France the French Republic, is a country whose territory consists of metropolitan France in Western Europe and several overseas regions and territories. The metropolitan area of France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean, it is bordered by Belgium and Germany to the northeast and Italy to the east, Andorra and Spain to the south. The overseas territories include French Guiana in South America and several islands in the Atlantic and Indian oceans; the country's 18 integral regions span a combined area of 643,801 square kilometres and a total population of 67.3 million. France, a sovereign state, is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial centre. Other major urban areas include Lyon, Toulouse, Bordeaux and Nice. During the Iron Age, what is now metropolitan France was inhabited by a Celtic people. Rome annexed the area in 51 BC, holding it until the arrival of Germanic Franks in 476, who formed the Kingdom of Francia.
The Treaty of Verdun of 843 partitioned Francia into Middle Francia and West Francia. West Francia which became the Kingdom of France in 987 emerged as a major European power in the Late Middle Ages following its victory in the Hundred Years' War. During the Renaissance, French culture flourished and a global colonial empire was established, which by the 20th century would become the second largest in the world; the 16th century was dominated by religious civil wars between Protestants. France became Europe's dominant cultural and military power in the 17th century under Louis XIV. In the late 18th century, the French Revolution overthrew the absolute monarchy, established one of modern history's earliest republics, saw the drafting of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which expresses the nation's ideals to this day. In the 19th century, Napoleon established the First French Empire, his subsequent Napoleonic Wars shaped the course of continental Europe. Following the collapse of the Empire, France endured a tumultuous succession of governments culminating with the establishment of the French Third Republic in 1870.
France was a major participant in World War I, from which it emerged victorious, was one of the Allies in World War II, but came under occupation by the Axis powers in 1940. Following liberation in 1944, a Fourth Republic was established and dissolved in the course of the Algerian War; the Fifth Republic, led by Charles de Gaulle, remains today. Algeria and nearly all the other colonies became independent in the 1960s and retained close economic and military connections with France. France has long been a global centre of art and philosophy, it hosts the world's fourth-largest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is the leading tourist destination, receiving around 83 million foreign visitors annually. France is a developed country with the world's sixth-largest economy by nominal GDP, tenth-largest by purchasing power parity. In terms of aggregate household wealth, it ranks fourth in the world. France performs well in international rankings of education, health care, life expectancy, human development.
France is considered a great power in global affairs, being one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council with the power to veto and an official nuclear-weapon state. It is a leading member state of the European Union and the Eurozone, a member of the Group of 7, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the World Trade Organization, La Francophonie. Applied to the whole Frankish Empire, the name "France" comes from the Latin "Francia", or "country of the Franks". Modern France is still named today "Francia" in Italian and Spanish, "Frankreich" in German and "Frankrijk" in Dutch, all of which have more or less the same historical meaning. There are various theories as to the origin of the name Frank. Following the precedents of Edward Gibbon and Jacob Grimm, the name of the Franks has been linked with the word frank in English, it has been suggested that the meaning of "free" was adopted because, after the conquest of Gaul, only Franks were free of taxation.
Another theory is that it is derived from the Proto-Germanic word frankon, which translates as javelin or lance as the throwing axe of the Franks was known as a francisca. However, it has been determined that these weapons were named because of their use by the Franks, not the other way around; the oldest traces of human life in what is now France date from 1.8 million years ago. Over the ensuing millennia, Humans were confronted by a harsh and variable climate, marked by several glacial eras. Early hominids led a nomadic hunter-gatherer life. France has a large number of decorated caves from the upper Palaeolithic era, including one of the most famous and best preserved, Lascaux. At the end of the last glacial period, the climate became milder. After strong demographic and agricultural development between the 4th and 3rd millennia, metallurgy appeared at the end of the 3rd millennium working gold and bronze, iron. France has numerous megalithic sites from the Neolithic period, including the exceptiona
French Southern and Antarctic Lands
The French Southern and Antarctic Lands is an overseas territory of France. It consists of: Kerguelen Islands, a group of volcanic islands in the southern Indian Ocean, southeast of Africa equidistant between Africa and Australia; the territory is sometimes referred to as the French Southern Lands or French Southern Territories to emphasize non-recognition of French sovereignty over Adélie Land as part of the Antarctic Treaty system. The territory has no permanent civilian population; those resident consist of visiting military personnel, scientific researchers and support staff. The French Southern and Antarctic Lands have formed a territoire d'outre-mer of France since 1955, they were administered from Paris by an administrateur supérieur assisted by a secretary-general. The territory is divided into five districts: a According to new law 2007-224 of February 21, 2007, the Scattered Islands constitute the TAAF's fifth district; the TAAF website does not mention their population. The data are not included in the totals.b.
