction of vegetative material as a contaminant of soil remains high in those countries where the plant is well established. Additionally, this species may escape from active or abandoned plantations into natural areas where it often persists indefinitely (Acevedo-Rodríguez, 2005).

Habitat

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A. sisalana can be found in deserts, dry forests, grasslands, roadsides, disturbed and secondary forests, caatinga, coastal beaches, coastal dunes, and plantations. Vegetative reproduction by bulbils allows the species to colonize large areas and replace the native vegetation with its rosettes (Weber, 2003).

Habitat List

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CategorySub-CategoryHabitatPresenceStatus
Terrestrial
 
Terrestrial – ManagedCultivated / agricultural land Present, no further details Natural
Cultivated / agricultural land Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Managed forests, plantations and orchards Present, no further details Natural
Managed forests, plantations and orchards Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Present, no further details Natural
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Disturbed areas Present, no further details Natural
Urban / peri-urban areas Present, no further details Natural
Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-naturalNatural forests Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural forests Present, no further details Natural
Natural grasslands Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural grasslands Present, no further details Natural
Rocky areas / lava flows Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Rocky areas / lava flows Present, no further details Natural
Scrub / shrublands Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Scrub / shrublands Present, no further details Natural
Deserts Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Deserts Present, no further details Natural
Arid regions Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Arid regions Present, no further details Natural
Littoral
Coastal areas Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Coastal areas Present, no further details Natural
Coastal dunes Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Coastal dunes Present, no further details Natural

Biology and Ecology

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Genetics
The number of chromosomes for this species is 150 with a ploidy level = 5x (Cavallini et al., 1996).

Reproductive Biology
The principal mechanism of reproduction in A. sisalana is clonal (i.e., bulbils). Seeds are rarely produced and germination rates and seedling establishment probabilities are very low (Arizaga and Ezcurra, 1995, Arizaga and Ezcurra, 2002; Acevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2005).

Physiology and Phenology
A. sisalana is a CAM species with characteristic nocturnal stomatal opening and tissue succulence (Arizaga and Ezcurra, 2002). CAM metabolism is an adaptation to increase the efficiency in the use of water, and so is typically found in plants growing in arid conditions such as Agave species.

Longevity
A. sisalana  has a life-span ranging from 7 to 10 years (ISSG, 2012).

Environmental Requirements
A. sisalana is a tropical succulent plant that needs full sunlight and moderate water availability to grow. It grows best in regions with an average annual rainfall of 800–1000 mm (or less). The species is drought-resistant; it is morphologically adapted to manage water scarcity by its extensive root system and the arrangement and shape of the leaves, which, like a funnel, concentrate rainwater on a small area. Moreover, it is a xerophytic plant, which means that its photosynthetic pathway is the crassulacean acid metabolism (Elzebroek and Wind, 2008). The maximum temperature should not exceed 32°C, with minimum temperatures of 5°C. A. sisalana is damaged by frost and it does not tolerate hail or waterlogging. Under dry and arid conditions or at low average temperatures it forms fewer leaves per year and has a longer life cycle. This species prefers sandy-loam soils but can be grown on a range of soils with pH ranging from 4 to 6. It does not tolerate water-logging (FAO, 2012; PROTA, 2012).

Climate

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ClimateStatusDescriptionRemark
A - Tropical/Megathermal climate Preferred Average temp. of coolest month > 18°C, > 1500mm precipitation annually
Af - Tropical rainforest climate Tolerated > 60mm precipitation per month
As - Tropical savanna climate with dry summer Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in summer) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
Aw - Tropical wet and dry savanna climate Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in winter) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
BW - Desert climate Tolerated < 430mm annual precipitation

Air Temperature

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Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC) 35-40
Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC) 0-5

Rainfall

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ParameterLower limitUpper limitDescription
Dry season duration6number of consecutive months with <40 mm rainfall
Mean annual rainfall500800mm; lower/upper limits

Rainfall Regime

Top of page Bimodal

Soil Tolerances

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Soil drainage

  • free

Soil reaction

  • acid
  • neutral

Soil texture

  • light
  • medium

Special soil tolerances

  • saline
  • shallow

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Scyphophorus acupunctatus Herbivore to genus

Notes on Natural Enemies

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Scyphophorus interstitialis [S, acupunctatus] is the major pest of Agave species worldwide. This insect (Coleoptera) is native to Mexico where it has devastated plantations and natural populations of different Agave species. The international trade of ornamental Agave plants worldwide has facilitated S. interstitialis to establish in many parts of the world, particularly in Central and South America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia. On its host species, S. interstitialis causes rot and sometimes mortality due to its larvae boring holes which then facilitates microorganism and fungi entering and colonizing the host agave. The list of symptoms/signs described for Agave plants infected includes: necrotic areas and external feeding on leaves and internal red necrosis, internal discoloration, internal feeding on stems and rhizomes (ISSG, 2012).

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Propagation of A. sisalana can be by dividing rhizomes, tubers, corms or bulbs. This species also developed bulbils from sterile meristems (Arizaga and Ezcurra, 1995; Arizaga and Ezcurra, 2002). The species may produce up to 4000 bulbils/plant.

