Cuban Sisal

Cuban Sisal

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Agave fourcroydes – Henequen

Agave fourcroydes (Henequen) is a monocarpic, rosette forming succulent plant. The plant stalk is up to 6 feet (1.8 m) in the wild…


Roystonea regia is a large palm which reaches a height of 20–30 metres (66–98 ft) tall, [4] (with heights up to 34.5 m (113 ft) reported) [5] and a stem diameter of about 47 centimetres (19 in). [4] (K. F. Connor reports a maximum stem diameter of 61 cm (24 in).) [5] The trunk is stout, very smooth and grey-white in colour with a characteristic bulge below a distinctive green crownshaft. [6] Trees have about 15 leaves which can be up to 4 m (13 ft) long. [4] The flowers are white with pinkish anthers. [6] The fruit are spheroid to ellipsoid in shape, 8.9–15 millimetres (0.35–0.59 in) long and 7–10.9 mm (0.28–0.43 in) wide. [4] They are green when immature, turning red and eventually purplish-black as they mature. [6]

Root nodules containing Rhizobium bacteria have been found on R. regia trees in India. The presence of rhizobia-containing root nodules is usually associated with nitrogen fixation in legumes this was the first record of root nodules in a monocotyledonous tree. [7] Further evidence of nitrogen fixation was provided by the presence of nitrogenase (an enzyme used in nitrogen fixation) and leghaemoglobin, a compound which allows nitrogenase to function by reducing the oxygen concentration in the root nodule. [7] In addition to evidence of nitrogen fixation, the nodules were also found to be producing indole acetic acid, an important plant hormone. [8] [9]

Roystonea is placed in the subfamily Arecoideae and the tribe Roystoneae. [10] The placement Roystonea within the Arecoideae is uncertain a phylogeny based on plastid DNA failed to resolve the position of the genus within the Arecoideae. [11] As of 2008, there appear to be no molecular phylogenetic studies of Roystonea [10] and the relationship between R. regia and the rest of the genus is uncertain.

The species was first described by American naturalist William Bartram in 1791 as Palma elata based on trees growing in central Florida. [6] In 1816 German botanist Carl Sigismund Kunth described the species Oreodoxa regia [1] based on collections made by Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland in Cuba. [12] In 1825 German botanist Curt Polycarp Joachim Sprengel moved it to the genus Oenocarpus and renamed it O. regius. [1]

The genus Oreodoxa was proposed by German botanist Carl Ludwig Willdenow in 1807 [13] and applied by him to two species, O. acuminata (now known as Prestoea acuminata) and O. praemorsa (now Wettinia praemorsa). Although these species were transferred to other genera, the genus Oreodoxa continued to be applied to a variety of superficially similar species which were not, in fact, closely related. [14] To address this problem, American botanist Orator F. Cook created the genus Roystonea, [15] which he named in honour of American general Roy Stone, [14] and renamed Kunth's species Roystonea regia. [15]

Cook considered Floridian populations to be distinct from both the Cuba R. regia and the Puerto Rican R. borinquena, and he placed them in a new species, R. floridana, [14] which is now considered a synonym of R. regia. [1] In 1906 Charles Henry Wright described two new species based on collections from Georgetown, British Guiana (now Guyana) which he placed in the genus EuterpeE. jenmanii and E. ventricosa. [16] Both species are now considered synonyms of R. regia. [1] The name R. regia var. hondurensis was applied by Paul H. Allen to Central American populations of the species. However, Scott Zona determined that they did not differ enough from Cuban populations to be considered a separate variety. [4]

Based on the rules of botanical nomenclature, the oldest properly published name for a species has priority over newer names. Bartram applied the Linnaean binomial Palma elata to a "large, solitary palm with an ashen white trunk topped by a green leaf sheath [the crownshaft] and pinnate leaves" [17] growing in central Florida. While no type collection is known, there are no other native palms that would fit Bartram's description. [17] In 1946 Francis Harper pointed out that Bartram's name was valid and proposed a new combination, Roystonea elata. Liberty Hyde Bailey's use of the name in his 1949 revision of the genus, established its usage. [17]

