SUMMARY: Yucca in Michigan?

Lance Sloan lsloan at nova.gmi.edu
Wed Jun 2 18:09:35 EST 1993


I had recently posted a question to this newsgroup regarding yuccas.  I 
promised I would post a summary, so here it is:

I had found a strange plant growing in a cemetary in mid-Michigan.  I was 
told it was a yucca, but I had my doubts.  I mean, a yucca is a desert 
plant, right?  Well, I dug a couple up and took them home.  I had many 
questions and I'm pleased to say that most of them were answered by the 
helpful people all over the world on the Internet.

Q1. Is this plant really a yucca?
A1. Yes.  I recieved messages from people who have been growing yuccas in 
    Michigan as well as other unlikely areas.  Places like Nova Scotia, 
    South Dakota, Ohio, West Virginia, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Ontario.
    It is sometimes called "Spanish Bayonet" or "soapweed" because the root
    can be used as a kind of "soap."

    Jeff Del Col (br105 at cleveland.Freenet.Edu) said that it is common in 
    cemetaries and if you find them growing in a field, you can almost bet
    a house had been there at one time.

Q2. What is the scientific name?
A2. A lot of speculation here.  Jim Manhart read _Mighigan Flora_, Vol. 1 by 
    Edward Voss and found that the Yucca filamentosa is "...a locally 
    established escape from cultivation in the southwestern
    part of the state.  Particularly well established in sandy barren
    open ground at places in the Allegan State Forest, where it presents
    a handsome sight in assocation with the prickly-pear cactus, Opuntia
    humifusa."  Gil Nelson (nelson at freenet.scri.fsu.edu) said that Y. 
    filamentosa is now called Y. flaccida.

    I wouldn't have expected cactii in Michigan, either.  EBo 
    (ebo at golondrinas.unm.edu)  presented a possible explanation why the 
    yucca would be growing in Michigan since it is not native.  "As an 
    interesting bit of historical trivia, and a possible explination
    for yuccas growing in Michigan, during WWII one of the war departments
    planted stands of yuccas all over the US to be used for the paper
    industry.  As it turns out, paper made from the unbleached green leaves
    of yucca has a nice cream color while paper made from the unbleached
    dried leaves has a dark brown color like your common grocery sacs."
    The fibers from the leaves are also used to make henequen or sisal rope.

    I was right in saying that yuccas are succulents, but somebody reminded
    me that "hens-and-chicks" are too.

Q3. Can I grow it in a pot and bring it in during the winter?
A3. Maybe.  Some people have told me that since the yucca has such a deep 
    root system, I might have trouble growing them unless it is a very deep 
    pot.  Nobody who replied to me said they had grown theirs in pots.  Sandy
    soil is recommended.  New plants will grow from a planted piece of the
    root.

    Some have recommended against bringing the potted plant indoors during 
    the winter.  Since it is able to survive Michigan (and colder) winters, 
    there's nothing wrong with keeping it outside.  However, the pot should 
    be buried to help insulate the roots from a hard freeze.  I live in an 
    apartment building where landscaping is not allowed, so I think I will 
    be forced to bring it indoors.

Q4. How often does it flower?
A4. It was mentioned that the plant blooms anywhere from every year to seven 
    years.  Cold weather may be necessary to stimulate it to bloom.  I guess
    I will find out.

    The white stalk the flower and fruits grow on are sometimes called "the
    Lord's candle."  The flowers are white and bell-shaped.  They are
    supposedly irridescent in the proper light.  The stalk can grow to be
    three to four feet tall.

    It also may rely on a certain moth or wasp (yikes!) for pollenation.
    I hope not!

Q5. What about watering and sunlight?
A5. Yes.  Give it some!

    HAHAHA!  Just kidding.  Yuccas are happy with full and probably partial
    sunny areas.  Moderate watering, like once a week, should do the trick.
    Some have said they grow like weeds in their area and that the plants 
    are so tough it would be impressive if I managed to kill one.  I 
    certainly won't try to.

