May to June
Yucca roots were used for soap and shampoo which gave it the nickname of soaptree Yucca.
Yucca flowers can be ground and made into candy.
With its sword-shaped leaves and towering clusters of white flowers, the state flower of New Mexico is hard to miss against the open and arid landscape. In fact, all that a visitor has to do in order to find Yucca plants is drive through New Mexico’s grassy desert highlands.
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.
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 flower is 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 southwesterners 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. 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. Yuccas are a perfect choice for this trend. Not only do they require little maintenance, but they also symbolize the beauty of the state’s natural environment.
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