White Yucca Towers

In late evening as the pastures dim and darken, white yucca towers seem to glow against the dark. Perhaps from a distance they can make a person think of ghosts.

Yuccas look more like desert plants than Ozark natives, which they are. Their long leaves stick straight up for a foot or more from a basal rosette.

white yucca towers above the leaves
Yucca leaves are twelve to eighteen inches long growing in a rosette. The flower stalk shoots up from the center of the rosette reaching for to five feet tall lined with little flower branches. The flowers seem to glow in the late evening.

Each leaf is thick with a center vein making them into a long fold. During winter cold the edges curl around until the leaves form a tube.

Leaf edges have strings curling off. These strings are tough and remind me of sewing thread.

In late spring older yuccas put up a single thick stalk. Its tip moves to point it in the direction of the sun all day.

Side branches push out from the main stalk once it reaches three feet. It can keep growing to five feet putting out more and more of these flower stalks.

white yucca flower
During the day yucca flowers are bell shaped and hang down. In the evening the flowers flare open for the night. The next day they will have a yellow tinge, be bell shaped and hanging down again.

Then the white yucca towers begin to open.

Each bell shaped flower appears to be waxed. They are slick and reflect light. The bells begin to open late in the afternoon and open fully about dark.

Inside each flower is a single fat pistil with six curved stamens around it. All are white.

Night flowers are often pollinated not by bees that sleep at night, but by moths. Yuccas have a special moth, their only pollinator. A Missouri entomologist gained fame for finding it as mentioned in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.

white yucca moth
Hiding up in some of the yucca flowers are the moths, usually one to a flower. These moths can be hard to spot as their wings are the same vivid white of the flower. With the wings folded over the back, the moths resemble the anthers they are clinging to. These moths are only pollinator for yuccas.

Like the yucca flowers, a yucca moth is white. It sits inside a flower up against the stamens looking like an extra one.

After pollinating a flower, the female moths lay eggs against the pistil. The larvae burrow in and use the seeds for food.

We had no yuccas when we moved to the Ozarks. We took a few from a neighbor’s pasture and planted them here.

white yucca towers in a field
Yuccas are spreading both by seed and by offshoots so that they put on impressive displays in several old fields. The last light of the sun has hit this group.

Yucca plants die after blooming, but put up side shoots so the original plant soon becomes a colony. The seeds start new plants nearby.

Now we have lots of white yucca towers lighting up our evenings.