Henequen, Mexico’s green gold

By Valeria Bigurra Peñavera

A species of agave used to make diverse products thanks to its resistance.

The agave is a plant that has many varieties and functionalities, from the creation of Mezcal and Tequila -two of the most representative drinks of Mexico- to the use of henequen, fiber extracted from the plant, used for different purposes.

henequen yucatanOriginal Image: "Henequen Yucatan Mexico" byHotel MedioMundo, used underCC BY-NC-ND 2.0, via Flickr.

Henequen -also known as Green Gold in Yucatan- is greatly recognized for the great economic flow that generated during its heyday in the nineteenth century; back in the day it was mainly used by the Maya civilization, and today is still used by people to make lanyards, bags, ropes and carpets, among many other things.

Also known as sisal fiber, this material turned the Yucatan peninsula in one of the richest and most sought-after states of Mexico. Even after the conquest, its export continued, and over time, production grew until it became an important agricultural industry, and its products began to sell even in United States and the European markets.

Henequen is a large, hardy plant, they grow from the ground and its leaves are bluish-white or gray and are lance-shaped with thin spines on the edges.

henequen bagsOriginal Image: "Bolsas de henequén" bySylvia, used underCC BY-ND 2.0 license, via Flickr.

It blooms only once in their life and takes eight or nine years to reach maturity; these plants need to grow in hot, dry climate, with less than 1,200 millimeters of rain a year, and the temperature should be about 20 °C., and it is of utmost importance that receives full sun.

In Yucatan there are several estates that have devoted large tracts of land for the production of this plant, however, like silver that was extracted from the mountains of Mexico, the value of henequen declined during the First World War, and never returned to regain the popularity it previously enjoyed, along with the advent of synthetic fibers it fell sharply, but still remains an important material for the creation of various products in the area.

Currently its production is considered a tourist attraction as tours offer visits to henequen estates where you can appreciate the the whole process, from the plantations to the detailed craftsmanship. Its most attractive feature is its resistance andstrength,as it supports large weight loads and does not break in circumstances that other fibers would.

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