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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/51

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41
FOOD AND FIBER PLANTS OF THE INDIANS.

name of the liquor made from it is pulque, and the establishment where it is distilled is called a pulqueria.

Other species of Agave, which have narrower and less fleshy leaves, furnish neither food nor drink, but valuable fibers. Of these the most celebrated is the Sisal hemp (Agave sisalana), a tropical plant of which the home is in Southern Mexico. It furnishes a fiber similar to the Manila hemp, and of equal value. This plant will grow in Florida, and many years ago Dr. Perrine obtained a grant from the American Government to establish a plantation of it. He was in the full tide of successful experiment when the Seminole War broke out, and his plantation was destroyed by the Indians, from which he with his family made an almost miraculous escape.

Another less known but scarcely less valuable plant belonging to the same genus, is the "lechuguilla" (Agave heteracantha) of Chihuahua and the surrounding country. Of this the leaves are from a foot to eighteen inches in length, and grow in a tuft like those of the century-plant. Though separated with some difficulty from the parenchyma in which they are enveloped, the fibers that traverse the leaves are numerous and very strong and are largely used by the Mexicans for the manufacture of ropes, sacking, etc. When the proper machinery shall be invented for treating the plant, it is probable that this fiber will become an important article of commerce.

Though less valuable, the fibers contained in the leaves of the large species of yucca (Yucca baccata), which abounds in the same region with the lechuguilla, are, to some extent, utilized in the same way.

Among the fiber-plants used by the Indians I should mention one lichen (Evernia sarmentosa) which, though of little importance, is interesting as the only plant of this group, so far as I know, serving any useful purpose among the Indians. In certain localities among the mountains of Oregon the fir-forests are draped with the gray fiber of the Evernia, which there has much the aspect of the Spanish moss as it hangs from the live-oaks in our Southern States. In a few instances I have seen this fiber utilized by the Indian women, who twist it into rolls as large as the little finger, and then sew these together to make a kind of jacket similar to that which they much more frequently form of strips of rabbit-skin. These garments are not handsome, but are thick and warm, and do much to protect the wearers from the severity of the winter in the Northwest.

The Sotol (Dasylirion Texanum). In Southwestern Texas and in Chihuahua one of the most common and striking plants is the sotol, as it is called by the Mexicans. In its general habit it resembles the yuccas. Usually the trunk is very short, scarcely rising above the ground, and from its summit radiate a large number of linear leaves, which are about three feet in length by two inches wide at the base, tapering to a fine and flexible point. The sides are armed with strong recurved hooks, which make it very unpleasant to handle, and even to