Thursday, September 24, 2020

Plant Profile: Yucca filifera

Latin name: Yucca filifera ("YOU-kah fill-IFF-er-ah")
Common name: Mexican Tree Yucca, Palma China, Chinese palm
Originally from: Chihuahua desert in North-Eastern Mexico.
Blooms: An unusual 5' long weeping panicle of white bell-like flowers pollinated by moths and butterflies.
Light: Full sun.
Water: Winter rain is enough - hates waterlogged roots.
Height x width: 25' x 8'
Zones: 7b to 10b
Where to find in P. Garden: We have three at the top of at PG and half a dozen in two groups down at PRG.

Yucca filifera was discovered in the 1840’s in North-Eastern Mexico by explorer Josiah Gregg. It was introduced to Europe in the 1870’s. I hadn't seen these for sale until last year at Flora Grubb gardens, where I immediately pounced on one to try it out.

Since then I have bought or been given about 10 more, because they are so incredibly tough, architectural and easy to grow. Deer resistant? Allegedly. Human resistant? For sure!

A common plant in North-Eastern Mexico, and in Mexico as a whole, it is found at altitudes of 1400-7800', in areas with an annual rainfall of around 11-24". Yucca filifera grows in a huge variety of environments, and can be seen in huge forests at the foot of mountains in deep soils, in desert-scrub, grassland, thorn-scrub and occasionally in oak or pinyon-juniper woodland.

With rigid, narrow leaves, 1.5" wide and 18" long arranged around the trunk, the plant looks like Yucca aloifolia except with thin white threadlike leaf margins: the name filifera is from Latin ‘filim’ meaning thread; and ‘fera’ meaning carrying.

Yucca filifera is a tall branching evergreen tree that, in 20-50 years, can reach 25-40' tall with a spread of 8-15'. The trunk usually branches at around 10-14' and can develop a massive and wide base when old. They only seem to be available in a 5 gallon single stemmed size at retail and wholesalers, though I have tried to get larger ones - no luck.

As with many tough and common plants, they have a lot of uses. Indigenous people used the leaves of Yucca filifera as a roof covering and as a source of fiber for handcrafting. The flowers, fruit and stem can be eaten raw or cooked and the flower spike cooked and eaten like asparagus. Yucca filifera can also be dried and crushed for use as a flavoring, though I've no idea what it would taste like.

The root contains saponins which are not toxic, but they are difficult for the human body to digest. Plants containing saponins can be crushed in water to create a foam so were often used for cleaning.

Saponins in general have a number of potential, modern day medicinal applications as they are found to exhibit anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties and have antibacterial effects. They are thought to help reduce cholesterol levels, kill bacteria, and inhibit tumor growth.

On the whole this is a super xeric garden plant and I highly recommend it.


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