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Plant Fibers Used in Sandal Production: Agave or Yucca?

Image 1: a cross-section of yucca and agave 

Agave samples obtained courtesy of the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden

Image 2: A cross-section of fiber taken from the Cahuilla sandals, which looks similar to the cross-section of the agave leaf

Image 3: Lumen samples from yucca and agave plants

Agave samples obtained courtesy of the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden

Image 4: Lumen sample from the Cahuilla sandal, which looks similar to the lumen sample of the agave plant

The Cahuilla used both agave and yucca plant species to produce fiber sandals.  According to some sources, Mohave yucca (Yucca Schidigera, or hunuvat in Cahuilla) was preferred for sandal production, but Agave deserti was also used.  Since these plants are both prevalent, distinguishing whether Yucca or Agave was used tells us about material choices made for sandal production.  In the case of these sandals, in depth analysis of the fibers was required.

Differentiating Between Yucca and Agave: Cross-section Examination

Cross-sections are prepared by cutting a leaf perpendicular to the central vein.  The shape and distribution of the fiber and vascular bundles can be used to identify plants.  Fibers are cells that give strength and support to the plant (Image 1).  Vascular bundles are made of the conductive plant tissue that transports nutrients and water.  The cross section of an element used to make the sandals reveals that the plant materials used were processed down to fiber bundles (Image 2).  Although there are no complete vascular bundles, the fibers appear similar in shape to those from the agave reference.

Differentiating Between Yucca and Agave: Single Fiber Examination

The examination of single fibers from each of the samples shows key feature differences (Image 3).  The yucca has a regular lumen (the open space within a plant), while the agave has varying lumen thickness.  The sample from the sandal appears more like the agave, but this many be due to deterioration (Image 4).

– Tessa de Alarcon

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