New Mexico State Flower

The New Mexico State Flower

The Yucca Flower

The New Mexico state flower is the Yucca (pronounced “yuh-ka”) Flower.

There are various types of yucca throughout the state and no single species has been named the state flower. The New Mexico Legislature officially adopted the "yucca flower" on March 14, 1927 as the state flower without designating a specific variety as such.

One of the most notable species of yucca is the Yucca glauca, which is also known by the name soapweed yucca, soaptree, narrowleaf yucca, plains yucca, great plains yucca, and beargrass. Some people assume this is actually the state flower, and while they aren't wrong they aren't correct either. I figure if it's a yucca flower, it counts! 

The New Mexico state flower is said to resemble a sword with its towering clusters of white flowers jutting out of sharply tapered dark green leaves.

The yucca thrives in New Mexico, despite the fact it is an arid desert, because yucca require only a small amount of water to survive.

Yucca Flower Characteristics

new mexico state flower, yucca glauca, yucca flower, great plains yucca
Yucca Glauca. White Sands, New Mexico

There are approximately 40 to 50 species of the yucca flower found across the state and a vast portion of southwest America. The physical features of the yucca glauca include spiky, almost thorn-like and brawny leaves. The leaves maintain an evergreen color and form a starburst effect fanning around the base of the plant. Tall, fibrous stalks sprout from the center of this dark green bush and at the apex a dense clump of white flowers emerges.

The New Mexico state flower blooms during the spring and early summer. When the yucca flower is blooming it exudes a sweet, fragrant smell, which is not only pleasing to us, but also serves as an invitation to the yucca moth, its prime pollinator.

The Yucca Moth

The yucca moth (Tegeticula yuccasella) and the New Mexico state flower have a give-and-take relationship. The mutualistic pollination system relies on the yucca moth to transfer pollen from the stamens of one plant to the stigma of another; it is the only pollinator for the yucca glauca. Without our little moth friend our yuccas would cease to exist. In fact, because the lives of the yucca moth are so short, they don't even need to eat! The moths function solely to continue pollination of our yuccas.

The female yucca moth is responsible for pollination, which she does at night. Also during the night, she lays her eggs. After the eggs are laid and hatch, the larvae feed on the seeds in the yucca flower heads. Additionally, the flowers offer protection to the growing larvae. The larvae mature, drop to the ground, burrow and hibernate a year until they emerge fully grown yucca moths.

The yucca moth is perfectly designed to gather pollen from the flower because pollination encourages the plant to bloom, and the seeds within those blooms are food for the larvae. Without pollination, there would be no seeds, and the yucca moth would die off. 

The Yucca Flower In New Mexico

The New Mexico state flower has been given the title “Lamparas de Dios” or “Lamps of the Lord” by visitors. Early people to the area designated the yucca flower as “Our Lord’s Candles”. This often refers to the yucca glauca species.

This name came about during the night when its clusters of pale-yellow flowers are lit by the moon (we have almost no pollution), pointing toward the heavens, and adding luminosity to the desert’s dark nights.

The yucca glauca had many uses and benefits to the Native Americans. Early settlers of the land, particularly in the Southwest, used to weave and braid the leaves. These weavings formed their baskets, shoes, ropes & cords, thatch for roofs, and more.

The New Mexico state flower is a cousin to the Soaptree Yucca (Yucca Elata). The Soaptree varietal is where many species of yucca are colloquially called soaptree and soapweed. This yucca flower sprouts from a tall, shaggy trunk. The roots and trunk of the soaptree yucca contain saponins which are naturally soapy. Native Americans ground the roots and made mild soaps and shampoos from it. Yucca root is still used in soaps and shampoos today and is an excellent option for natural or holistic lifestyles.

yucca photo, pictures of yucca
Soaptree Yucca Sunset. Courtesy Jim O'Donnell
While the roots of yucca are not edible (like a yuca, or cassava) the plant does provide nourishment. Yucca fruit can be eaten raw or dried, baked, broiled, steamed, or pickled. The flowers can be eaten raw, candied, fried or sauteed. Some people even steam the stems and liken them to asparagus. We have yucca recipes, too!

The yucca glauca is popular in Western herbal tradition for a variety of uses. It is known for its effect on joint problems and arthritis and for reducing blood pressure.  There are several traditional yucca root powder uses for health. It is also claimed to be effective for arthritis in animals, too!

The wood of the yucca plant has historically been used to start fires. It is excellent tinder, probably due to the fact it is a low water consuming plant.

Grow Your Own Yucca!

Most commonly the yucca flower is planted for its ornamental attraction and ease of care. It is found prominently in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, but also frequently throughout the state. There exist several popular yucca plant varieties for landscaping.

I hope you enjoyed reading about our state flower. The yucca has provided lifestyle benefits to people in the Southwest for centuries, as well as being an identifiable character of the region.

Related Pages:
New Mexico State History
New Mexico State Capital History
New Mexico State Flag
New Mexico State Bird