1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Yucca

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YUCCA,[1] a genus of the order Liliaceae (q.v.), containing about thirty species. They occur in greatest frequency in Mexico and the S.W. United States, extending also into Central America, and occurring in such numbers in some places as to form straggling forests. They have a woody or fibrous stem, sometimes short, and in other cases attaining a height of 15 to 20ft., and branching at the top into a series of forks. The leaves are crowded in tufts at the ends of the stem or branches, and are generally stiff and sword-shaped, with a sharp point, sometimes flaccid and in other cases fibrous at the edges. The numerous flowers are usually while, bell-shaped and pendulous, and are borne in much-branched terminal panicles. Each flower has a perianth of six regular pieces, and has as many hypogynous stamens, with dilated filaments, bearing relatively small anthers. The three celled ovary is surmounted by a short thick style, dividing above into three stigmas, and ripens into a succulent berry in some of the species, and into a dry three-valved capsule in others. The flowers are fertilized by the agency of moths.

A coarse fibre is obtained by the Mexicans from the stem and foliage, which they utilize for cordage, and in the S.E. United States the leaves of some species, under the name “bear-grass,” are used for seating chairs, &c. The fruits, which resemble small bananas, are cooked as an article of diet; and the roots contain a saponaceous matter used in place of soap.

Many of the species are hardy in Great Britain, and their striking appearance renders them attractive in gardens even when not in flower. They thrive in a rich, light soil, and are propagated by divisions planted in the open ground, or by pieces of the thick, fleshy roots in sandy soil under heat. Their rigid foliage, invested by thick epidermis, enables them to resist the noxious air of towns better than most plants. A popular name for the plant is “Adam's needle.” The species which split up at the margins of their leaves into filaments are called “Eve's thread.”

Yucca gloriosa in flower, much reduced. 1, flower, abt. ½ nat. size; 2, diagram showing arrangement of the parts of the flower in horizontal plan.

  1. A Spanish word meaning “bayonet,” recalling the form and character of the leaves.