Importance of Yucca Plants


About 40 species of yucca (Yucca spp.) exist, all native to the New World. Somewhat shrublike but forming a non-woody trunk with rosettelike clusters of sword-shaped leaves, yuccas thrive in sunny locations with a dry, well-draining soil, especially infertile sandy ground, according to American plant expert Dr. Michael Dirr. Regardless of species, yuccas are architecturally striking plants and produce alluring spikes of white, bell-shaped flowers. There is a yucca suitable for every garden across U.S. Department of Agriculture Hardiness Zones 4 through 9.

Ecological Significance

Yuccas, growing in the low-rainfall areas across North, Central and South America, provide shelter and habitat for a variety of animal and insect life. The immature flower shoots of some species of yucca are palatable to mammals, being a good source of water, fiber and minerals, according to Robert R. Alexander, Floyd W. Pond and Jane E. Rodgers of the U.S. Forest or U.S. Park Service. Moreover, moths pollinate yucca flower blossoms, and some lay their eggs and pupate on yucca plants. Bees can harvest nectar from yucca flowers; birds and reptiles that eat insects benefit from yucca plants that support insect life.

Food Benefits

Native peoples of the American Southwest and Mexico often ate yucca plant parts. Buds, flowers and immature seeds were eaten raw, boiled or roasted, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The chopped stems of yucca are mixed with other vegetative foodstuffs and fed to livestock. The Oracle Education Foundation states that the tough, fibrous leaves are edible once boiled in a solution of salt water.

Medicinal Properties

Soaptree yucca's roots are known as "amole" and serve as a laxative. The Herbs Place website comments that saponins in yucca roots are a precursor of cortisone, which aids in the relief of pain. Thus, the root paste or dried powder was used to relieve pain during childbirth, according to the Oracle Education Foundation. It also curbs arthritic inflammation and tends to promote fat absorption in the digestive tract, prevent bacterial problems and soothe digestive irritations.

Cultural Importance

Native Americans utilized nearly all parts of yucca plants for economic benefit. Besides using yucca as a source of food and medicine, the leaf fibers could be used for making baskets, mats, sandals and burlap, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Paint, arrow dart poison, and shampoo and soap became important. "Soaproot" remains a product widely sold in American natural food and product stores. The state of New Mexico adopted the yucca (especially species Yucca glauca) as the official state flower.


Gardeners utilize many species of yucca as bold architectural plants in landscapes where soils are dry or infertile. Depending on the mature size of the yucca, they are used for rock gardens or mixed shrub borders or as small accent trees in building foundation beds. The upright white flowers make yuccas especially attractive in garden settings. Today there are many cultivars that bear unusual variegated foliage colors, adding to their popularity in designed landscapes.

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About this Author

James Burghardt became a full-time writer in 2008 with articles appearing on Web sites like eHow and GardenGuides. He's gardened and worked professionally at gardens in Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. He holds a graduate diploma in environmental horticulture from the University of Melbourne, Australia and a Master of Science in public horticulture from the University of Delaware.