Widely cultivated for its large leaves that yield a stiff fibre used for cordage, rope, carpets, the plant is native to Mexico and Central America, where its fibre has been used since pre-Columbian times.
The development of the machine grain binder in the 1880s stimulated the commercial interest in sisal, resulting in a demand for low-cost twine, and plantings were thereafter established in the Bahamas and Tanzania. In 1903 sisal bulbils from Florida (USA) were planted in Brazil and by late 1930s sisal was being cultivated in the Northeast of Brazil (states of Bahia and Paraíba) expanding its cultivation due to the growing demand during the World War II.
In 1946 Brazil became a major exporter and by 1951 assumed second place in world production. During the 1960's the state of Paraiba ceased to be the largest producer in Brazil due to the lack of productive areas and the state of Bahia assumed the first place. Sisal is of considerable social and economic importance to arid regions of northeastern Brazil where it is cultivated.