Yucca gloriosa Spanish Dagger/Bayonet; Adam's Needle; Palm Lily; Roman Candle

Family: Agavaceae

Origin: USA from S Carolina to NE Florida

Photographed at Mountstewart Gardens, Co Down 2003.

This evergreen shrub grows to about 2-3 m in the British Isles; usually it is a single unbranched fleshy stem with a terminal crown of numerous stiff, fleshy leaves tipped with a hard spine. These leaves are around 70 cm long, 5-8 cm wide, grey-green. The tall-conical flowering spike appears in late summer, carrying numerous pendulous, creamy-white, cup-shaped flowers, sometimes tinged outside with crimson. Fruits are seed-cases, around 5 cm long, with tiny glossy seeds, 0.5 cm long.

Several other species of Yucca yield useful strong leaf-fibres for weaving; also used for rope-making by early European settlers in America, although as the fibre has a short staple, it has not become commercially significant.

Introduced about ?1550. Bean in his Trees & Shrubs gives the following fascinating history:
"It was cultivated by Gerard in his garden at Holborn late in the 16th century……. Gerard obtained his plant from Thomas Edwards, an apothecary of Exeter. Its original provenance is unknown, but the likeliest guess is that it came from Roanoke Island, which had been explored in the 1580's, and was the site of the first, but short-lived, English settlement in what is now the United States. Gerard's plant had not flowered by the time he published his Herball, but it did so later. It died when an attempt was made to move it to another garden after his death. But he had given a propagation to Robin, the French King's gardener. Parkinson had a plant, and gives a good account of the species in his Paradisus."

The word yucca has been misapplied to these plants from its original use in the Carib language as the name for the manihot or cassava plant.

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