The headquarters of the district chief lies beyond the TAAF, in Saint-Pierre on Réunion Island.c The Territory's principal station is Martin-de-Viviès on Île Amsterdam. The capital and headquarters of the Territorial administrator lies beyond the TAAF, in Saint-Pierre on Réunion Island; each district is headed by a district chief. Because there is no permanent population, there is no elected assembly, nor does the territory send representatives to the national parliament; the territory includes Amsterdam Island, Saint-Paul Island, Crozet Islands, the Kerguelen Islands in the southern Indian Ocean near 43°S, 67°E, along with Adélie Land, the sector of Antarctica claimed by France, named by the French explorer Jules Dumont d'Urville after his wife. Adélie Land and the islands, totaling 7,781 km2, have no indigenous inhabitants, though in 1997 there were about 100 researchers whose numbers varied from winter to summer. Amsterdam Island and Saint-Paul Island are extinct volcanoes and have been delineated as the Amsterdam and Saint-Paul Islands temperate grasslands ecoregion.
The highest point in the territory is Mont Ross on Kerguelen Island at 1,850 m. There are few airstrips on the islands, only existing on islands with weather stations, the 1,232 km of coastline have no ports or harbors, only offshore anchorages; the islands in the Indian Ocean are supplied by the special ship Marion Dufresne sailing out of Le Port in Réunion Island. Terre Adélie is supplied by Astrolabe sailing out of Hobart in Tasmania. However, the territory has a merchant marine fleet totaling 2,892,911 GRT/5,165,713 tonnes deadweight, including seven bulk carriers, five cargo ships, ten chemical tankers, nine container ships, six liquefied gas carriers, 24 petroleum tankers, one refrigerated cargo ship, ten roll-on-roll-off carriers; this fleet is maintained as a subset of the French register that allows French-owned ships to operate under more liberal taxation and manning regulations than permissible under the main French register. This register, however, is to vanish; the territory's natural resources are limited to fish and crustaceans.
Economic activity is limited to servicing meteorological and geophysical research stations and French and other fishing fleets. The main fish resources are Patagonian spiny lobster. Both are poached by foreign fleets; such arrests can result in heavy fines and/or the seizure of the ship. France sold licenses to foreign fisheries to fish the Patagonian toothfish; the territory takes in revenues of about €16 million a year. The French Southern Territories have been given the following country codes: FS and TF. France Outline of France French overseas departments and territories Administrative divisions of France Islands controlled by France in the Indian and Pacific oceans French colonial empire List of French possessions and colonies Wikimedia Atlas of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands Official website French Southern and Antarctic Lands – Official French website "French Southern and Antarctic Lands"; the World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency. French Southern Territories at Curlie Southern & Antarctic Territories Crozet Archipelago Kerguelen Archipelago Terre Adélie
An airport is an aerodrome with extended facilities for commercial air transport. Airports have facilities to store and maintain aircraft, a control tower. An airport consists of a landing area, which comprises an aerially accessible open space including at least one operationally active surface such as a runway for a plane to take off or a helipad, includes adjacent utility buildings such as control towers and terminals. Larger airports may have airport aprons, taxiway bridges, air traffic control centres, passenger facilities such as restaurants and lounges, emergency services. In some countries, the US in particular, they typically have one or more fixed-base operators, serving general aviation. An airport serving helicopters is called a heliport. An airport for use by seaplanes and amphibious aircraft is called a seaplane base; such a base includes a stretch of open water for takeoffs and landings, seaplane docks for tying-up. An international airport has additional facilities for customs and passport control as well as incorporating all of the aforementioned elements.
