Alternative common names:
Cuba hemp, Cuban hemp, false agave, giant cabuya, giant lily, green aloe.
Mauritius hemp is an evergreen perennial subshrub that is stemless or with a short stem up to 1m high. It has been widely cultivated as a succulent garden ornamental. The leaves are sword-shaped, 1-1.8m long and 10-15cm broad at their widest point, narrowing to 6-7cm broad at the leaf base, and to a sharp spine tip at the apex. The flowers are greenish to creamy white, 4cm long and strongly scented. They are produced on a large inflorescence up to 12m tall.
Where does this species come from?The Caribbean and northern South America.
What is its invasive status in South Africa?NEMBA Category 1a.
Where in South Africa is it a problem?Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Western Cape.
How does it spread?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.
Why is it a problem?
It is known to invade coastal sites and cliffs, gullies, hillsides and open woodlands where it crowds out indigenous species.
What does it look like?
Leaves: It is a large plant forming a cluster of fleshy leaves up to 2m tall and 2.5-3.5m wide. These very large, elongated leaves, up to 2.5m long and 20cm wide, have a sharp brown spine, 4-8cm long at the tip.
Flowers: It produces a massive, upright and much-branched flower cluster, 2-12m tall. The drooping flowers, 3.5-4cm long and 4-4.5cm across, are greenish-white or yellowish-green and have six 'petals'.
Fruit/seeds: Fruit is generally not produced. What might appear to be fruit is actually large plantlets (i.e. bulbils), 1-16cm long. The true fruit, which is rarely if ever seen, is a large capsule up to 8cm long and contains numerous black, flattened, seeds.
Does the plant have any uses?
Used as an ornamental plant in gardens and as a source of natural fibres.