Yucca flowers grow in pale clusters on long, fibrous stalks in the center of yucca trees and shrubs. A member of the lily family, the yucca flower is generally considered a symbol of sturdiness and beauty. Most species of yuccas are found in Mexico, Central America, South America, and the southwestern desert region of the United States; however, some yucca plants can be found in the southeastern United States and in the Caribbean.
These hardy perennials are members of the agave family, are able to withstand extreme temperatures, and require little water or upkeep. Yucca bushes typically grow 2.5 to 3 feet (about .762 to .9144 m) in both height and width. They are typified by a broad base of spiny, sword-shaped leaves with sharp edges. There are more than 40 species of yucca plants whose roots and leaves have long been used to make soaps, ropes, baskets, and cordage.
In late spring or during the summer, the yucca grows a long stalk that reaches 4 to 15 feet (about 1.2192 to 4.572 m) tall depending on the age of the plant. Older plants typically grow longer stalks than younger ones. Yucca flowers grow in clusters called panicles along the upper portion of the stalks. The flowers typically are large with petals measuring up to 2.5 inches (about 6.4 cm) long and range in color from creamy ivory to light purple to a green-tinged white. Due to this mass of light-colored flowers, yuccas are sometimes called "lamperas de dios" or "lamps of the lord."
Inside the yucca flower petals are six sepals that contain a three-lobed pistil. This pistil holds the pollen receptacle that allows yucca flowers to facilitate reproduction in a unique way. The yucca moth is genetically designed solely for bringing pollen to the yucca flower and depositing it into the flower's pistil; the moth then lays its eggs on top of the pollen. Seeds that result from this process then feed the moth's caterpillars after hatching, thereby creating a reciprocal arrangement between moth and flower. In wintertime, the yucca flowers release the remaining seeds before dying.
Yucca flowers are edible. The large quantities of pollen found in the dried excrement of ancient humans point to a diet consisting of many of these flowers. Early colonists in the Americas prepared yucca flowers much like cabbage, as well as marinated them much like artichokes. Yucca flowers continue to be used in dishes, such as omelettes and salads.
In 1927, school children in New Mexico nominated the yucca flower to be their state flower. Their choice was supported by the New Mexico Federation of Women's Clubs. It was officially declared the state flower of New Mexico on 14 March 1927.