[Sign Up Now] to Receive Our FREE Daily SCVTV-SCVNews Digest by E-Mail

Santa Clarita CA
Mostly sunny
Mostly sunny
Today in
S.C.V. History
October 18
1876 - Southern Pacific begins subdividing town of Newhall (original location at Bouquet Junction) [story]

Let's Go Outside | Commentary by Evelyne Vandersande
| Thursday, Aug 15, 2013

evelynevandersande_mugOur Lord’s Candle, Spanish Bayonet … those are  colorful names for an interesting plant which, for me, is tightly associated with springtime in Southern California.

The name, Our Lord’s Candle, comes from the huge, white flowering spike, while Spanish Bayonet is a good description of the needle-sharp leaf tips that will give you a quick reminder if you come too close.

The full Latin name is Hesperoyucca whipplei, or Yucca whipplei for short. But you may know this spectacular plant simply as yucca, and that works just fine, too.

Flowering yucca stalks can be seen on the slopes of our own mountains and hillsides. You won’t see anything like it on the East Coast. It is native to Southern California and Baja and can be found in our chaparral, coastal sage scrub and oak woodlands.

Photos: Placerita Canyon Nature Center Associates

Photos: Placerita Canyon Nature Center Associates

The gorgeous flower spikes can reach about 15 feet tall and are comprised of thousands of fragrant, creamy blossoms. Each blossom is a bit over an inch in diameter.  East of the Santa Monica mountains, the tip of the blossoms can be lightly tinted with pink or maroon, but in Placerita Canyon they are white with a yellowish part toward the center.

The spikes are impressive, due to their height and the number of blossoms they bear; also because they grow so fast. The hills can be bare of flower spikes, and then just a few weeks later, they’re covered with blossom-filled spikes.

evemoth081413cIt always seems that when one yucca is in bloom, a few around are in bloom, too, so the larger display is also very impressive.

There is a reason why these plants seem to blossom in unison. It takes five years for a plant to reach maturity in order to flower, and then it dies.  But don’t despair: At the base of the original plant, new offshoots start to develop. Even if the parent plant dies, the new generation is ready to take over, and new plants start to grow and reproduce.

Because they started from the base of the mother roots, they will all be ready in five years, and all of those offshoots will bloom together, producing a spectacular display.

Of course, in nature, growth does not happen in such a scheduled manner, but often a few yucca plants will bloom in proximity of each other.

The fruit is a dry capsule that hich opens up when it is mature to release the seeds. The base of the plant is a cluster of long, narrow, needle-sharp, greenish gray leaves. The edges of the leaves are also finely saw-toothed. The leaves look – and really area – shar; you learn quickly not to come too close to them on the trail.

evemoth081413dHowever, the fibers inside the leaves are strong. Native Americans used them extensively.  First the leaves were left in water so the pulp of the green leaves would rot away and easily be scraped off, so the fibers were easier to handle. The fibers could be used to create rope, or woven into baskets and even mats or shoes.

The yucca was a great source of food. Young flowers are delicious raw; they can be used as flavoring, but if they are bitter or they are older, they should be boiled in a lot of water before being eaten.

The flowering stem can be eaten raw or cooked, but it is most tender before the flower buds open up. It can be eaten like an asparagus, peeled and cut in sections. The roasted stem can also be left to dry, then ground into powder which can be mixed with water to make small cakes.

The seeds can be roasted like pumpkin seeds; they can also be ground into powder to thicken stew.

I gave you some idea of how the Native Americans used this plant in their daily life; I do not recommend that you try any of those recipes at home. People have allergies to all kinds of plants, and I would not like to be responsible for any reactions you might have.

Also, do not try to cut a yucca to see if you can roast the stem. It would be a struggle, and after the yucca leaves you all bloodied, I am sure you will admit that asparagus might be a better choice.

The root of the soap tree yucca (yucca elata) is high in saponins and was used as shampoo. In its raw state, the saponins are toxic to fish. That made the fishing expeditions of the native Indians a little bit easier. Remember that the Santa Clara River ran year-round in those days, so they had regular access to water in our valley. They would gather a good quantity of yucca roots, throw them into a quiet part of a stream to stun the fishes, and then they could gather them easily.

Dry yucca leaves and trunks burn easily, so they were often the first choice to start a fire using friction.

