Agave vivipara (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Agave vivipara L.

Family: Agavaceae


Agave angustifolia Haw., A. rumphii Hassk., A. zapupe Trel.

Vernacular names

  • Dwarf sisal, dwarf aloe
  • Indonesia: nanas domba (Javanese).


Originated in Mexico (Yucatán), but has widely naturalized in the tropics. In the Philippines, India, Mexico and Cuba cultivated as a fibre plant. Locally grown as an ornamental or for fencing in Java, where it also has naturalized.


In Indonesia leaf fibres from wild plants or from planted hedges are sometimes made into rope. In Semarang (West Java, Indonesia) they have been extracted from the leaves on a rather large scale, by scraping with a knife or piece of bamboo, to be exported. In Malaysia, Indonesia, India and Madagascar A. vivipara is frequently grown as a hedge plant, e.g. along railway lines in India. In Mexico the leaves are used for the production of the alcoholic beverage "mezcal".


A robust, perennial, monocarpic herb, 2.5-4 m tall when flowering, producing subterraneous, short stolons and suckers, and numerous, crowded leaves in a rosette; stem in older plants 25-50 cm long. Leaves numerous, almost straight, combined into a dense spreading crown, sessile; blade lanceolate with gradually narrowed base and apex, 40-80 cm × 5-10 cm, margin straight but with weak to moderately strong spines, apex ending in a 1-2 cm long spine, glaucous or grey-green, channelled but flat at top. Inflorescence a panicle, up to 3.5 m long (including 2.5 m long peduncle); branches widely patent, at apex repeatedly trichotomously branched; perianth tubular with 6 lobes, 4.5-5 cm long (including 1-2 cm long ovary); tube 0.5-1 cm long; lobes oblong-lanceolate, 2-2.5 cm long, green or brown, hardened apex with minute hairs, 3 outer lobes somewhat longer than 3 inner ones; stamens 6; pistil with inferior ovary, filiform style and obtusely 3-lobed stigma. After flowering bulbils are often produced on the inflorescence branches. Fruit a cylindrical capsule, 4 cm × 2.5 cm, longitudinally furrowed, shortly beaked, with numerous seeds. Seed dull black. The rate of leaf production of A. vivipara is very high and plants produce over 500 leaves during their life cycle. However, the leaves are short and spiny and the plant is not useful for commercial fibre production. The leaves contain 3-3.5(-5)% of a short and fine fibre. The leaves contain the steroidal sapogenins hecogenin, tigogenin, gitogenin and chlorogenin. A. vivipara is sexually fertile and has been used for crossing in sisal breeding. The hybrid "11648", obtained in East Africa by backcrossing a hybrid of A. amaniensis Trel. & Nowell and A. vivipara with A. amaniensis , has largely replaced A. sisalana Perrine in Tanzania. A. vivipara is presumably the ancestor of A. fourcroydes Lem., an important fibre plant grown in Central America and the Caribbean. A. vivipara var. letonae (Taylor ex Trel.) P.I. Forst. (synonym: A. letonae Taylor ex Trel.), known as "Salvador henequen" used to be of considerable economic importance for fibre production in El Salvador and is also cultivated in Guatemala.

Selected sources

6, 20, 25, 31, 52, 60, 66, 69, 71, 75, 94, 104, 137, 139, 143, 159, 195, 196, 198.


M. Brink, P.C.M. Jansen & C.H. Bosch