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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(bowstring hemp), a genus of perennial herbs of the family Agavaceae. The fleshy or leathery leaves, which are usually radical, are for the most part sword-shaped, flat, and canaliculate or cylindrical. Some species have variegated leaves, with silvery or whitish transverse bands. The small flowers have a simple perianth that is six-parted and greenish white; the flowers are gathered into racemose inflorescences departing from the leaf axils. The fruit is a berry with one to three seeds.

There are approximately 60 species, distributed in tropical Africa, southern Africa, and Asia. Several species, including S. zeylanica and S. trifascista, are cultivated in tropical countries for their leaves, which contain a valuable industrial fiber. Many species of bowstring hemp are raised as greenhouse and house plants. There also are garden forms having longitudinal white bands or a border on the leaves. Bowstring hemp is propagated by rhizomes or leaf cuttings.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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