A. sisalana has been dispersed by man to many countries for use as a fibre crop.

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Animal productionSisal leaf waste has been used for cattle and rabbit feed Yes FAO, 2012
Botanical gardens and zoos Yes Gentry, 1982
Crop productionThis species is cultivated as a source of fibre Yes Yes Rehm and Espig, 1991
Escape from confinement or garden escape Yes Yes ISSG, 2012
Horticulture Yes Yes Rehm and Espig, 1991
Industrial purposes Yes Yes Rehm and Espig, 1991
Medicinal use Yes Yes FAO, 2012

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Debris and waste associated with human activitiesThis species is cultivated to produce fibre Yes Yes
MailSold in nursery and landscape trade Yes Yes
Soil, sand and gravelBulbils Yes Yes

Impact Summary

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CategoryImpact
Cultural/amenity Positive
Economic/livelihood Positive and negative
Environment (generally) Negative
Human health Positive

Environmental Impact

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The introduction of A. sisalana as a farming species causes environmental degradation mainly because sisal plantations replaced native forests. Additionally, A. sisalana often escapes from plantations into adjacent natural areas and studies have shown that this species has the potential to outcompete native vegetation (Badano and Pugnaire, 2004; Australian Weeds Committee, 2012). A. sisalana can develop dense monospecific stands (due its large size and rapid propagation) which may prevent the arrival and establishment of native plant species (Badano and Pugnaire, 2004; ISSG, 2012). Porembski (2000) reports that in Madagascar A. sisalana has invaded inselbergs where it has become a serious threat to the indigenous vegetation as its large size and rapid propagation enable it to out-compete many native outcrop species.

This species may impact negatively the fertility of soils in cultivated areas. Studies have demonstrated that the fertility of soils in areas subject to continuous cultivation of A. sisalana has declined, while the pH of the topsoils has decreased (Hartemink et al., 1996; FAO, 2012). Finally, the effluent from the sisal fibre production process cause serious pollution when it is allowed to flow into watercourse (FAO, 2012).

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Highly mobile locally
  • Long lived
  • Has high reproductive potential
  • Gregarious
  • Reproduces asexually
Impact outcomes
  • Conflict
  • Damaged ecosystem services
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Infrastructure damage
  • Modification of hydrology
  • Modification of nutrient regime
  • Modification of successional patterns
  • Monoculture formation
  • Negatively impacts tourism
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Hybridization
  • Produces spines, thorns or burrs
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally accidentally
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally illegally

Uses

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Flower stalk sap from A. sisalana can be used to make beer and a brandy-like spirit. The central buds are cooked and eaten as a vegetable.

It is cultivated as a source of fibre traditionally used in the production of twine, ropes, carpets, mattresses, and handicrafts. Sisal leaf waste has been used profitably for cattle and rabbit feed. The succulence of fresh sisal waste makes it a useful feed during dry periods. Leaf waste also has been used as a material to produce bio-fuel (methane). This species is also used as “live fences” or as an ornamental plant in gardens. Other products developed from sisal fibres include spa and cosmetic products, cat scratching posts, lumbar support belts, rugs, slippers, and cloths (FAO, 2012; PROTA, 2012). In Africa, extracts of A. sisalana leaves and leaf waste are used in traditional medicine as a fungicide. A study evaluating the antimicrobial activity of extracts of the leaves and leaf waste discarded in the process of obtaining the hard fibres of A. sisalana showed significant inhibition of Candida albicans when treated with sisal extracts (Santos et al., 2009).

Economic Value
A. sisalana is the sixth most important fibre crop globally; representing 2% of the world's production of plant fibres (plant fibres provide 65% of the total world production of fibres). The world largest producers of sisal fibre are Brazil, Kenya, Tanzania, and Madagascar. After fibre extraction, approximately 95–96% of the leaves weight still remains (leaf waste). The leaf waste is used as fertilizer, animal feed, or the dried pulp as a fuel for methane production (FAO, 2012).

Uses List

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Animal feed, fodder, forage

  • Forage

Environmental

  • Agroforestry

Fuels

  • Biofuels

General

  • Botanical garden/zoo
  • Sociocultural value
  • Souvenirs

Human food and beverage

  • Beverage base
  • Vegetable

Materials

  • Cosmetics
  • Fibre
  • Pesticide

Medicinal, pharmaceutical

  • Source of medicine/pharmaceutical

Prevention and Control

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Physical/Mechanical Control

Small plants and smaller patches of A. sisalana may be dug out, but all roots and rhizomes must be removed. All the stems and leaves have to be cut (by chain saw, motorized brush cutter, or hand loppers). Leaves and stems then have to be treated with a suitable herbicide (Tunison and Zimmer, 1992).

Chemical Control

Effective herbicides are 3,5,6-trichloro-2-pyridinyloxyacetic acid and N-phosphonomethyl-glycine applied to leaves, stems, rhizomes, and cut plants (Tunison and Zimmer, 1992; Weber, 2003).

References

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Links to Websites

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WebsiteURLComment
FAO: Fibers Statistical Data-base and Statistical Bulletinshttp://www.fao.org/es/ESC/en/15/320/highlight_323.html
GISD/IASPMR: Invasive Alien Species Pathway Management Resource and DAISIE European Invasive Alien Species Gatewayhttps://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.m93f6Data source for updated system data added to species habitat list.
Global register of Introduced and Invasive species (GRIIS)http://griis.org/Data source for updated system data added to species habitat list.
Interactive European Network for Industrial Crops and their Applicationswww.ienica.net
Wigglesworth Fiber & Co Limitedhttp://www.wigglesworthfibres.com

Contributors

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31/08/12 Original text by:

Julissa Rojas-Sandoval, Department of Botany-Smithsonian NMNH, Washington DC, USA

Pedro Acevedo-Rodríguez, Department of Botany-Smithsonian NMNH, Washington DC, USA

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