Q6. Is the fruit edible?  I had heard that some people pickle them.
A6. Hardly anybody had heard of that.  Tracy Lee Rabernlylle 
    (tlrabern at hydra.unm.edu) had some info, though, the most info on eating 
    those fruits.  She said, "...they can be eaten raw (although I would
    not recommend this for serving esteemed guests), roasted (tastes like a
    bland banana), dried, or (the local favorite) ground up into a meal which
    then can be used for an infinite nuber of things including a beverage and
    a flour.  And this I will quote from my backpacking bible, _Wild Edible
    Plants_ by Donald R. Kirk:  'The sliced pulp of the fruit makes a good
    substitute for apples in pie.'"

    Anybody for yucca pie?  (That ought to liven up a dull family reunion.)
    I will have to try that.  It was also suggested to me that any good 
    pickling recipe would work nicely.

    I was told that the whole stalk could be eaten.  Before it gets too big 
    the stalk will look something like asparagus.  Just pick it and treat it
    as if it were asparagus.  Some have said that the large roots can be
    cooked and taste something like potatoes.  One type of yucca root is 
    used to make something like tapioca pudding.  Somebody mentioned that the
    "yuca" eaten in Puerto Rico is actually not the same plant.  It is 
    probably cassava root.

    Other plants in the same family are the century plant, the maguey, and the
    agave, which are utilized in Mexico to make alcoholic beverages, including
    tequila.

The funniest comment I received came from Ashley Burns (ashley at oar.net) who
asked me, "I am wondering, though, did you actually dig that thing up in a
cemetery? Doesn't sound too nice to me."

I had to laugh about that.  My girlfriend said almost the same thing. ("You 
dug that up out the the ground where your relatives are buried?")  The first
yucca I saw was growing on my great-great-grandfather's grave.  But the ones 
I dug up were several meters away in an "unpopulated" area.  I think they 
may have grown from seeds of the first plant.

Can't you imagine it?  "Lance's Used Flora?"  I could make a "killing" with
a business like that.  People would be "dying" to get them.  HAHAHA!

Special thanks to these people for their comments:

"Jonathan.Walton" <21337MGR at msu.edu>,
<J0M1742%TAMVENUS.BITNET at ricevm1.rice.edu>, Ashley Burns
<ashley at oar.net>, Gil Nelson <nelson at freenet.scri.fsu.edu>, Libby
Goldstein <libby at igc.apc.org>, MAURERCJ at UCBEH.SAN.UC.EDU,
STAF1303 at SLCSL.StLawrenceC.on.ca, amo at mvuxd.att.com,
anne.scott at acadiau.ca (ANNE SCOTT), baum at killdeer.lanl.gov (Christopher
C. Baum), behlert at nyx.cs.du.edu (Brian Ehlert),
br105 at cleveland.Freenet.Edu (Jeffrey A. Del Col),
bz898 at cleveland.Freenet.Edu (Thomas D. Martin), carries at nrel.gov
(Carrie Schneider), cegr01 at email.mot.com (Tom Rubinstein),
dritz at papasun.mcs.anl.gov (Ken Dritz), dw00 at Lehigh.EDU (Diana Walsh),
ebo at golondrinas.unm.edu, lenadams at mojave.win.net (Lenadams Dorris),
lroy at rcsuna.gmr.com (Lynette Roy CT90), mdrabik at bio.ri.ccf.org (Martin
Drabik), pamc at gaia.gatech.edu (Pamela Craig),
pearlste at esvax.dnet.dupont.com, and tracy lee  rabernlylle
<tlrabern at hydra.unm.edu>.
-- 
  Lance Sloan                                              lsloan at nova.gmi.edu
  UNIX System Administrator           GMI Engineering and Management Institute
  Assistant Programmer                                    Flint, Michigan, USA



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