Appearance and Habitat: A 6 ft. flowering stalk rises above 2-3 ft. high clumps of erect, dagger-like, blue-green leaves. The flowers are cream-colored and are followed by persistent seed pods. A tall, stout stem rises from a rosette of rigid, sword-like leaves and bears a loose cluster of white, nodding, bell-shaped flowers. Although yuccas are more typical of western deserts and grasslands, some are native in the East. This species escapes from cultivation in the northern part of its range. Soapweed (Y. glauca) is a typical species of the western Plains, found east to Iowa, Missouri, and Arkansas; its rigid, bayonet-like leaves have hairy edges, and the flowering stalk, reaching a height of 4 (1.2 m), bears a flower cluster, the base of which is reached by the leaf tips. Spanish Bayonet (Y. aloifolia), found from North Carolina south to Florida and Alabama, has toothed leaves with hairless edges. Yucca fruit can be cooked and eaten after the seeds are removed; the large petals are used in salads. Yuccas depend on the Yucca Moth as their agent of pollination, and these moths depend on yuccas for food. At flowering time the female moth gathers a mass of pollen from the anthers of the yucca and then flies to another yucca flower, where she deposits a number of eggs into the ovary among the ovules (immature seeds). Next, she places the pollen mass on the stigma of the flower, thus ensuring pollination and subsequent development of the ovules into seeds. As the seeds enlarge, they become the food source for the moth larvae. Many of the seeds remain uninjured and are eventually dispersed, potentially producing new plants. At maturity, the larvae leave the seed capsule, drop to the ground, and pupate. The adult moth emerges next season as the yuccas begin to flower.(1)Sand dunes, waste ground and pine forests along the coastal plain in South-eastern N. America – Southern New Jersey to Florida. Naturalized in S. Europe. An evergreen shrub growing to 1.2 m (4ft) by 0.6 m (2ft in) at a medium rate. It is hardy to zone 4. It is in leaf 12-Jan It is in flower from Jul to August.(2)
Edible Uses: Fruit – raw or cooked. Large and fleshy. The fruit is often dried for winter use. Flowers – raw or dried, crushed and used as a flavouring. A tasty addition to the salad bowl. We have found the flowers to be fairly bitter. Flowering stem – cooked and used like asparagus.(3)
Medicinal Uses: Medicinal Parts: Leaves and roots of non-flowering plants. A poultice made from the roots is used in the treatment of sores, skin diseases and sprains. Liver and gallbladder disorders.(4)
Appearance and Habitat: A 3-4 ft. wide clump of pale-green, dagger-like leaves subtends the 4 1/2 ft. flowering stalk of this yucca. The 20-30 in. long leaves are evergreen, persisting for several years. Bell-shaped, greenish-white, pendulous flowers are followed by woody, oblong, cream-colored seed capsules. Soapweed Yucca is a member of the agave family (family Agavaceae). Agaves are stout plants with woody stems or stem-bases, often tall, even tree-like, the long and narrow leaves crowded in rosettes at ends of stems or branches, a stout rapidly growing flower stalk arising from the rosette. Members of this family are from tropical or warm regions, often where it is arid. There are about 20 genera and 700 species, many of which supply valuable fiber, such as sisal hemp.(1)Dry plains and sandy hills in Central N. America – Iowa to Texas and N. Dakota. An evergreen shrub growing to 1.5 m (5ft) by 0.5 m (1ft 8in) at a slow rate. It is hardy to zone 4. It is in leaf 12-Jan It is in flower from Jul to August.(2)
Edible Uses: Fruit – raw or cooked. Dry, with a bitter skin. The fruit can be baked and either eaten immediately or formed into cakes and dried for later use. The raw fruit can be dried for winter use. The immature fruits are peeled, boiled and served with seasonings. The soaked, cooked fruit can be made into a syrup and used like hot chocolate. The fruit is up to 8cm long and 12mm wide. Flowers and flower buds – raw or cooked. Delicious raw, they can also be dried, crushed and used as a flavouring. A delicious addition to the salad bowl, or used as a potherb. Flowering stem – raw or cooked. It can be cooked and used like asparagus. The white inner portion of the stem is eaten. Seedpods – cooked. They can be boiled or roasted and used as a vegetable. The plant crowns have been roasted and eaten in times of food shortage.(3)
Medicinal Uses: A soap made from the crushed roots is said to be an effective treatment for dandruff and skin irritations. A cold infusion of the root has been used to expedite the delivery of a child or the placenta. The root is poulticed and applied to inflammations, wounds, bleeding cuts, sprains etc. The rotten root can be crushed and boiled to make suds. Drinking these suds is said to induce the menopause in women, thereby rendering then infertile.(4)
Appearance and Habitat: Evergreen shrub or in cultivation a small tree with stout, unbranched trunks, often clustered, and with bayonetlike leaves crowded and spreading at top. Introduced into Europe around 1550 and one of the most common yuccas in cultivation. Varieties have leaves with yellow or white stripes. The common name apparently refers to its occurrence on sand mounds and to the lilylike flowers. (1)South-eastern N. America – North Carolina to Florida. Naturalized in S. Europe. An evergreen shrub growing to 1.8 m (6ft) by 1.2 m (4ft in). It is hardy to zone 7 and is not frost tender. It is in leaf 12-Jan It is in flower from Jul to September.(2)
Edible Uses: Fruit – raw or cooked. The fruit is up to 10cm long and 26mm wide. The fruit is very rarely produced in the wild. Flowers – raw or cooked. They are delicious raw, and can also be dried, crushed and used as a flavouring. Flowering stem – cooked and used like asparagus. Root – cooked. It can be dried, ground into a powder and made into a bread. (3)
Medicinal Uses: (The fruit is purgative. The root is detergent.(4)
Appearance and Habitat: High plains grasslands to open coniferous woods in Central N. America – Utah to Colorado. An evergreen shrub growing to 0.4 m (1ft 4in) at a slow rate. It is hardy to zone 7. It is in leaf 12-Jan.
