Plant of the Month ~~ JUNE 2006
- Common Name(s): Yucca, Chaparral Yucca, Our Lord's Candle
- Scientific Name: Yucca whipplei, or Hesperoyucca whipplei
- Family: Agavaceae, Agave family (though sometimes placed in Liliaceae or Amaryllidaceae)
- Plant Type: typically this plant blooms once and then dies, although could be though of as a perennial
- Size: base is up to 3 feet tall and 6 feet wide; flower stalk adds up to 10 feet in height
- Common Habitat: chaparral or coastal sage scrub
One of the things I associate with June in Southern California is the presence of flowering Yucca stalks dotting the slopes of the neaby mountains and hillsides. Yucca blooms from April to July, usually below 2000' but sometimes up to 8000' in elevation. Flowers are usually creamy-white, but east of the Santa Monicas it is said they can be a dramatic dark purple or pale pink. A particular Yucca plant only blooms once, then dies. In addition to seed dispersal, the plant may also produce offshoots around the old roots. Yucca whipplei is the sole Agave family member in the Santa Monicas.
Rivaling the showy late-spring flowers is the foliage of this plant, consisting of needle-sharp speers up to three feet long that emanate from a base that sits flat on the ground. Native Americans had a variety of uses for the foliage, weaving ropes, nets and baskets. They also coaxed soap from the roots and fashioned foodstuffs from other plant parts.
Often noted when talking about this plant is the symbiotic relationship it has with the Yucca moth, its only pollinator. The Yucca moth (Tegeticula maculata) gathers a large bunch of pollen from one plant and flies with it to another. She burrows a hole in this second plant's seedpod, deposits her eggs, and covers them with the transported pollen. The emerging caterpillars lower themselves to the ground and bury themselves for a year before emerging as moths.
Contributed by Liz Baumann
Curious what was featured in past Plants of the Month? Search the Archives.
References:Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains, by Milt McAuley
Flowering Plants: The Santa Monica Mountains, Coastal and Chaparral Regions of Southern California, by Nancy Dale
Roadside Plants of Southern California, by Thomas J. Belzer
California Native Plants for the Garden, by Carol Bornstein, David Fross, and Bart O'Brien
California Herbal Remedies, by LoLo Westrich