New Mexico State Flower - Yucca Flower

Although the official documents proclaiming the yucca flower as New Mexico’s state flower don’t specify a particular type of yucca, they give enough information to lead historians to believe that they refer to either Yucca elata or Y. glauca. Both of these plants carry the nickname “soapweed.” Yucca glauca is common in San Juan County in New Mexico’s northwest region, several counties in the center of the state, and most counties in the east. According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s distribution map, Y. glauca is notably absent in southern New Mexico, while Y. elata is quite common.

Facts

The yucca is a perennial desert plant, once listed in the lily family and now in the agave family. Y. glauca and elata are stemless shrubs with sword-shaped, pointed leaves. They bear their flowers on a tall stalk, in upright panicles. The white blooms appear in summer. Yuccas have a single pollinator, known as a yucca moth. The female lays a single egg in a flower and then pollinates the bloom, so the relationship is mutually beneficial, according to Wayne Armstrong of Palomar College.

History

As happened in many states, it was a women’s group -- the First State Federation of Women’s Clubs -- that promoted the yucca blossom as New Mexico’s state flower. Again, similar to other states, it was put to a vote among the state’s school children. They agreed with the women’s group and, in 1927, “yucca elate,” as it was written in the legislation, became the state’s flower. Because the text also mentioned that Native Americans and early settlers used the roots of the yucca for shampoo, there has been some confusion. Both the elata and glauca species were used for this purpose.

Cultivation Notes

Yucca is a lazy gardener’s dream come true. Give it a full-sun planting location in any type of soil. Don’t water it, don’t fertilize it, don’t prune it, just watch it bloom in stalks of gorgeous white flowers. To grow more plants, cut a piece of yucca root into 1-inch pieces, pot the pieces in cactus potting mix, and leave the pot in a warm area. You’ll have a rooted baby yucca plant within three to four weeks.

Uses

Aside from the use of yucca roots for soap and shampoo, New Mexico’s Native American tribes routinely utilized the leaves in basketry. Some tribes used the yucca’s foliage to weave rope, while Apaches ate the flower stalks and the flowers. Today, the yucca is a popular landscape planting in gardens all over the southwest. Easy to care for, it is ideal for the xeriscape garden and it makes a formal statement as an accent planting in a smaller yard.

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