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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Native Wildflowers of the North Dakota Grasslands

JPG -- species photo

Yucca (Yucca glauca)

Also called "soapweed", "beargrass", and "Spanish bayonet", yucca is mostly found south and west of the Missouri River in North Dakota. There are a few records from counties bordering the east side of the River. Elsewhere, the plant grows from southeastern Alberta south to Missouri, Texas, and New Mexico at elevations up to 8,500 ft.

Yucca is perennial from a fibrous horizontal or upright stem bearing one or more erect crowns. Sharp-tipped leaves up to two feet long are rounded on the back and have inrolled margins bearing white filaments. The leaves contain tough fibers. Ten to fifteen flowers form along a spike about three feet long. Flowers are greenish-white and up to 2 1/2 inches long. At maturity, the large capsules enclose long black seeds.

Look for yucca in June or July on dry prairie slopes or in badlands. Slightly greater amounts of yucca will be found where grazing pressure is light or moderate, because cattle like the fleshy flowers and young seedpods. Amerindians of the plains used yucca roots for making soap and hair tonic; central spikes, flowers, and seed pods were eaten, and the spiny leaf tips, often with the fibers still attached, served as ready-made needles and threads!

Yucca is included in the agave family (Agavaceae) which contains about 600 species arid regions of the world. Members of this family are noted for the production of fiber (e.g. sisal) and alcoholic drinks (tequila, pulque, and mescal). The genus Yucca contains about 40 species, the most famous being the Joshua tree which reaches 30 feet tall in the Mohave desert. Yucca is a native Haitian name, and glauca means "blue-green" in botanical Latin. Y. glauca was first described for science in 1813 by the famous English botanist-naturalist Thomas Nuttall.

Return to Agavaceae (The Agave Family)

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