Harper's new combination immediately supplanted Cook's R. floridana, but there was disagreement as to whether Cuban and Floridian populations represented a single species or two species. Zona's revision of the genus concluded that they both belonged to the same species. According to the rules of botanical nomenclature, the correct name of the species should have been Roystonea elata. Zona pointed out, however, that the name R. regia (or Oreodoxa regia) has a history of use in horticulture that dated from at least 1838, and that the species had been propagated around the world under that name. Roystonea elata, on the other hand, had only been used since 1949, and was used much less widely. On that basis, Zona proposed that the name Roystonea regia should be conserved. [17]

Common names Edit

In cultivation, Roystonea regia is called the Cuban royal palm or simply the royal palm. In Cuba, the tree is called the palma real or palma criolla. [4] In India, where it is widely cultivated, it is called vakka. [18] In Cambodia, where it is planted as decorative along avenues and in public parks, it is known as sla barang' ("Western palm"). [19]

Roystonea regia produces unisexual flowers that are pollinated by animals. [4] European honey bees and bats are reported pollinators. [4] [20] Seeds are dispersed by birds and bats that feed upon the fruit. [4]

Seed germination is adjacent ligular—during germination, as the cotyledon expands it only pushes a portion of the embryo out of the seed. [4] As a result, the seedling develops adjacent to the seed. The embryo forms a ligule, and the plumule protrudes from this. [21] Seedlings in cultivation are reported to begin producing a stem two years after germination, at the point where they produce their thirteenth leaf. [4] Growth rates of seedlings averaged 4.2 cm (1.7 in) per year in Florida. [22]

Roystonea regia is found in Central America, Cuba, the Cayman Islands, Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic and Haiti), the Lesser Antilles, The Bahamas, southern Florida, and Mexico (Veracruz, Cabo San Lucas, Campeche, Quintana Roo, Yucatán). [1] [23] William Bartram described the species from Lake Dexter, along the St. Johns River in the area of modern Lake and Volusia Counties in central Florida, an area north of its modern range. [4] [24] It is also a popular ornamental tree in the Canary Islands.

Today Roystonea is cultivated in tropical and subtropical climates in the United States, Australia, Brazil, and parts of southern Asia as a landscape palm. In the United States it grows mostly in central and southern Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and in South Texas in the Rio Grande Valley and southern California. [25]

The leaves of Roystonea regia are used as roosting sites by Eumops floridanus, the Florida bonneted bat, [26] and is used as a retreat for Cuban tree frogs (Osteopilus septentriolalis), a non-native species, in Florida. [27] In Panama (where R. regia is introduced), its trunks are used as nesting sites by yellow-crowned parrots (Amazona ochrocephala panamensis). [28] The flowers of R. regia are visited by pollen-collecting bees and are considered a good source of nectar. Its pollen was also found in the stomachs of Phyllonycteris poeyi, the Cuban flower bat (a pollen-feeder) and Monophyllus redmani, Leach's single leaf bat (a nectar-feeder). Artibeus jamaicensis, the Jamaican fruit bat, and Myiozetetes similis, the social flycatcher, feed on the fruit. [4]

Roystonea regia is the host plant for the royal palm bug, Xylastodoris luteolus, in Florida. [29] It also serves as a larval host plant for the butterflies Pyrrhocalles antiqua orientis and Asbolis capucinus in Cuba, [30] and Brassolis astyra and B. sophorae in Brazil. [31] It is susceptible to bud rot caused by the oomycete Phytophthora palmivora [32] and by the fungus Thielaviopsis paradoxa. [33]

The species is considered an invasive species in secondary forest in Panama. [34]

Roystonea regia has been planted throughout the tropics and subtropics as an ornamental. [17] The seed is used as a source of oil and for livestock feed. Leaves are used for thatching and the wood for construction. [5] The roots are used as a diuretic, [35] and for that reason they are added to tifey, a Haitian drink, by Cubans of Haitian origin. [36] They are also used as a treatment for diabetes. [35]