Such airports rank among the most complex and largest of all built typologies with 15 of the top 50 buildings by floor area being airport terminals. The terms aerodrome and airstrip may be used to refer to airports, the terms heliport, seaplane base, STOLport refer to airports dedicated to helicopters, seaplanes, or short take-off and landing aircraft. In colloquial use in certain environments, the terms airport and aerodrome are interchanged. However, in general, the term airport may imply or confer a certain stature upon the aviation facility that other aerodromes may not have achieved. In some jurisdictions, airport is a legal term of art reserved for those aerodromes certified or licensed as airports by the relevant national aviation authority after meeting specified certification criteria or regulatory requirements; that is to say, all airports are aerodromes, but not all aerodromes are airports. In jurisdictions where there is no legal distinction between aerodrome and airport, which term to use in the name of an aerodrome may be a commercial decision.
In United States technical/legal usage, landing area is used instead of aerodrome, airport means "a landing area used by aircraft for receiving or discharging passengers or cargo". Smaller or less-developed airfields, which represent the vast majority have a single runway shorter than 1,000 m. Larger airports for airline flights have paved runways of 2,000 m or longer. Skyline Airport in Inkom, Idaho has a runway, only 122 m long. In the United States, the minimum dimensions for dry, hard landing fields are defined by the FAR Landing And Takeoff Field Lengths; these include considerations for safety margins during takeoff. The longest public-use runway in the world is at Qamdo Bamda Airport in China, it has a length of 5,500 m. The world's widest paved runway is 105 m wide; as of 2009, the CIA stated that there were 44,000 "... airports or airfields recognizable from the air" around the world, including 15,095 in the US, the US having the most in the world. Most of the world's large airports are owned by local, regional, or national government bodies who lease the airport to private corporations who oversee the airport's operation.
For example, in the United Kingdom the state-owned British Airports Authority operated eight of the nation's major commercial airports – it was subsequently privatized in the late 1980s, following its takeover by the Spanish Ferrovial consortium in 2006, has been further divested and downsized to operating just Heathrow now. Germany's Frankfurt Airport is managed by the quasi-private firm Fraport. While in India GMR Group operates, through joint ventures, Indira Gandhi International Airport and Rajiv Gandhi International Airport. Bengaluru International Airport and Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport are controlled by GVK Group; the rest of India's airports are managed by the Airports Authority of India. In Pakistan nearly all civilian airports are owned and operated by the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority except for Sialkot International Airport which has the distinction of being the first owned public airport in Pakistan and South Asia. In the United States, commercial airports are operated directly by government entities or government-created airport authorities, such as the Los Angeles World Airports authority that oversees several airports in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Los Angeles International Airport.
In Canada, the federal authority, Transport Canada, divested itself of all but the remotest airports in 1999/2000. Now most airports in Canada are owned and operated by individual legal authorities or are municipally owned. Many U. S. airports still lease part or all of their facilities to outside firms, who operate functions such as retail management and parking. In the U. S. all commercial airport runways are certified by the FAA under the Code of Federal Regulations Title 14 Part 139, "Certification of Commercial Service Airports" but maintained by the local airport under the regulatory authority of the FAA. Despite the reluctance to privatize airports in the US, the government-owned, contractor-operated arrangement is the standard for the operation of commercial airports in the rest of the world. Airports are divided into airside areas; the landside area is open to the public, while access to the airside area is controlled. The airside area includes all parts of the airpo
Euphorbia is a large and diverse genus of flowering plants called spurge, in the spurge family. "Euphorbia" is sometimes used in ordinary English to collectively refer to all members of Euphorbiaceae, not just to members of the genus. Some euphorbias are commercially available, such as poinsettias at Christmas; some are cultivated as ornamentals, or collected and valued for the aesthetic appearance of their unique floral structures, such as the crown of thorns plant. Euphorbias from the deserts of Southern Africa and Madagascar have evolved physical characteristics and forms similar to cacti of North and South America, so they are incorrectly referred to as cacti; some are used as ornamentals in landscaping, because of beautiful or striking overall forms, drought and heat tolerance. Euphorbias range from tiny annual plants to long-lived trees; the genus has over or about 2,000 members, making it one of the largest genera of flowering plants. It has one of the largest ranges of chromosome counts, along with Rumex and Senecio.
