How to Grow Mauritius Hemp

A furcraea foetida plant

Forest and Kim Starr/Flickr/CC by 2.0 

Mauritius hemp, part of the Furcraea genus, includes succulent shrubs sometimes used as ornamental pieces in gardens and as a source of natural fibers. This is the most popular among them: Its long, sword-shaped, variegated leaves make it a distinctive and attractive ornamental piece. Furcraea foetida also blooms with flowers ranging from creamy white to green, with a powerful and pleasant scent.

Though different species of slow-growing Furcraea vary in size, slow-growing F. foetida is a fairly manageable size for container cultivation, standing at nearly 5-feet tall and up to 8-feet wide. The F. foetida is also commonly referred to as Mauritius hemp or green aloe. Most Furcraea species, including the F. foetida, are of interest for the natural fique fibers they produce. Native to tropical regions like the Caribbean and northern South America, Furcraea grows in warm, wet environments. Mauritius hemp can be planted all year long.

Botanical Name Furcraea foetida
Common Name Mauritius hemp, Cuban hemp, giant false agave, giant cabuya, green aloe, maguey, sisal
Plant Type Evergreen, succulent, perennial shrub
Mature Size 4-5 ft. tall, 6-8 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full-sun, partial shade
Soil Type Well-draining sand or loam
Soil pH Acidic, neutral, alkaline
Bloom Time Autumn and winter, right before the plant dies
Flower Color White
Hardiness Zones 9-11 (USDA)
Native Area Caribbean, South America
Toxicity  Mildly toxic to humans and animals

Mauritius Hemp Care

Mauritius hemp is the plant everyone knows about without knowing its name, even though its wonderful fibers are used in products that most of us have at home—like rugs, placemats, or baskets. They are super-easy to grow and require very little attention: A little sun is all they need to thrive.

Talk about drama: The succulent, evergreen Furcraea will create a stunning display in your garden. This trunkless gem is monocarthic, meaning it blooms once and will die right after that bloom, some eight to 10 years after planting.

Light

Full sun is best, but F. foetida will do fine in light shade as well. These are good plants for a south-facing exposure or unobstructed east- or west-facing window.

Water

Furcraea foetida are drought resistant due to their large root system: Watering them infrequently (though more so during their bloom in summer and spring) will be fine. Be careful not to overwater. As with most succulents, standing water can be lethal.

Soil

Well-draining succulent mix is crucial—too much water will kill these plants, and they should never be in water-logged soil or allowed to stand in a tray with water. The pH should be slightly acidic.

Temperature and Humidity

Mauritius hemp thrives in USDA hardiness zones 9-11; it needs heat and lots of it.

Fertilizer

Furcraea will take either a controlled-release fertilizer at the beginning of the season or weekly fertilization with a weak liquid solution. Mature Furcraea needs a 20-20-20 fertilizer at one-quarter strength, while younger ones need one with less nitrogen.

Is Mauritius Hemp Toxic?

The sap of Mauritius hemp is mildly toxic to humans and animals, since it contains very sharp microscopic crystals of calcium oxalate, steroidal saponins, and proteases.

Symptoms of Poisoning

Touching this sap may cause contact dermatitis in humans and animals. If you or your pet experience this, call your doctor or veterinarian to ask what to do.

Mauritius Hemp Varieties

  • 'F. selloa': produces sisal fibers, rather than the foetida’s fique
  • 'F. macdougallii': boasts regularly spaced, hooked teeth
  • 'F. foetida': offers smoother leaves than the other varieties

Pruning

Furcraea foetida has few pruning needs, simply cut away dead or damaged leaves with sterile gardening shears.

Propagating Mauritius Hemp

Furcraea foetida propagates from bulbs that appear at the base of the mother plant. These small bulbs can be collected and replanted in fresh containers. Make sure, though, to keep them well-drained in their infancy and provide bright light.

Potting and Repotting Mauritius Hemp

F. foetida isn't a natural candidate for many indoor succulent collections (it's a little too big for that), but it can be an interesting and unusual specimen plant in the right conditions. Because these grow fairly large, make sure to use a big enough pot to support its root system—the Furcraea foetida’s roots can extend 3-4 feet outward. When repotting, make sure the soil is dry first, then remove the plant gently from its pot. Knock away old soil and any dead roots before repotting the plant and filling it with potting soil, making sure to keep its roots widely spread. After repotting, give the F. foetida about a week before watering again, to avoid rotting its roots.

Overwintering

If your Furcraea foetida is in pots, and you don't live in a tropical climate, they can be brought inside to an unheated garage for the winter months. Rest them on top of plant rests or wooden slats, to keep the roots from getting too cold.

Common Pests and Diseases

Mauritius hemp is vulnerable to mites, aphids, and mealybugs; treat them with insecticidal soap at the first sign of infestation.