The most important economic agaves are not the source of alcohol, but those which yield 'henequen,'—a native name introduced by Oviedo only a few years after Yucatan was discovered. This, so far as Mexico is concerned, is practically a product of Yucatan, though some of the other tropical states Fig. 14. Sotol. yield a small quota, and it has a yearly value of some $30,000,000 gold. A large part of it comes to the United States for use in cordage, etc., under the name 'sisal hemp' or 'sisal grass,' which is derived from a port of shipment. Our imports for the past three years average about $15,000,000 annually.
Most of the agaves have a strong fiber in their leaves, the use of which is prehistoric. That of the century plant is particularly white and fine, and, as I have said, is considerably used. The fiber of the pulque species, from the manner in which the sap is gathered, is little used; the very fleshy-leaved species are also hard to clean. The Tequila mezcal Fig. 13. Half-naked Laborers. is said to produce a good quality of fiber, which—its harvesting not interfering with the main use of the plants—is coming to be regarded as a valuable by-product of this species; and several other agaves are either cultivated on a smaller scale for their fiber or exploited as they occur spontaneously.