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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/227

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THE CENTURY PLANT

utilization of agaves for fiber is of rather small importance. Nevertheless, considerably more than a million dollars' worth of so-called 'ixtle' fiber is marketed in Mexico each year, in addition to a very large quantity used locally for lassoes and other cordage and the like. From the port of shipment, ixtle is commonly known as Tampico fiber. Our imports for the last three years average about one and a quarter million dollars in value. Unlike henequen, this is the product of several distinct plants, of which a number belong to the very different genera Yucca, Samuela and Hesperaloe, and in the tropics the name is also applied to Bromelia fiber; but the larger part of the Tampico fiber is obtained from two dwarf species of Agave. Comparatively little of it comes from large plantations, except in the warm region above Tampico, where extensive jdanting is now being undertaken—and a large part of the exported ixtle is obtained from this district. Aside from its Hesperaloe ('Zamandoque') and Samuela ('Palma Zamandoque') constituents, the longer grade of Tampico fiber—which even then is shorter than henequen—seems to be produced chiefly by an agave spontaneous as well as cultivated in the state of Tamaulipas, and known botanically as A. Funkiana. In the cooler country, especially in the states of Coahuila and Nuevo Leon, a shorter fiber is obtained from the closely related wild 'lecheguilla,' the native name of which has been adapted by botanists into Agave Lecheguilla.

On the plantations, and possibly to a very slight extent elsewhere, the fiber is cleaned by machinery, much as henequen is; but a great deal of it is still prepared laboriously by hand. It is here the central bud or 'cogollo' of young leaves, which is used, and not the harder old ones, and the pulp is removed from the fiber by means of a hand scraper of metal used against a supporting block of wood.

In the northern part of the republic, where, as in western Texas, lecheguilla is extremely abundant over a large area, the extracted fiber, sometimes used for brushes, bath pledgets, etc., is usually spun by hand into cords or these into ropes on a primitive rope-walk, a child twirling the strands as they grow from the apron-like bag of fiber carried by the spinner. This is the common cordage of the country, and is used for tying purposes, lariats and the like, as well as to make sacking, saddle-bags, and the head-yokes with which the human beast of burden always goes provided in that land. Visitors to Monterey are often interested in the rope-walks, which may be seen anywhere in the outskirts of the city, as well as in the manufacture of the lecheguilla cord into coarse bagging which is effected in an equally laborious and simple manner—the cord being woven into oblong mats which are then folded across the middle and stitched down the sides, everything being done by hand. The charm of these simple sights to the tourist is largely enhanced by the general friendliness of the workers, who are usually willing to chat or be photographed and whose