Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the June 9, 2013 Newsletter issued from the Frio Canyon Nature Education Center in northern Uvalde County, southwestern Texas, on the southern border of the Edwards Plateau, USA

Maybe the nicest surprise this week came as I was wandering the lower, deeply shaded slope of a limestone hill in a semi-open area of mostly Ashe Juniper and grass, and saw the prettily flowering yucca shown below:


It was wonderful how the white blossoms glowed so brightly in the shade, like detached globes of light hovering over the blades. A close-up of some flowers still dripping from a brief morning shower appears below:

Arkansas Yucca, YUCCA ARKANSANA, flowers

A flower with some of its tepals folded back so you can see the male stamens and female pistil is shown below:

Arkansas Yucca, YUCCA ARKANSANA, flower section showing pistil & stamens

About 28 yucca species occur in North America and several conceivably might be found here, so I knew that here I'd have to "do the botany."

The main field marks of this yucca are largely visible without getting into the flower anatomy. First, as yucca species go, this was a smallish one, the top of the flowering head only about four feet high (1.2m). The tuft of leaves arises at or near the ground, and not on a distinct tree-like trunk, as with some species such as Joshua Trees, which are yuccas. Also, the flower cluster perches atop an especially short stem, or peduncle, with the lowest flowers' only a short distance above the leaf tips below them. Peduncles of many yucca species are much longer. Also, the flower cluster itself is not much branched. Only at the cluster base do flowers arise from branches off the central axis, or rachis. In the cluster's upper and middle part flowers arise directly from the rachis. Flower clusters of many yucca species are complex "panicles" while our cluster is mostly a "raceme." The plant's blades are also unusually slender and pliable.

These field marks and others identify our hill-growing yucca as the Arkansas Yucca, also called Softleaf Yucca. It's YUCCA ARKANSANA and it's found in a small, oblong distribution area stretching from southeastern Nebraska and southwestern Missouri through western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma, to about here. We're located at its most extreme southwestern occurrence.

The flowers, fruits, seeds and stem pulp of most yuccas can be eaten, at least when boiled or roasted, and I suspect that that's the case with the Arkansas Yucca, too. However, Our Arkansas Yuccas are fairly uncommon here so I'd rather let them spread their seeds than to eat them.