Please Don’t Eat the Yucca

"Yucca, 2010"

Our yucca bloomed a week early this year

Yuccas have to be one of the most improbable, delightful plants in New England. While they look like something you’d see in the New Mexico desert, they’re actually quite common here.

Sixteen years, when Michelle and I moved into our house on a very hot July 1, we were astounded to see a strange, gorgeous plant laden with ivory-colored blossoms right next to our doorstep. We’d bought the house in winter, and hadn’t noticed the spiky specimen, which roughly resembles the top of a pineapple. Although this beautiful plant seemed like a housewarming gift from Mother Nature, the yucca was merely obeying its mysterious annual call to go forth and bloom.

Every year since then, the yucca has bloomed like clockwork during the first week of July.  This year, however, our yucca flowered a week early. I was concerned about our early bloomer.  Should we blame it on the unusually hot, sunny spring we had, or is this a sign of global warming?

Hoping to find out if there was a law of nature dictating when yuccas are supposed to bloom, I did some investigation.  According to Wikipedia, my authority on everything, it turns out that our Yucca plant, Yucca filamentosa, one of 40 or 50 species of yucca, typically blooms in early summer. Nothing more specific regarding dates.  I’ll have to wait until next year to see if our yucca goes back on schedule.

Yucca in bloom

Good enough to eat?

In the meantime, I learned that Yucca is often confused with yuca, or cassava root. The names are similar, but the plants are not related.  Since cassava is a major food staple around the world, I wanted to know whether I could eat my yucca.  While some sources said that yucca flowers are edible, I read that the roots are somewhat toxic to people, and even more toxic to fish.  Apparently, hunting tribes used to dump yucca into streams to stupefy the fish.  So my recommendation is: please don’t eat your yucca–unless it’s cassava.

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