Notice

Colin Mills, compiler of the Hortus Camdenensis, died in late November 2012 after a short illness. As he always considered the Hortus his legacy, it is his family's intention to keep the site running in perpetuity. It will not, however, be updated in the near future.

Furcraea foetida (L.) Haw.

Frost tender succulent with lance-shaped leaves, to 2m long and tall spires, to 12m, of strongly scented white flowers in summer.  The plant dies after flowering but produces numerous seeds which often germinate and produce sizeable plantlets on the scape.  These readily root when they fall.  The cultivar mediopicta (variegata) has creamy-white longitudinal lines on the leaves.  [RHSE, Hortus].

Horticultural & Botanical History

‘The Furcroea gigantea is a truly gigantic plant; the scape rising from the bosom of the leaves, which are seven feet long, to the height of above thirty feet, producing numerous alternate branches, again dividing into branchlets, one of which with its flowers is represented in our figure. […] Cultivated according to Mr. Aiton in 1690, at the Royal garden at Hampton-Court.’  [BM t.2250/1821]. 

Mauritius Hemp was once an economically important crop. ‘The plant is closely allied to the agaves and is found throughout tropical America. It grows in Algeria aud Natal, and is cultivated in St. Helena and Mauritius. It has also been introduced into India, Ceylon, and Australia. It is of moderately quick growth and attains great perfection. Like the agaves, these plants have long-lived massive stems, immense fleshy leaves, and produce their flowers after many years upon tall central stems, in pyramidal, candelabra-like form.

Structural Fiber. — The fiber very closely resembles the sisal hemp of commerce, and doubtless is often so called. Dr. Ernst, in the catalogue of the Venezuelan department (Phil. Int. Exh., 1876), states that the fiber is very strong and is used for cordage and gunny bags. It is prepared in the same manner as sisal hemp. Samples of the Venezuelan specimens are dyed in aniline to show that it will take color.

The plant is grown largely for fiber at St. Helena and Mauritius, and in the London market the product is known as Mauritius hemp. In the Kew Bulletin for March, 1887, the plant grown in Africa is described as having leaves 4 to 7 feet long, 4 to 6 inches broad at the middle, unarmed, light green in color, channeled down the face.

F. gigantea is supposed to have been introduced from South America to Mauritius about 1790. It has evidently found a congenial home there, for without any effort on the part of man it has covered waste lands and adandoned sugar estates to such an extent as to lay the foundation of a considerable fiber industry.’ [Dodge – Useful Fibre Plants of the World p.169/1897].

History at Camden Park

Listed in all catalogues [H.103/1843]. Macarthur quite probably introduced this plant to test its economic potential, however it will not withstand the usual Camden winter without protection.

Notes

Published Feb 08, 2009 - 02:10 PM | Last updated Feb 04, 2011 - 04:40 PM

The whole plant is outlined and a flowering spike with cream flowers detailed.  Curtis's Botanical Magazine t.2250, 1821.

Furcraea foetida (L.) Haw. | BM t.2250/1821 | BHL

Family Agavaceae
Category
Region of origin

Caribbean, South America

Synonyms
  • Furcraea gigantea Vent.
  • Agave foetida L.
Common Name

Mauritius hemp, Green aloe

Name in the Camden Park Record

Fourcroya gigantea 

Confidence level

high