Field Guide Friday – Agave Sisalina

Image and quote below from maritime heritage

“August 13, 1892, Colonies and India
London, United Kingdom
THE TURKS AND CAICOS ISLANDS

 The cultivation of the pita (sisal) plant has made fair progress, especially in the Caicos Islands, and the reports from the plantations towards the end of the year were satisfactory. Two companies, the West Caicos Fibre Company (Limited), at West Caicos, and the East Caicos Company (Limited), at Breezy Point, formed for the purpose of raising pita plants and extracting the fibre, are registered under the companies’ ordinance, and there are several private plantations. A small shipment of fibre was made to New York within the year from one of the latter, and the first quality fetched a cent a pound more than the second quality—an equal price to the best from Yucatan. This speaks well for the quality of the fibre which can be produced in these islands, and promises a bright future for the local fibre industry.”

 Sisal is still prevalent throughout  the Turks and Caicos Islands, these giant agaves dot the landscape, distinctive due to their sword like leaves.  The plant is in bloom this time of year; very hard to miss with their towering central stalk branching into a multitude of plush bright yellow Dr Suess like poofs, usually swarming with bees and other flying insects.   

 The booming sisal industry, as documented in the 1892 registry above, no longer thrives in the Turks and Caicos Islands, the East Caicos Plantation abandoned long ago.  On my last visit to Middle and North Caicos, Cardinal Arthur told me stories of his boyhood, his memories of the long preparation of sisal before weaving it into rope.  I recently approached the middlecaicos Co -Op about commissioning a handwoven rug like this, but sadly none of the artisans currently work with sisal for baskets, hats, or other handcrafted goods.   I sincerely hope this once important process does not die with this generation, we must keep the knowledge of Turks and Caicos forefathers and farmers alive! Please visit tcmuseum.org to read a fascinating article on the Rise and Fall of the Sisal Industry.

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