Euphorbia antiquorum is the type species for the genus Euphorbia. It was first described by Carl Linnaeus in 1753 in Species Plantarum; the plants share the feature of having a poisonous, white, latex-like sap, unusual and unique floral structures. The genus may be described by properties of its members' gene sequences, or by the shape and form of its heads of flowers; when viewed as a whole, the head of flowers looks like a single flower. It has a unique kind of pseudanthium, called a cyathium, where each flower in the head is reduced to its barest essential part needed for sexual reproduction; the individual flowers are either male or female, with the male flowers reduced to only the stamen, the females to the pistil. These flowers have no sepals, petals, or other parts that are typical of flowers in other kinds of plants. Structures supporting the flower head and beneath have evolved to attract pollinators with nectar, with shapes and colors that function the way petals and other flower parts do in other flowers.
It is the only genus of plants that has all three kinds of photosynthesis, CAM, C3, C4. The genus can be found all over the world; the forms range from annual plants lying to well-developed tall trees. In deserts in Madagascar and southern Africa, convergent evolution has led to cactus-like forms where the plants occupy the same ecological niche as cacti do in deserts of North and South America; the genus is found in the tropical and subtropical regions of Africa and the Americas, but in temperate zones worldwide. Succulent species originate from Africa, the Americas, Madagascar. A wide range of insular species can be found. Among laypeople, Euphorbia species are among the plant taxa most confused with cacti the stem succulents. Euphorbias secrete a sticky, milky-white fluid with latex. Individual flowers of euphorbias are tiny and nondescript, without petals and sepals, unlike cacti, which have fantastically showy flowers. Euphorbias from desert habitats with growth forms similar to cacti have thorns, which are different from the spines of cacti.
The common name "spurge" derives from the Middle English/Old French espurge, due to the use of the plant's sap as a purgative. The botanical name Euphorbia derives from Euphorbos, the Greek physician of king Juba II of Numidia, who married the daughter of Anthony and Cleopatra. Juba was a prolific writer including natural history. Euphorbos wrote. In 12 BC, Juba named this plant after his physician Euphorbos, as Augustus Caesar had dedicated a statue to the brother of Euphorbos, Antonius Musa, the personal physician of Augustus. In 1753, botanist and taxonomist Carl Linnaeus assigned the name Euphorbia to the entire genus in the physician's honor; the plants are annual, biennial or perennial herbs, woody shrubs, or trees with a caustic, poisonous milky latex. The roots are thick and fleshy or tuberous. Many species are less succulent, thorny, or unarmed; the main stem and also the side arms of the succulent species are thick and fleshy, 15–91 cm tall. The deciduous leaves may be opposite, alternate, or in whorls.
In succulent species, the leaves are small and short-lived. The stipules are small transformed into spines or glands, or missing. Like all members of the family Euphorbiaceae, spurges have unisexual flowers. In Euphorbia, flowers occur in a head, called the cyathium; each male or female flower in the cyathium head has only its essential sexual part, in males the stamen, in females the pistil. The flowers do not have sepals, petals, or nectar to attract pollinators, although other nonflower parts of the plant have an appearance and nectar glands with similar roles. Euphorbias are the only plants known to have this kind of flower head. Nectar glands and nectar that attract pollinators are held in the involucre, a cuplike part below and supporting the cyathium head; the involucre is above and supported by bract-like modified leaf structures called cyathophylls', or cyathial leaves
Aldabra is the world's second-largest coral atoll. It is situated in the Aldabra Group of islands in the Indian Ocean that are part of the Outer Islands of the Seychelles, with a distance of 1,120 km southwest of the capital, Victoria, on Mahé Island; the name Aldabra was Al-Hadra or Al-Khadra, given by Arab seafarers for "the atoll’s harsh, sun-baked environment". They had named the Indian Ocean as Bahr-el zanj, it was visited by Portuguese navigators in 1511. The islands were known to the Persians and Arabs, from whom they got their name. In the middle of the 18th century, the atoll became a dependency of the French colony of Réunion, from where expeditions were made for the capture of the Aldabra giant tortoises; as there are no surface freshwater sources on Aldabra, the interests of the explorers was only to exploit the species of tortoise and fish, not to inhabit the atoll. In 1810, with Mauritius, Réunion, the Seychelles and other islands, Aldabra passed into the possession of Great Britain.