Edible Uses: Fruit – the immature fruit is cooked. A bitter taste, but most of the bitterness is in the skin. Flowers – raw or cooked. They are delicious raw, and can also be dried, crushed and used as a flavouring. Flowering stem – peeled, cooked and used like asparagus. The whitish inner portion is eaten. Medicinal Uses: None
Appearance and Habitat: Dunes on coastal plains in South-eastern N. America – Georgia to Missouri and Louisiana. An evergreen shrub growing to 2.5 m (8ft) by 1 m (3ft 3in). It is hardy to zone 8. It is in leaf 12-Jan It is in flower from Sep to October.
Edible Uses: Fruit – raw or cooked. Flowers – raw or cooked. They are delicious raw, and can also be dried, crushed and used as a flavouring. A crisp crunchy texture, the flowers are very substantial and need to be well chewed. They have a slightly bitter flavour. Flowering stem – cooked and used like asparagus.
Medicinal Uses: None
Native American Name: Viemp ( tall one – Moapa Paiute) Ooss, ( short one – Moapa Paiute)
Appearance and Habitat: Evergreen shrub or small tree, usually with several clustered trunks, often with few upright branches, and with bayonetlike leaves. Native Americans ate the fleshy fruit, either fresh or roasted, and used the fibrous leaves for ropes and coarse blankets. A soap substitute can be obtained from the roots and trunks of this and other yuccas. Flowers in the Yucca genus depend upon the small, white pronuba moth (Tegeticula) for pollination. The female moth gathers pollen and works it into a tiny ball before pushing it against the stigma of another flower, where she deposits her eggs in the ovary. The larvae feed on the developing friut capsule but leave some seeds to mature. This is a common yucca in the Mojave Desert, often growing with Joshua Tree (Y. brevifolia), a tree-like species that often forms forests.(1)Found in desert habitats in chaparral and creosote bush scrub from sea level to 2500 meters in South-western N. America – California, Arizona and Nevada. An evergreen tree Tree growing to 4.5 m (14ft 9in). It is hardy to zone 8. It is in leaf 12-Jan.(2)
Edible Uses: Young flowering stems – chopped and cooked like asparagus or baked like a sweet potato. Fruit – raw or cooked. Baked then dried and ground into a powder then used in soups etc or made into a drink. The fruit can also be used to make jellies. Flowers – raw or cooked. They are delicious raw, and can also be dried, crushed and used as a flavouring and can also be used in jellies.(3)
Medicinal Uses: None (4)
(Now for Michael Moore, who covers western species, Yucca baccata, Y. elata, Y. glauca, Y. schidigera)
Appearance and Habitat: A common distinct plant that has elongated leaves with spines on the tips. As they grow they shed the outside leaves with new ones forming in the center. When it blooms it has a 2 to 5 foot flower stock, depending on the species. The flowers are lily-like and cream colored with brown specks or yellow green in the smaller varieties. They usually form stands that can cover a valley floor or look on dry mountain slopes. They are more common in the higher desert, even growing into the Pinyon and Juniper forests. They can even be found in the ponderosa belt.
Medicinal Uses: Collect the root any time of year and split it length-wise before placing it in a cheese cloth pocket to dry in the shade. For use as medicine remove the bark, but leave it on if you wish to use it as a shampoo for your hair. Yucca’s used to be the main source of phytosterols that were used in the manufacture of steroidal hormones, currently used as a sudsing agent for soaps. It works well for arthritic pain and joint inflammations. For medical use, boil 1/4 ounce of the dried root in a pint of water for at least 15 minutes. Let it cool, and drink in 3 or 4 doses through the day. If you get a strong laxative effect, with intestinal cramping, reduce the amount of root that you use next time. Or increase the amount of root used if it isn’t working as a laxative and the pain persists. Arthritis is hard to treat, but if this works for you it will stop the pain for several days. Long term daily use can keep the small intestine from absorbing fat – soluble vitamins. The tea from the root also helps with prostate inflammations as well. The tea has also been shown to reduce triglycerides and cholesterols in the blood.
Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by Michael Moore, page 169, Publisher: Museum of New Mexico Press, Copyright 1979, ISBN 0-89013-104-X
Native American Names were from Indian Uses of Native Plants by Edith Van Allen Murphey, page 74, Publisher: Meyerbooks, Copyright 1990, ISBN 0-916638-15-4
Reproduced, in part, (as well as previous postings under this title) in accordance with Section 107 of title 17 of the Copyright Law of the United States relating to fair-use and is for the purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.