Unusual Blooms for an Unusual Time

Yucca filamentosa
Adam’s Needle Yucca

This little flowering gem started blooming yesterday at the entrance to the Visitor Center. Yucca filamentosa is a succulent, meaning that it is adapted to dry conditions and has water-storing tissues. It is native on the east coast of the United States from The Carolinas south to Florida and Mississippi, however, it has escaped and extended its range into New England and the Midwest.

In all cases, it is best grown in full sun, though its tolerance for shade has been noted. It is a hardy plant able to grow in nutrient-poor situations. It is also drought tolerant and needs minimal water to become established. As a member of Asparagaceae it is related to Asparagus officinalis, which you may be eating for dinner tonight. Within Asparagaceae, Yucca filamentosa is listed within the subfamily Agaviodeae- which was formerly a separate family from Asparaceae.

The genus name is derived from the Carbi name for manihot. While not a close relative the enlarged root structures are a shared feature. The specific epithet means filaments or threads. The common names tend to be taken from the rigid needle-like tips and the fibers the grace its leaf margins.

In late spring, Yucca filamentosa forms tall stalks from with bell-shaped, white flowers. These unique lantern-like flower stalks are lovely and will last for an extended period of time.
The yucca moth (Tegeticula sp.) only pollinates the yucca flowers. In a mutually beneficial relationship and is so intertwined according to the US Forest Service that one cannot live without the other. The female yucca moth visits the flowers at night and collects pollen in specialized parts of her mouth. Once she has collected the necessary pollen, she lays her eggs near the ovary of the yucca flower then covers the eggs with the pollen. In this symbiotic relationship, the yucca gets pollinated and the yucca moth caterpillars use the yucca flowers as a host plant.

A vital plant to Native Americans who utilized its diversity of beneficial qualities. The plant is edible and can be eaten raw or cooked, though the roots must be slow-cooked as they contain saponins. The flowers can also be dried, crushed and used as a flavoring. The stem can be prepared and tastes like asparagus. As noted above, the fiber obtained from the leaves will make ropes, baskets, and mats. The roots can be used as a soap substitute.

This blog was written by Brendan Huggins, Director of Horticulture and photographed by Erica Smith, Director of Marketing.