Yucca Flowers by Curtis ClarkPhoto by Curtis Clark

Fast Facts

  • Adopted the New Mexico state flower in 1927
  • Botanical name: Yucca (no species specified)
  • There are 40-50 species of yucca, including the Joshua tree
  • Yucca flower trivia: Yucca flowers can be grounded and made into candy
  • New Mexico Flower Delivery

With its sword-shaped leaves and towering clusters of white flowers, the state flower of New Mexico is hard to miss against the state’s open and arid landscape. In fact, all that a visitor (to the “Land of Enchantment”) has to do in order to find yucca plants is drive through New Mexico’s grassy desert highlands. From Deming to Las Cruces, yucca plants thrive in great numbers. When they named the yucca plant the New Mexico state flower in 1927, state lawmakers did not specify a particular species of the desert plant. Therefore, residents can claim connection to as many as 40-50 species of the yucca plant that grow in the state, as well as throughout the American southwest and Mexico.

Yucca filamentosa by Maja DumatPhoto by Maja Dumat

While yucca species differ, they share tough, spiky evergreen leaves that fan out in a star-like shape from the plant’s center. In late spring and early summer, towering fibrous stalks burst forth from the center of most of these plants, sprouting thick clusters of white flowers. These bell-shaped blooms emit a delicate, sweet fragrance which lures the yucca’s sole pollinator, the yucca moth. The relationship between New Mexico’s state flower and the yucca moth is a highly unusual and symbiotic one. Each species of yucca plant is pollinated by a different species of yucca moth uniquely suited to collect pollen from its yucca plant. The moths roll the pollen into a ball and drop it into the stigma of a different yucca plant of the same species. At the same time, the moth lays an egg in the flower. There, it grows and emerges, while being protected, feeding itself by eating some of the yucca’s developing seeds. Under the desert’s bright moonlight, visitors can see why New Mexico’s state flowers are sometimes called “lamparas de dios” or “lamps of the Lord.” Their bright, upwardly reaching flowers seem to point heavenward and illuminate the nighttime desert.

Uses of the yucca plant are well known, particularly to Native Americans. Early South westerners chewed and stretched the yucca’s leaves so they could use them to weave baskets and shoes. The leaves were also used to make protective coverings that were placed over shelters and houses. The Native Americans also grounded the roots of the soap tree yucca to form a gentle soap. Today, yucca plants are frequently used as ornamental yard plants in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and in other large cities as part of a statewide trend toward xeriscaping, or planting native species that require little water to thrive. For this, yuccas are a perfect choice. Not only do they require little maintenance, but they also symbolize the beauty of the state’s natural environment.