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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/634

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

such, plants in their districts as were "useful as food for man or the domestic animals, or for purposes connected with the manufactures or any of the useful arts." The American consul at Campeche, Dr. Henry Perrine, responded to this call with energy and enthusiasm, and soon introduced into Congress "a bill to encourage the introduction and promote the cultivation of tropical plants in Florida, and conveying to Dr. Perrine and his associates a township of land, on condition that every section should be forfeited if at least one fourth thereof should not be occupied and successfully cultivated in tropical or other plants within five years." These hard conditions were accepted by Dr. Perrine, and in one of his letters to Congress he calls attention to the sisal plant, and says, "He repeats his unbroken conviction that its introduction will make an era of as great importance to the agricultural prosperity of our confederation as the invention of the cotton-gin."

For nearly ten years he labored, sending to Florida plants and seeds, and endeavoring to obtain his township of land, desiring "no more honor than the power of passing the brief term of his painful existence amid the privations and exposure incident to a chief pioneer in the planting and population of tropical Florida." He finally succeeded in establishing a sisal plantation on Indian Cay. Unfortunately, Dr. Perrine was not permitted to see the result of his labors, for, during the Seminole War, the Indians set fire to his buildings, and he himself fell a victim to their merciless attack. With the death of Dr. Perrine ended the cultivation of the plants he had introduced; but one of them, that he named Agave sisalana, remained, became naturalized, and is now flourishing on some of the Florida Keys, where the young plants are now being gathered and carried to the Bahamas.

Thus we see that the plants are growing within our borders, and it is only necessary to determine the quality of their fiber; for, although the plants are the same species as those now cultivated in Yucatan and the Bahamas, the quality of the fiber may not be as good, and yet on the other hand it may be better. For instance, it is said that the Bahama fiber is superior to that produced in Yucatan; so why may not the "Florida fiber" of the future surpass that of the Bahamas? In order to determine its value it is only necessary to prepare it by hand from the plants now growing in Florida and compare it with the article now on the market. The subject is being investigated by the Department of Agriculture, and a report may be looked for in the near future.

It may be said in conclusion that, as a crop, sisal has much to recommend it. It grows best on barren, rocky land that is useless for other agricultural purposes. Drought affects it but little, if at all, as the writer can testify from his own observation. The yield is not confined to any one season, but is continual; hence