Preparing Cords and Ropes from Washingtonia and Agave
The Washingtonia palm (Fig. 1.2.1), of Californian or Mexican origin, differs from the date palm in having hand-shaped leaves (Fig. 1.2.2). It has many advantages, being easy to grow in all the climatic conditions of this country and is therefore planted in many public gardens. Birds eat the small black fruits and spread them, after they have passed through their digestive system, to areas where they have no competitors in their early years. Many fine fibers are seen at the leaf edges, which look as if waiting for the string-maker. Do not be tempted – these fibers are easily broken and are not suitable for making cords. The petiole of the big leaves has plenty of fibers, easy to obtain and to prepare white cords from. It is easy to cut the leaf at the base of the petiole with secateurs or saw, being careful of its thorny edge (Fig. 1.2.3). Pull the fibers from the long edges. The fibers have non-fibrous plant tissue on them that may detract from the strength of the cord or rope. It may be removed easily with the aid of a penknife. Preparation of the cord is done in the usual way (Fig. 1.2.5).
Agave leaves contain large quantities of fiber. Commercial ropes are made from a relative of the Agave (A. americana) and one of the most commonly used terms for the fibers and for the ropes is “sisal.” Strange as it may sound, the name is from a coastal town in Central America where the plant does not grow at all. Attempts were made in Israel to grow the plant commercially, but were unsuccessful, because of the high cost of manual labor. Many Agave plants serve an ornamental purpose in Israeli towns and villages. Because of its special morphology and manner of propagation (flowers, bats, and seedlings), we shall return to the Agave later.
Leaf morphology may disturb passers-by because of the ferocious spines at the leaf tip and edges. To avoid unnecessary problems, I recommend removing these spines with a knife before obtaining fibers (follow the photographs). The many fibers, seen well in the leaf cross-section (Fig. 1.2.8), are subtended by water-storing tissue. After removing the spines, fibers may be pulled from the leaf edges. Some leaves are 1-2 m long and these long fibers make light work of string-making. Agave fibers are strong, and exceptionally fine, strong cords may be made from them. After separating the fibers from the leaf, the non-fibrous water-rich tissue should be removed from the fibers with a knife. The clean fibers dry quickly and are ready for use. Thick ropes may also be prepared, but they are similar to commercial ropes and this is not our intention. On the surface of the leaf is skin tissue (epidermis – clearly visible as gray above the green tissue in Fig. 1.2.9, where the leaf-spines have been removed), of which large strips may be peeled. This tissue protects well against drying out, and cut leaves may be kept in the home as stock for later use for many months, if the epidermis is not damaged.