Hesperoyucca peninsularis (McKelvey) Clary
Yucca californica Groenland
Yucca engelmannii Mast.
Yucca graminifolia Alph.Wood
Yucca nitida C.Wright ex W.Watson
Yucca ortigiesiana Roezl
Yucca peninsularis McKelvey
Yucca whipplei Torr.
Common Name: Our Lord's Candle
Flowering plant in native habitat
Photograph by: Vgrubsky
Hesperoyucca whipplei is an evergreen shrub that can grow around 100cm tall, forming a rosette of spear-shaped leaves 20 - 125cm long and 7 - 25mm wide at the base. A single flowering stem 3 metres or more tall is produced. The plant is very variable, sometimes rhizomatous, some plants with secondary rosettes at the base or the stems branching to form new rosettes after flowering; rosettes can be single or in a clump, in small to very large, compact or open communities, or occasionally solitary[
The plant is cultivated as a fibre plant in Mexico and has been suggested as a very promising fibre plant for the southwestern USA[
]. It has a range of traditional uses as a food and source of materials and is often cultivated as an ornamental.
The roots contain saponins[
Although poisonous, saponins also have a range of medicinal applications and many saponin-rich plants are used in herbalism (particularly as emetics, expectorants and febrifuges) or as sources of raw materials for the pharmaceutical industry. Saponins are also found in a number of common foods, such as many beans.
Saponins have a quite bitter flavour and are in general poorly absorbed by the human body, so most pass through without harm. They can be removed by carefully leaching in running water. Thorough cooking, and perhaps changing the cooking water once, will also normally remove most of them. However, it is not advisable to eat large quantities of raw foods that contain saponins.
Saponins are much more toxic to many cold-blooded creatures, such as fish, and hunting tribes have traditionally put large quantities of them in streams, lakes etc in order to stupefy or kill the fish and make them easy to catch[
South-western N. America - southern California, Baja California
Dry, grassy and often stony slopes; at elevations to 1,200 metres[
]. Desert, chaparral, desert woodland coastal sage; at elevations from 300 - 2,500 metres[
|Other Uses Rating||
|Cultivation Status||Cultivated, Ornamental, Wild
Hesperoyucca whipplei is hardy to at least -5°c[
] and can tolerate short periods down to -10°c[
]. It grows well in warm maritime areas of the temperate zone, though it may need protection from winter rains[
Thrives in any soil but prefers a sandy loam and full exposure to the south[
]. Requires a sunny position[
]. Prefers a hot dry position[
], strongly disliking winter wet[
]. Established plants are very drought tolerant[
]. Plants are hardier when grown on poor sandy soils[
A very ornamental plant[
], it requires late summer and autumn warmth to initiate flowering[
]. The flowers are sweetly scented[
This species is usually monocarpic, living for a number of years without flowering and then dying after it does flower[
]. Plants do produce suckers, however, and not all of these flower at the same time. The plant can thus be propagated by this means[
The flowers of most members of this genus can only be pollinated by a certain species of moth. In regions where the moth does not live and, if fruit and seed are required, hand pollination is necessary. This can be quite easily and successfully done using something like a small paint brush[
]. This species, however, is self-fertile and does not require the Yucca moth for pollination, setting fruit without hand pollination[
Plants in this genus are notably resistant to honey fungus[
Members of this genus seem to be immune to the predations of rabbits[
Fruit - raw or cooked.
Flowers - raw or cooked[
]. They are delicious raw, and can also be dried, crushed and used as a flavouring[
]. Young flowers have been parboiled and eaten, whilst older flowers have been boiled in three lots of water before being eaten[
]. This suggests the flowers are quite bitter[
Flowering stem - raw or cooked[
]. It is best used when fully grown, but before the flower buds expand[
]. It can be peeled, cut into sections then cooked and used like asparagus[
]. The roasted stems have been dried, ground into a powder then mixed with water to make cakes[
Seed - cooked. It can be ground into a powder or cooked and used as a gruel[
A long, coarse fibre is obtained from the leaves. It is used for making twine, ropes, sacks etc[
]. The fibre is fine and white[
The leaves are used in making baskets and mats[
The leaves are used as paint brushes[
The roots are rich in saponins and can be used as a soap substitute[
Seed - sow spring in a greenhouse. Pre-soaking the seed for 24 hours in warm water may reduce the germination time. It usually germinates within 1 - 12 months if kept at a temperature of 20°c. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in the greenhouse or cold frame for at least their first two winters. Plant them out into their permanent positions in early summer and consider giving them some winter protection for at least their first winter outdoors - a simple pane of glass is usually sufficient[
]. Seed is not produced in Britain unless the flowers are hand pollinated.
Root cuttings in late winter or early spring. Lift in mid spring and remove small buds from base of stem and rhizomes. Dip in dry wood ashes to stop any bleeding and plant in a sandy soil in pots in a greenhouse until established[
Division of suckers in late spring. Larger divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. We have found that it is best to pot up smaller divisions and grow them on in light shade in a greenhouse or cold frame until they are growing away well. Plant them out in the following spring.