Other succulents you may notice on your trip to Zion National Park include a variety of different types of yucca plants. Zion is home to five different species of yucca: the Banana or Datil yucca (Yucca baccata), Narrowleaf yucca (Yucca angustissima), Kanab yucca (Yucca kanabensis), Utah yucca (Yucca utahensis), and Mohave datil (Yucca vespertina).
Each of these yucca are well adapted to living in a dry environment. The leaves of yucca have thick, waxy skins to prevent water loss through evaporation and are sometimes curved slightly so they are able to direct rainwater and dew down to the roots. Yucca plants also have thick taproots that are able to store water during dry times.
Yucca can be found throughout the park and bloom in spring and early summer. Their showy white blossoms are pollinated by only one species, the yucca moth. In turn, the only food yucca moth larvae are able to eat are the seeds of the yucca fruit. The dependence of the yucca on the yucca moth and of the yucca moth on the yucca is an excellent example of coevolution and biological mutualism. Each spring when yucca moths are ready to lay their eggs, they find a yucca flower and gather a sticky ball of pollen with two tentacles near their mouth. After they’ve gathered the pollen, they fly off to find another yucca flower and lay their eggs. After they’ve laid their eggs, they pollinate the flower by pushing the sticky pollen into tiny depressions within the style. Once the flower is pollinated, the moth marks it with a chemical pheromone (scent) that warns other moths from laying their eggs on the same flower. If too many moths have laid their eggs on one flower, the plant will not produce a fruit from that flower. The yucca moth’s eggs will hatch into larvae as the flower develops into a fruit, eating only some of the seeds and leaving the rest to be scattered and hopefully grow into new yucca plants.
Humans have found a variety of uses for the yucca plant over the years. The fruit of the banana yucca is edible, and the white flowers of most yucca are also edible. The roots have a chemical called saponin in them, which can be used to create soap. The leaves of yucca are fibrous. When those fibers are separated from the leaf coating and soaked in water, they can be woven into rope and a variety of other materials such as baskets, blankets, sandals, belts, and clothing.
Last updated: October 3, 2018