Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council Plants Resource Page

Plant of the Month - Yucca

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Plant Description

Common Name(s):Yucca
Scientific Name:Hesperoyucca whipplei
Plant Type:Perennial
Size:up to 13 feet
Habitat:chaparral or coastal sage scrub
Blooms:April to June

One of the things I associate with June in Southern California is the presence of flowering Yucca stalks dotting the slopes of the neaby mountains and hillsides. Yucca blooms from April to July, usually below 2000' but sometimes up to 8000' in elevation. Flowers are usually creamy-white, but east of the Santa Monicas it is said they can be a dramatic dark purple or pale pink. A particular Yucca plant only blooms once, then dies. In addition to seed dispersal, the plant may also produce offshoots around the old roots. Hesperoyucca whipplei is one of two Agave plants in the Santa Monicas.

Rivaling the showy late-spring flowers is the foliage of this plant, consisting of needle-sharp speers up to three feet long that emanate from a base that sits flat on the ground. Native Americans had a variety of uses for the foliage, weaving ropes, nets and baskets. They also coaxed soap from the roots and fashioned foodstuffs from other plant parts.

Often noted when talking about this plant is the symbiotic relationship it has with the Yucca moth, its only pollinator. The Yucca moth (Tegeticula maculata) gathers a large bunch of pollen from one plant and flies with it to another. She burrows a hole in this second plant's seedpod, deposits her eggs, and covers them with the transported pollen. The emerging caterpillars lower themselves to the ground and bury themselves for a year before emerging as moths.

Contributed by Liz Baumann

Additional References:
Roadside Plants of Southern California, by Thomas J. Belzer
California Native Plants for the Garden, by Carol Bornstein, David Fross, and Bart O'Brien
California Herbal Remedies, by LoLo Westrich

Other Similar Plants:
Soap Plant Chlorogalum pomeridianum

Originally featured: June 2006
Last modified: October 14 2017 16:34:00.
Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains, by Milt McAuley
Flowering Plants: The Santa Monica Mountains, Coastal and Chaparral Regions of Southern California, by Nancy Dale
Images Botanical Terms for Leaves