Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Elated over Yucca

 I have never heard anyone call it "Soaptree Yucca", the Universally agreed upon common name supposedly: I call it the New Mexico Tree Yucca, since it is particularly abundant in New Mexico, and the wise people of that great state have made it their state flower. There are some huge specimens in Colorado--it seems to possess amazing cold hardiness. And now that the hot stretch of summer is underway, it seems to explode into bloom. The picture above was taken about ten days ago, as was the shot below. I have had some clumps in my garden bloom in May, and I have seen it blooming in August. The form and habit of the species is incredibly varied: I suspect some hybridization may be responsible, as well as numerous ecotypes that must occur over its large range in the Chihuahuan desert uplands...

 This is a rather petite specimen in Leo Chance's amazing Colorado Springs garden (the author of Cold Hardy Succulents I blogged about a few weeks ago...). The flower color is almost always that luminous ivory, and the flower display can last up to a week if cool weather prevails (which it didn't this year: five days was it)...

Here you can see that some earlier clumps are already forming big seedpods when my taller clump beyond is still in bloom: I am surprised to get so much seed set. I had read that each species of yucca has its very own Pronubia moth that cannot pollinate other species...perhaps our local Yucca glauca is similar enough to Y. elata that they are able to set viable seed?

Almost anyone who gardens in this area and grows these plants is sure to have some interesting observations: some specimens have an amazing amount of frilliness on the leaf that is decorative in the extreme. The only sad thing about this plant is that it hates being moved. You had best start with a young plant or seedling, and make sure you put it where it is to stay. Some forms are rhizomatous--so watch out! removing a large clump could be a challenge!

I should really be blogging about firescaping and the issue of fires in Colorado, since that is high on everyone's agenda right now: there are a dozen or more massive fires around the state. That blog shall come...but meanwhile, let's just enjoy this tough and rewarding native succulent that should be more often seen and grown!


  1. Nice Yucca elata blooms up there! The dwarf form is interesting, looking part Y. elata and part Y. thompsoniana (with those wider leaves). I seem to recall some of those in the wild around Carlsbad NM. I think there's much variation in forms, some with rhizomes and some shorter, as you say. I may have posted on Y. elata, but I may have not?

    Y. elata has a hard time beating road construction / repair in Abq and central NM, though a few can still be found in the wild. I hear it called "Soaptree" or "Soaptree Yucca" all the time in Abq, El Paso, etc. Sometimes its called by its original Spanish name "Palmilla", and places with that word very likely once had soaptrees.

    By the way, I think yucca is our state flower here in NM, not just Yucca elata:

    You might find this interesting, too, since some consider the low yucca across the middle of NM wrongly as Y. glauca (I've only seen the latter from Las Vegas NM and points north & east some distance):

    1. Thanks for your clarifications: I was SURE that you'd singled out elata...oh well! Right after I posted this I took a stroll at Denver Botanic Gardens where we have an elata that must be 20' tall!

      I love the name "palmilla": I shall certainly call them that henceforward. Jim Knopf sent me a picture years ago of a clump in Pueblo that dwarfs the house next to them: I doubted the thing was real and looked it up: it really is that big...

    2. I must visit DBG this summer next trip...that would be the tallest Y. elata I've seen in Denver. I know the one in Pueblo, which Lee Lindauer in Grand Jct sent me pics of years back.


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