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Scientific Name
Synonyms
Common Names
Family
Origin
Naturalised Distribution
Cultivation
Habitat
Distinguishing Features
Habit
Stems and Leaves
Flowers and Fruit
Reproduction and Dispersal
Impacts
Similar Species
Legislation
Sources
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Click on images to enlarge


infestation (Photo: Forest and Kim Starr, USGS)


habit prior to flowering (Photo: Sheldon Navie)


habit in flower (Photo: Forest and Kim Starr, USGS)


leaves (Photo: Sheldon Navie)


lower part of leaves showing some prickles (Photo: Sheldon Navie)


lower part of massive flowering stem (Photo: Sheldon Navie)


upper part of massive branched flower cluster (Photo: Sheldon Navie)


drooping flowers (Photo: Sheldon Navie)


close-up of flower (Photo: Sheldon Navie)


bulbils on old flowering stems (Photo: Sheldon Navie)


young plants (Photo: Sheldon Navie)


dense mass of young plants near adult plant (Photo: Sheldon Navie)


Furcraea foetida 'Mediopicta' (Photo: Sheldon Navie)

Mauritius hemp
Furcraea foetida

Scientific Name

Furcraea foetida (L.) Haw.

Synonyms

Agave foetida L.
Agave gigantea D. Dietr.
Furcraea gigantea Vent.

Common Names

Cuba hemp, Cuban hemp, false agave, giant false agave, giant cabuya, giant lily, green aloe, maguey, Mauritian hemp, Mauritius hemp, sisal

Family

Agavaceae

Origin

Native to the Caribbean (i.e. Guadeloupe and Martinique) and tropical South America (i.e. French Guiana, Guyana, Surinam, Brazil and Bolivia).

Naturalised Distribution

This species is commonly naturalised in the coastal districts of eastern Australia (i.e. in south-eastern and central Queensland and the coastal districts of central and northern New South Wales). It has also occasionally become naturalised in south-western Western Australia, on Lord Howe Island and on Norfolk Island.

Naturalised overseas in south-eastern USA (i.e. Florida), Hawaii, New Caledonia, Fiji, Niue, Tonga, La R union and New Zealand.

Cultivation

Mauritius hemp (Furcraea foetida) has been widely cultivated as a succulent garden ornamental. A cultivar with variegated leaves (i.e. Furcraea foetida 'Mediopicta') has become particularly popular in cultivation in recent years.

Habitat

A weed of urban bushland, open woodlands, roadsides, railways, embankments, cliffs, coastal environs, disturbed sites and waste areas in the warmer temperate and sub-tropical regions of Australia.

Distinguishing Features

Habit

A fleshy (i.e. succulent) plant forming a large rosette of leaves up to 2 m tall and 2.5-3.5 m wide. It eventually produces a massive upright (i.e. erect) inflorescence 2-12 m in height.

Stems and Leaves

The main stem or trunk at the base of the plant is quite short (i.e. less than 1 m tall and often only 20-30 cm tall) and is usually hidden below the leaves. The large flowering stems are green, hairless (i.e. glabrous), and very robust.

The very large fleshy (i.e. succulent) leaves are arranged in a rosette and are elongated in shape (i.e. linear-lanceolate to oblanceolate). These rigid leaves (1.2-2.5 m long and 7-20 cm wide on adult plants) are mostly entire, but usually have some widely-spaced hooked prickles (4-10 mm long) along their lower margins. They are pale green or bright green in colour, somewhat glossy in appearance, and are gradually narrowed to a sharp brown spine (4-8 cm long) at the tip (i.e. apical spine). Smaller leaves are also alternately arranged along the base of the flowering stem.

Flowers and Fruit

The numerous flowers are borne in a very large branched cluster (1-6 m long) towards the top of the massive flowering stem (i.e. in a terminal panicle). These flowers (3.5-4 cm long and 4-4.5 cm across) are greenish-white or yellowish-green in colour. They are drooping in nature (i.e. pendent) and borne on stalks (i.e. pedicels) 3-5 cm long. Each flower has six 'petals' (i.e. perianth segments or tepals) that are fused together at the base. These 'petals' (2.5-3.3 cm long and 1-1.8 cm wide) are mostly white on the outside and greenish-white or yellowish-green on the inside. They have six stamens with yellow anthers borne on stalks (i.e. filaments) about 10 mm long, with these stalks being swollen in the lower half. They also have an ovary (5-15 mm long) topped with a style (about 10 mm long) and a three-lobed stigma. The flowers are heavily fragrant and are produced during autumn and winter. Flowering usually only occurs once, with the whole plant dying about 1 year after the onset of flowering.

Fruit are generally not produced. What might appear to be fruit are actually large plantlets (i.e. bulbils) 1-16 cm long. The true fruit, which are rarely if ever seen in Australia, are large capsules up to 8 cm long and contain numerous black, flattened, seeds.

Reproduction and Dispersal

This species reproduces by plantlets (i.e. bulbils), which are formed by the thousands on the branches of the massive flower clusters.

Gravity is the main natural means of dispersal, and dense thickets often form around individual plants. These plantlets  may also be spread larger distances by animals, in soil, or in dumped garden waste.

Impacts

Mauritius hemp (Furcraea foetida) is regarded as an environmental weed in Western Australia and Queensland. It is known to invade coastal sites and cliffs, gullies, hillsides and open woodlands where it crowds out native species. It is most widespread and problematic in south-eastern Queensland, where it is ranked among the top 200 environmental weeds.