Fibres extracted from the leaf sheath of R. regia have been found to be comparable with sisal and banana fibres, but lower in density, making it a potentially useful source for the use in lightweight composite materials. [18] An extract from R. regia fruit known as D-004 reduces benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH) in rodents. D-004, is a mixture of fatty acids, is being studied as a potential alternative to finasteride for the treatment of BPH. [37]

Religious significance Edit

Roystonea regia plays an important role in popular religion in Cuba. In Santería it is associated primarily with Shango or with his father Aggayú. It also has symbolic importance in the Palo faiths and the Abakuá fraternity. In Roman Catholicism, R. regia plays an important role in Palm Sunday observances. [38]

Mexico identifies submerged wreck of Mayan slave ship

Archaeologists in Mexico said Tuesday they have identified a ship that carried Mayan people into virtual slavery in the 1850s, the first time such a ship has been found.

The wreck of the Cuban-based paddle-wheel steamboat was found in 2017, but wasn’t identified until researchers from the National Institute of Anthropology and History checked contemporary documents and found evidence it was the ship “La Unión.”

The ship had been used to take Mayas captured during an 1847-1901 rebellion known as “The War of the Castes” to work in sugarcane fields in Cuba.

Slavery was illegal in Mexico at the time, but operators of similar ships had reportedly bought seized captured combatants, or deceived Mayas left landless by the conflict to “sign on” as contract workers, often in Cuba, where they were treated like slaves.

The La Unión was on a trip to Havana in September 1861 when its boilers exploded and it sank off the once-important Yucatan port of Sisal.

Institute archaeologist Helena Barba Meinecke said the inhabitants of Sisal had passed down through generations the account of the slave ship, and one of them led researchers to it.

“The grandparents and great-grandparents of the inhabitants of Sisal told them about a steam ship that took away Mayas during the War of the Castes,” Barba Meinecke said. “And one of the people in Sisal who saw how they led the Mayas away as slaves, told his son and then he told his grandson, and it was that person who led us to the general area of the shipwreck.”

The identification was based on the physical remains of the wooden-hulled side-wheeler, whose timbers bore signs of fire and whose boilers had exploded. The location of the wreck also coincides with contemporary accounts of the accident, which killed half of the 80 crew members and 60 passengers aboard.

The team also found silverware with the emblem of the company that operated the ship.

In October 1860, a ship had been caught in neighboring Campeche state taking aboard 29 Mayas, including children as young as 7. Authorities prevented the ship from leaving, but clearly that didn’t keep the trade from continuing. Mayas were often transported on ships which were taking sisal fiber and paying passengers to Cuba.

Sisal and henequen were fibers used in making rope, and were usually harvested by Mayas working in serf-like conditions on large plantations in the Yucatan.

It was unclear if there were any Maya aboard on the ship’s last voyage. The records are unclear because the Mayas would probably have been listed as cargo, not as passengers, or the ship may have tried to conceal their presence.

Barba Meinecke noted that captured Mayan combatants were frequently sent to Cuba, from where many never returned. “Each slave was sold to a middleman for 25 pesos, and they resold them in Havana for as much as 160 pesos, for men, and 120 pesos for women,” she said.

But she said the next stage of research would involve trying to find their descendants. Researchers plan to travel to Havana, where there is a neighborhood called “Campeche,”

“These people, or some of them, could be descendants of the Mayas who were taken by force or deception,” she said. “Research has to be done so these (Mayan) people can know where their grandparents or great-grandparents are.”

The Maya launched one of North America’s last Indigenous revolts in the lower Yucatan Peninsula in 1847, fighting against domination by white and mixed-race Mexicans who exploited them. The Mexican government fought the bloody rebellion with brutal repression, but couldn’t wipe out the last resistance until 1901.

The ship was found about 2 miles (3.7 kilometers) off the port of Sisal in about 22 feet (7 meters) of water, after a local fisherman led archaeologists to the wreck.

A few wrecks of African slave ships have been found in waters in the United States and elsewhere, but no Maya slaving ship had been identified.