Réunion was returned to France, Mauritius gained possession of Aldabra as well as the rest of the Seychelles. The previous inhabitants were emigrants from the Seychelles. Admiral W. J. L. Wharton of the British Navy landed in Aldabra in 1878 to conduct hydrographic surveys of the islands. In 1888, first settlement was established after the Concession was granted by the Seychelles authorities; the small settlement was established on Picard Island facing west near the beach. The intention was to export the natural resources of the islands; the villagers built a chapel, in the middle of the badamier trees, with timber and steel, an essential addition to the plantation houses and office buildings. As Aldabra had no water resources, large rectangular-shaped water storage structures were built adjoining each of the houses. A two-roomed jail was built in the village, a remnant of, still seen at Aldabra; the exploitation of tortoises for commercial purposes at that time is borne out by the remnants of a crushing mill at Picard Island, used to crush bones of tortoises, which were brought in from other islands in the atoll.
Efforts made to grow plantation crops of coconuts and sisal failed due to inadequate water sources on the atoll. In the late 19th century Goats were introduced as a food source for the villagers living there. Ship rats were introduced and recorded before 1870, house geckos were noted from the 1970s. Sailors landed on the atoll in the 19th century and attempted to raid the island for tortoises as food. By 1900, the tortoises were nearly extinct, a crew would have to hunt for three days to find one. In the early 1800s, concessions given to individuals destroyed the forests and tortoise habitats in many islands in Seychelles. However, James Spurs, who had the concession of the atoll, was responsible for saving the tortoises on the atoll when he banned killing them in 1891. Following World War II, exploitation of Aldabra for commercial use came to an end and restrictions were imposed on the number of people who could stay on the islands. Introduction of invasive species was banned, faunal species were protected under law, active research on the ecology and biodiversity of the atoll was undertaken by the Royal Society of London from the middle of the 1970s.
Aldabra, along with Desroches and Farquhar, was part of the British Indian Ocean Territory from 1965 until Seychelles' independence in 1976. In the 1960s, as a part of their'Ocean Island Policy', to support East of Suez commitments, the British government considered establishing a RAF base on the island and invited the United States to help fund the project in return for shared use of the facility and a settlement of 11 million dollars; the British Broadcasting Corporation became interested in Aldabra as a possible site to locate transmitters with which to rebroadcast the BBC Overseas Service into the African mainland. The BBC mounted a fact-finding expedition to assess its suitability for this purpose; the BBC were dependent upon the RAF for developing the atoll as without this their own ambitions would not have been feasible. After an international protest by scientists, the military plans were abandoned and the atoll instead received full protection; the "Environmental lobbyists" under the leadership of Julian Huxley, with the support of the MP Tam Dalyell, got the British venture torpedoed.
In 1966, the Minister of Defence Dennis Healy of the British Government had observed that: "As I understand it, the island of Aldabra is inhabited - like Her Majesty's Opposition Front bench - by giant turtles, frigate birds and boobies." Subsequent to the thwarting of plans to establish a military station at Aldabra, the Royal Society of London resumed their scientific study of the flora and fauna of the atoll with Professor David Stoddart as the leader. The Royal Society bought the lease of the atoll in 1970 and their research station became functional from 1970. After completion of their assigned work, the Royal Society left and the Seychelles Island Foundation, a public trust of Seych
In meteorology, precipitation is any product of the condensation of atmospheric water vapor that falls under gravity. The main forms of precipitation include drizzle, sleet, snow and hail. Precipitation occurs when a portion of the atmosphere becomes saturated with water vapor, so that the water condenses and "precipitates", thus and mist are not precipitation but suspensions, because the water vapor does not condense sufficiently to precipitate. Two processes acting together, can lead to air becoming saturated: cooling the air or adding water vapor to the air. Precipitation forms as smaller droplets coalesce via collision with other rain drops or ice crystals within a cloud. Short, intense periods of rain in scattered locations are called "showers."Moisture, lifted or otherwise forced to rise over a layer of sub-freezing air at the surface may be condensed into clouds and rain. This process is active when freezing rain occurs. A stationary front is present near the area of freezing rain and serves as the foci for forcing and rising air.