Mauritius hemp (Furcraea foetida) is occasionally naturalised in bushland around the foreshores of Sydney Harbour, particularly in Mosman, and is present at Brunswick Heads on the New South Wales North Coast. Infestations have also been recorded in conservation areas on the south coast of New South Wales (i.e. Eurobodalla National Park and Murramarang National Park). In south-western Western Australia, Mauritius hemp (Furcraea foetida) has become naturalised in disturbed heath and in Kings Park in suburban Perth. It is also listed as an invasive plant that is targeted for eradication in the Lord Howe Island Biodiversity Management Plan.

In Hawaii, Mauritius hemp (Furcraea foetida) is often locally abundant in dry to moderately moist disturbed sites (e.g. on slopes, rocky ledges, and in pastures) and it is extensively naturalised on Niue. In New Zealand it is considered to have a significant effect on indigenous communities, though it does not spread quickly.

Similar Species

Cuban hemp (Furcraea foetida) is very similar to variegated false agave (Furcraea selloa ) and relatively similar to century plant (Agave americana ), Caribbean agave (Agave angustifolia ) and the sisals (Agave sisalana and Agave vivipara). These species can be distinguished by the following differences:

Young Mauritius hemp (Furcraea foetida) plants are also similar to the river lily (Crinum pedunculatum), giant spear lily (Doryanthes palmeri) and Gymea lily (Doryanthes excelsa), which are all native to eastern Australia. However, the river lily (Crinum pedunculatum) does not have spines on the tips of its leaves and usually grows in wetter habitats. Giant spear lily (Doryanthes palmeri) and Gymea lily (Doryanthes excelsa) leaves are not fleshy and their flowers are bright red.

Legislation

Not declared or considered noxious by any state government authorities.

Sources

Anonymous (2006). Draft Lord Howe Island Biodiversity Management Plan. http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/PDFs/LHI_draft_plan_dec06.pdf. NSW Department of Environment and Conservation, Sydney, New South Wales.

Anonymous (2006). Furcraea foetida (L.) Haw., Agavaceae. Pacific Islands Ecosystems at Risk (PIER): plant threats to Pacific ecosystems. http://www.hear.org/pier/species/furcraea_foetida.htm. Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry, Hawaii, USA.

Anonymous (2006). Furcraea foetida (L.) Haw. Mauritius hemp. Plants Profile. http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=FUFO. National Plant Data Center, National Resources Conservation Service, United States Department of Agriculture, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA.

Anonymous (2006). Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). http://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/npgs/html/index.pl. National Germplasm Resources Laboratory, National Genetic Resources Program, Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Beltsville, Maryland, USA.

Anonymous (2006). National List of Naturalised Invasive and Potentially Invasive Garden Plants. Version 1.2. World Wildlife Fund - Australia (WWF Australia).

Batianoff, G.N. and Butler, D.W. (2002). Assessment of invasive naturalized plants in south-east Queensland. Plant Protection Quarterly 17: 27-34.

Bostock, P.D. and Holland, A.E. (2007). Census of the Queensland Flora 2007. Queensland Herbarium, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Brisbane, Queensland.

Coleman, H. (1998). *Furcraea foetida (L.) Haw. FloraBase: The Western Australian Flora. http://florabase.calm.wa.gov.au. Western Australian Herbarium, Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM), Perth, Western Australia.

de Lange, P.J., Gandner, R.O., Sykes, W.R., Crowcroft, G.M., Cameron, E.K., Stalker, F., Christian, M.L. and Braggins, J.E. (2005). Vascular flora of Norfolk Island: some additions and taxonomic notes. New Zealand Journal of Botany 43: 563-596.

Francis, J.K. (2003). Furcraea foetida (L.) Haw. Mauritius hemp. Agavaceae. US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, San Juan, Puerto Rico, USA.

Green, P. (1994). Flora of Australia, Volume 49, Oceania Islands 1. Australian Biological Resources Study and CSIRO Publishing, Canberra, ACT.

Harden, G.J. (2007). Furcraea foetida (L.) Haw. New South Wales Flora Online. PlantNET - The Plant Information Network System of Botanic Gardens Trust. http://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au. Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, Sydney, New South Wales.

Hussey, B.M.J., Keighery, G.J., Cousens, R.D., Dodd, J. and Lloyd, S.G. (1997). Western Weeds: a guide to the weeds of Western Australia. The Plant Protection Society of Western Australia, Victoria Park, Western Australia.

Keighery, G. and Longman, V. (2004). The naturalized vascular plants of Western Australia. 1: checklist, environmental weeds and distribution in IBRA regions. Plant Protection Quarterly 19: 12-32.

Stanley, T.E. and Ross, E.M. (1989). Flora of South-eastern Queensland. Volume 3. Department of Primary Industries, Brisbane, Queensland.

Verhoek, S. (2003). 8. Furcraea. In: Flora of North America - North of Mexico, Volume 26, Magnoliophyta: Liliidae (eds: Flora of North America Editorial Committee). Oxford University Press, New York, USA.

Whyte, R. (2006). Furcraea foetida (Agavaceae). Mauritius Hemp. Weeds to Whack. http://www.saveourwaterwaysnow.com/. Save Our Waterways Now (SOWN), Brisbane, Queensland.