Flowers and Fruit

The numerous flowers are borne in a very large branched cluster (1-6 m long) towards the top of the massive flowering stem (i.e. in a terminal panicle). These flowers (3.5-4 cm long and 4-4.5 cm across) are greenish-white or yellowish-green in colour. They are drooping in nature (i.e. pendent) and borne on stalks (i.e. pedicels) 3-5 cm long. Each flower has six 'petals' (i.e. perianth segments or tepals) that are fused together at the base. These 'petals' (2.5-3.3 cm long and 1-1.8 cm wide) are mostly white on the outside and greenish-white or yellowish-green on the inside. They have six stamens with yellow anthers borne on stalks (i.e. filaments) about 10 mm long, with these stalks being swollen in the lower half. They also have an ovary (5-15 mm long) topped with a style (about 10 mm long) and a three-lobed stigma. The flowers are heavily fragrant and are produced during autumn and winter. Flowering usually only occurs once, with the whole plant dying about 1 year after the onset of flowering.

Fruit are generally not produced. What might appear to be fruit are actually large plantlets (i.e. bulbils) 1-16 cm long. The true fruit, which are rarely if ever seen in Australia, are large capsules up to 8 cm long and contain numerous black, flattened, seeds.


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Sisal, (Agave sisalana), plant of the family Asparagaceae and its fibre, the most important of the leaf fibre group. The plant is native to Central America, where its fibre has been used since pre-Columbian times. Commercial interest in sisal was stimulated by the development of the machine grain binder in the 1880s, which brought a demand for low-cost twine, and plantings were soon established in the Bahamas and Tanganyika (now Tanzania). By the late 1930s sisal was being cultivated in Kenya, Mozambique, Angola, Madagascar, and elsewhere in Africa and in the Philippines, Taiwan, Brazil, Venezuela, Indonesia, and Haiti. Sisal ropes and twines are widely employed for marine, agricultural, shipping, and general industrial use, and the fibre is also made into matting, rugs, millinery, and brushes.

The plant stalk grows to about 90 cm (3 feet) in height, with a diameter of approximately 38 cm (15 inches). The lance-shaped leaves, growing out from the stalk in a dense rosette, are fleshy and rigid, with gray to dark green colour. Each is 60–180 cm (2–6 feet) long and 10–18 cm (4–7 inches) across at the widest portion, terminating in a sharp spine. Within four to eight years after planting, the mature plant sends up a central flower stalk reaching about 6 metres (20 feet) in height. Yellow flowers, about 6 cm (2.5 inches) long and with an unpleasant odour, form dense clusters at the ends of branches growing from the flower stalk. As the flowers begin to wither, buds growing in the upper angle between the stem and flower stalk develop into small plants, or bulbils, that fall to the ground and take root. Like other Agave species, the old plant dies when flowering is completed.

The plants grow best in moderately rich soil with good drainage and in warm moist climates. Young plants, propagated from bulbils or rhizomes (underground stems) of mature plants, are usually kept in nurseries for the first 12 to 18 months. At the beginning of the rainy season, the plants are transferred to the field. Sisal matures about three to five years after planting, depending upon the climate, yielding satisfactory fibre for seven or eight years thereafter and producing about 300 leaves throughout the productive period. Outer leaves are cut off close to the stalk as they reach their full length. The initial harvest is about 70 leaves subsequent annual production averages about 25.

Sisal fibre is made from the leaves of the plant. The fibre is usually obtained by machine decortication in which the leaf is crushed between rollers. The resulting pulp is scraped from the fibre, and the fibre is washed and then dried by mechanical or natural means. The lustrous fibre strands, usually creamy white, average 100 to 125 cm (40 to 50 inches) in length and are fairly coarse and inflexible. Sisal fibre is especially valued for cordage use because of its strength, durability, ability to stretch, affinity for certain dyestuffs, and resistance to deterioration in salt water. The fibre is very similar to that of the related henequen (Agave fourcroydes).

Watch the video: Sisal Fibre Production


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