The Giant Yucca, which is used for food and in agriculture, is exceptionally large. Its panicles of white flowers (which are edible) contrast nicely with its bluish-green foliage.
Yucca is a Haitian name, borrowed from an Arawak Amerindian language word meaning cassava. Gigantea means “giant”.
Description and flowering period
It is a yucca displaying a shrubby habit. It commonly reaches 5 meters in height, but more rarely up to 9 meters. It can have either a solitary trunk or be multi-trunked; in older specimens the characteristic swelling of the base of the trunk(s), resembling an elephant’s foot is always present. The foliage is persistent and composed of flushes of tough, narrow linear leaves reaching 0.5 to 1 meter in length. They are blue-green and spineless. When they die, they remain attached to the trunk for many years forming a “petticoat” around the stem. Flowering occurs in late spring, it consists of panicles (an inflorescence in which the main axis has several lateral branches, each of which is also branched), measuring up to 2 meters long. They consist of hundreds of little white bell-shaped flowers. The ovoid, black and fleshy fruits hold thick black seeds.
It appreciates any type of soil in warm temperate or subtropical climates. It is drought tolerant but quite sensitive to excessive rain and humidity. It can tolerate the occasional light frost.
- Food & drink: The petals are edible, after being blanched in boiling water, they can then be prepared as a vegetable.
- Agriculture: The species is often planted on slopes in coffee plantations to prevent soil erosion.
The flower, called “Izote” is the national emblem of El Salvador. Yuccas have a very specialised mutualistic pollination system: being pollinated by yucca moths (of the family Prodoxidae). The female insect purposefully transfers the pollen from the stamens of one plant to the stigma of another, and at the same time lays an egg in the flower; the moth larva then feeds on some of the developing seeds, always leaving enough seed to perpetuate the species. The species is still widely known under the name Yucca elephantipes, given by Eduard von Regel in February 1859. But because he did not legitimise the name by publishing an article in a recognised scientific publication, the name that is valid today is the one given by Charles Lemaire in November of the same year: Yucca gigantea.
Translated by: François Saint-Hillier – MNHN