Provided necessary and sufficient atmospheric moisture content, the moisture within the rising air will condense into clouds, namely stratus and cumulonimbus. The cloud droplets will grow large enough to form raindrops and descend toward the Earth where they will freeze on contact with exposed objects. Where warm water bodies are present, for example due to water evaporation from lakes, lake-effect snowfall becomes a concern downwind of the warm lakes within the cold cyclonic flow around the backside of extratropical cyclones. Lake-effect snowfall can be locally heavy. Thundersnow is possible within lake effect precipitation bands. In mountainous areas, heavy precipitation is possible where upslope flow is maximized within windward sides of the terrain at elevation. On the leeward side of mountains, desert climates can exist due to the dry air caused by compressional heating. Most precipitation is caused by convection; the movement of the monsoon trough, or intertropical convergence zone, brings rainy seasons to savannah climes.
Precipitation is a major component of the water cycle, is responsible for depositing the fresh water on the planet. 505,000 cubic kilometres of water falls as precipitation each year. Given the Earth's surface area, that means the globally averaged annual precipitation is 990 millimetres, but over land it is only 715 millimetres. Climate classification systems such as the Köppen climate classification system use average annual rainfall to help differentiate between differing climate regimes. Precipitation may occur on other celestial bodies, e.g. when it gets cold, Mars has precipitation which most takes the form of frost, rather than rain or snow. Precipitation is a major component of the water cycle, is responsible for depositing most of the fresh water on the planet. 505,000 km3 of water falls as precipitation each year, 398,000 km3 of it over the oceans. Given the Earth's surface area, that means the globally averaged annual precipitation is 990 millimetres. Mechanisms of producing precipitation include convective and orographic rainfall.
Convective processes involve strong vertical motions that can cause the overturning of the atmosphere in that location within an hour and cause heavy precipitation, while stratiform processes involve weaker upward motions and less intense precipitation. Precipitation can be divided into three categories, based on whether it falls as liquid water, liquid water that freezes on contact with the surface, or ice. Mixtures of different types of precipitation, including types in different categories, can fall simultaneously. Liquid forms of precipitation include drizzle. Rain or drizzle that freezes on contact within a subfreezing air mass is called "freezing rain" or "freezing drizzle". Frozen forms of precipitation include snow, ice needles, ice pellets and graupel; the dew point is the temperature to which a parcel must be cooled in order to become saturated, condenses to water. Water vapor begins to condense on condensation nuclei such as dust and salt in order to form clouds. An elevated portion of a frontal zone forces broad areas of lift, which form clouds decks such as altostratus or cirrostratus.
Stratus is a stable cloud deck which tends to form when a cool, stable air mass is trapped underneath a warm air mass. It can form due to the lifting of advection fog during breezy conditions. There are four main mechanisms for cooling the air to its dew point: adiabatic cooling, conductive cooling, radiational cooling, evaporative cooling. Adiabatic cooling occurs when air expands; the air can rise due to convection, large-scale atmospheric motions, or a physical barrier such as a mountain. Conductive cooling occurs when the air comes into contact with a colder surface by being blown from one surface to another, for example from a liquid water surface to colder land. Radiational cooling occurs due to the emission of infrared radiation, either by the air or by the surface underneath. Evaporative cooling occurs when moisture is added to the air through evaporation, which forces the air temperature to cool to its wet-bulb temperature, or until it reaches saturation; the main ways water vapor is added to the air are: wind convergence into areas of upward motion, precipitation or virga falling from above, daytime heating evaporating water from the surface of oceans, water bodies or wet lan
Sisal, with the botanical name Agave sisalana, is a species of Agave native to southern Mexico but cultivated and naturalized in many other countries. It yields a stiff fibre used in making various products; the term sisal may refer depending on the context. It is sometimes referred to as "sisal hemp", because for centuries hemp was a major source for fibre, other fibre sources were named after it; the sisal fibre is traditionally used for rope and twine, has many other uses, including paper, footwear, bags and dartboards. The native origin of Agave sisalana is uncertain. Traditionally it was deemed to be a native of the Yucatán Peninsula, but there are no records of botanical collections from there, they were shipped from the Spanish colonial port of Sisal in Yucatán. The Yucatán plantations now cultivate henequen. H. S. Gentry hypothesized a Chiapas origin, on the strength of traditional local usage. Evidence of an indigenous cottage industry there suggests it as the original habitat location as a cross of Agave angustifolia and Agave kewensis.
