Great Plains Yucca

The Great Plains Yucca plant is easily recognized by its stiff, sword shaped leaves that all originate at the base of the plant in a rosette. Its white flowers are on tall stalks and the dry flowers remain throughout the rest of the year.

The Great Plains Yucca is also referred to as the Soapweed Yucca. It is an herbaceous plant (no woody stem and shorter than a shrub or tree) which dots the dry plains grasslands of the Willow Spring Open Space.

Yucca plants on a dry hillside
Great Plains Yucca plants dot a dry hillside

This plant is recognized in most seasons by its clump of stiff, sharp-tipped, sword-shaped leaves with tall flower stalks dotting the dry landscape. These plants can be up to 5 feet tall (including the flower stalk) and 2 to 4 feet across, growing best in dry, wide open spaces.

Yucca in bloom
Yucca in bloom

Scientific Name and Plant Family Information

The Scientific name is Yucca glauca. The name Yucca comes from the Caribbean name of Yuca for a similar looking plant, although it turned out that the plants are not closely related after all.

Glauca comes from the Latin glaucus, meaning greyish-blue or grey, referring to the color of the flowers.

It is in the plant family Agavaceae (Agave), which also includes agaves and sand lilies.

Plants in this family are classified as Monocots, which means among other things that they have one seed leaf, their leaves have parallel veins instead of branched veins, and their flower parts come in multiples of 3. Other Monocots include grasses, lilies, daffodils and onions.

Magpie perched on a Great Plains Yucca blossom

Through the Seasons

Yucca leaves are evergreen, not changing with the seasons. They bloom in early spring (June), and the greenish white to cream colored flowers are bell-shaped.

yucca bloom detail
Yucca bloom detail

Native or Non-Native?

Great Plains Yucca is native to this area and grows in sandy places and dry open slopes.   It can be found on the eastern slope of Colorado at elevations from 3,800 to 9,000 feet.

Where to find in Willow Spring Open Space

There are Great Plains Yucca plants dotting the dry plains grasslands portion of the Open Space, both above and below the Englewood Dam. There is a thick patch of the plants below the Dam towards the east side of the Open Space.

Did You Know?

The Great Plains Yucca is highly adapted to the dry environment with fibrous leaves, and though it shares the desert and dry landscapes with cacti, it is not related to them.

The leaves can be tied into bundles to form a broom or woven for baskets. The root contains a sudsing agent which was used by Native Americans as a soap and shampoo.

There is a symbiotic relationship between the Great Plains Yucca and the a night-flying moth, Tegeticula yuccasella. The moth lays its eggs in the flower and also pollinates the yucca so that seeds can be fertilized.

References and Further Reading

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