The species is now naturalized in other parts of Mexico, as well as in Spain, Morocco, the Canary Islands, Cape Verde, many parts of Africa, Madagascar, Réunion, China, the Ryukyu Islands, Pakistan, Burma, Thailand, the Solomon Islands, Polynesia, Fiji, Florida, Central America and the West Indies. Sisal plants, Agave sisalana, consist of a rosette of sword-shaped leaves about 1.5–2 metres tall. Young leaves may lose them as they mature; the sisal plant has a 7–10 year life-span and produces 200–250 commercially usable leaves. Each leaf contains an average of around 1000 fibres; the fibres account for only about 4% of the plant by weight. Sisal is considered a plant of the tropics and subtropics, since production benefits from temperatures above 25 degrees Celsius and sunshine. Sisal was used by the Aztecs and the Mayans to make crude fabrics and paper. In the 19th century, sisal cultivation spread to Florida, the Caribbean islands, Brazil, as well as to countries in Africa, notably Tanzania and Kenya, Asia.
In Cuba its cultivation was introduced by Fernando Heydrich in Matanzas. The first commercial plantings in Brazil were made in the late 1930s and the first sisal fibre exports from there were made in 1948, it was not until the 1960s that Brazilian production accelerated and the first of many spinning mills was established. Today Brazil is the major world producer of sisal. There are both negative environmental impacts from sisal growing. Propagation of sisal is by using bulbils produced from buds in the flower stalk or by suckers growing around the base of the plant, which are grown in nursery fields until large enough to be transplanted to their final position; these methods offer no potential for genetic improvement. In vitro multiplication of selected genetic material using meristematic tissue culture offers considerable potential for the development of improved genetic material. Fibre is extracted by a process known as decortication, where leaves are crushed and brushed away by a rotating wheel set with blunt knives, so that only fibres remain.
Alternatively, in East Africa, where production is on large estates, the leaves are transported to a central decortication plant, where water is used to wash away the waste parts of the leaf. The fibre is dried and baled for export. Proper drying is important as fibre quality depends on moisture content. Artificial drying has been found to result in better grades of fibre than sun drying, but is not always feasible in the developing countries where sisal is produced. In the drier climate of north-east Brazil, sisal is grown by smallholders and the fibre is extracted by teams using portable raspadors which do not use water. Fibre is subsequently cleaned by brushing. Dry fibres are machine combed and sorted into various grades on the basis of the previous in-field separation of leaves into size groups. Sisal farming caused environmental degradation, because sisal plantations replaced native forests, but is still considered less damaging than many types of farming. No chemical fertilizers are used in sisal production, although herbicides are used this impact may be eliminated, since most weeding is done by hand.
The effluent from the decortication process causes serious pollution when it is allowed to flow into watercourses. In Tanzania there are plans to use the waste as bio-fuel. Sisal is considered to be an invasive species in Florida. Traditionally, sisal has been the leading material for agricultural twine because of its strength, ability to stretch, affinity for certain dyestuffs, resistance to deterioration in saltwater; the importance of this traditional use is diminishing with competition from polypropylene and the development of other haymaking techniques, while new higher-valued sisal products have been developed. Apart from ropes and general cordage, sisal is used in low-cost and specialty paper, buffing cloth, geotextiles, carpets, wire rope cores, Macramé. Sisal has been utilized as an environmentally friendly strengthening agent to replace asbestos and fibreglass in composite materials in various uses including the automobile industry; the lower-grade fibre is processed by the paper industry because of its high content of cellulose and hemicelluloses.
The medium-grade fibre is used in the cor