So, the yucca is a plant that is not only beautiful while in blossom, but is also very useful if you need it to survive in the wild.

I kept the best part for last, because this is a fascinating part of the special story of the yucca.

Yucca moth

Yucca moth

This majestic plant could not exist without a tiny moth (Tegeticula maculat) – and the moth needs the yucca, too. It is the only place where the moth can lay its eggs. The eggs open up and the caterpillars come out. They have plenty of food and will change into moths about one year later. This is always the example that comes to mind when we talk about symbiosis.

How does that work? Moths come out at night, so the pollination takes place at night. The female moth gathers a large bunch of pollen grains from one plant. Those are called pollinia. It gathers them into a large ball. Then it flies to another plant. There she inserts her ovipositor in the seedpod, or ovary, of the flower, and lays one egg. Then she covers it with the transported pollen, and that is when pollination happens. The pollinated ovary will produce many seeds, so the larva will have plenty of food to grow.

This is an exclusive relationship. Both need each other to be able to survive, and this moth is the only yucca’s only pollinator.

That brings an interesting twist to the story. The yucca is a spectacular plant that has gained much appreciation in different countries and is sold in many garden centers all over the world. The growing conditions are not always easy to reproduce, and when it comes to pollination, the moth is nowhere to be found – so people have to do pollination by hand if they want to have seeds.

That brings another topic I will brush upon lightly. If you plant native plants in your garden, you feed the local population of birds and insects. If you plant exotic plants from other parts of the world, they might look interesting, but they are useless to feed the local animal population because they were food for animals that do not exist in our part of the world.

You might want to check the country of origin of the plants before you make a big trip to the garden center.


Evelyne Vandersande has been a docent at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center for 27 years. She lives in Newhall.


Comment On This Story
COMMENT POLICY: We welcome comments from individuals and businesses. All comments are moderated. Comments are subject to rejection if they are vulgar, combative, or in poor taste.
REAL NAMES ONLY: All posters must use their real individual or business name. This applies equally to Twitter account holders who use a nickname.


You can be the first one to leave a comment.

Leave a Comment

Opinion Section Policy
All opinions and ideas are welcome. Factually inaccurate, libelous, defamatory, profane or hateful statements are not. Your words must be your own. All commentary is subject to editing for legibility. There is no length limit, but the shorter, the better the odds of people reading it. "Local" SCV-related topics are preferred. Send commentary to: LETTERS (at) SCVNEWS.COM. Author's full name, community name, phone number and e-mail address are required. Phone numbers and e-mail addresses are not published except at author's request. Acknowledgment of submission does not guarantee publication.
Read More From...
Tuesday, Oct 10, 2017
It was 10 years ago this fall semester that we opened the Canyon Country Campus on Sierra Highway. We are celebrating a decade of academic excellence and community impact. What a difference a decade makes.
Tuesday, Oct 3, 2017
The Trump budget proposes decreasing funding to the Department of the Interior by $1.5 billion. Trump is calling for more drilling in national parks and monuments. He plans to open BLM land to drilling and fracking.
Tuesday, Oct 3, 2017
We are quickly approaching the culmination of the year-long celebration of our city’s 30th anniversary. It is truly a time to celebrate all the hard work, dedication, perseverance and passion that took our City from being a tiny portion of Los Angeles County to the thriving third largest city in the county.
Tuesday, Oct 3, 2017
This month marks an exciting milestone for the premier arts and entertainment district in Santa Clarita.
Friday, Sep 29, 2017
Kaepernick has never spoken of personally experiencing any negative interactions with the police. Appearances are he had a pretty nice life provided by people with white skin while living in a country that presented him with obvious, mind-boggling opportunities.
Thursday, Sep 28, 2017
Despite its close proximity to the city of Barstow, Rainbow Basin remains virtually undiscovered. It is well worth a visit. Visitors to the area can find scenic opportunities for hiking, rock scrambling, camping, photography, sightseeing and horseback riding.

Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
Now is the time for all good college-bound high school seniors to join the 'Race to Submit' applications for FAFSA and CADAA grants to help cover college expenses.
High School Seniors: ‘Race to Submit’ is on for 2018 College Financial Aid
Pukúu Cultural Community Services, founded in 1971 by members of the local Fernandeno-Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, will host its 13th Annual scholarship gala fundraiser, "Night with the Stars," in Sunland on Saturday, November 4 starting at 6 p.m.
Nov. 4: Local Tribe Honors 3, Celebrates Native American Heritage Month
Santa Clarita business owners are encouraged to take the city's broadband feasibility study online survey and participate in the next phase of the study -- in-person focus groups scheduled for October 30.
Oct. 30: Focus Groups in Next Phase of City Broadband Study
Maryama, a band led by CalArts alumna Maryama Mirbagheri (Music MFA 17), was recently nominated for a 2017 Hollywood Music in Media Award in the World Music category.
Maryama Nominated for Hollywood Music in Media Award
The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department's 2017 Medal of Valor Awards were held Tuesday in Los Angeles, and SCV Sheriff's Station Deputy Dmitry Barkon was recognized for his bravery and heroic actions.
SCV Sheriff’s Deputy Dmitry Barkon Earns Medal of Valor
The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, in response to President Trump’s recent decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, has declared Oct. 16-20 "DACA Advocacy Week."
California Community Colleges Ramp Up DACA Advocacy
COC and the Hart District will host the 2017 College & Career Fair in the college’s Honor Grove on Saturday, Oct. 21 from 9 a.m. to noon.
Oct. 21: 2017 College and Career Fair at COC
The College of the Canyons Art Gallery will showcase the work of Los Angeles-based painter Sheldon Figoten in a one-person exhibition of new paintings, “Light Fields,” opening Saturday, Oct. 28.
Oct. 28: Sheldon Figoten ‘Light Fields’ at COC Art Gallery
The Santa Clarita Artists Association held its 28th Annual Art Classic fine arts competition at William S. Hart Park's Hart Hall in Newhall on October 14.
Santa Clarita Artists Association Names Winners in 2017 Art Classic
Here is the Castaic-Val Verde Crime Information & Public Safety report from the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station for September 25 through October 1.
Crime Blotter: Arson, Burglary, Theft in Castaic-Val Verde
California and New Mexico launched a fresh challenge Tuesday against the Trump administration’s repeal of higher royalty payments to states for oil, gas and coal leases on public lands.
California, New Mexico Challenge White House Favors to Oil, Gas, Coal
Here is the Stevenson Ranch (Zone 3) Crime Information & Public Safety report from the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station for the week of October 2 to October 8.
Crime Blotter: Burglary, Petty Theft in Stevenson Ranch
Here is the Canyon Country East (Zone 8) Crime Information and Public Safety report from the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station for September 24 through October 8, 2017.
Crime Blotter: Vehicle Theft, Burglary in Canyon Country East
1876 - Southern Pacific begins subdividing town of Newhall (original location at Bouquet Junction) [story]
CalArts Center for New Performance (CNP), the professional producing arm of California Institute of the Arts, opens Fantômas: Revenge of the Image at Wuzhen Theatre Festival in Wuzhen, China, on Oct. 19.
Oct. 19: CalArts’ Fantomas: Revenge of the Image Premieres in China
The CSUN women's golf team fired rounds of 306-309 and is in fourth place, just eight shots off the pace at the Pat Lesser Harbottle Seattle University Invitational at the Tacoma Country and Golf Club in Tacoma, WA.
CSUN Just Eight Shots Off Pace At Washington Invitational
Tonight on SCV NewsBreak, Recreation, Community Services, Arts and Open Spaces Director Rick Gould announces retirement. Plus, the Board of Supervisors approve mental health care improvements. Check out these stories and more tonight on SCV NewsBreak.
SCV NewsBreak for Tuesday, October 17, 2017
The Advanced Technology Presentation about "Careers in the Making...Design, Engineering, Fabrication and More..." in celebration of National Manufacturing Day was a huge success.
SCV Students Gain Knowledge, Advice at National Manufacturing Day
A local company is expanding its footprint in the Santa Clarita Valley to accommodate business growth and another is relocating a division of its company from Sylmar.
Accurate Freight Systems Expands, Leases Space at IAC Commerce Center
The Domestic Violence Center (DVC) of Santa Clarita Valley is accepting applications for Adopt-a-Family 2017.
DVC of SCV Currently Accepting Adopt-a-Family 2017 Applications
Major Impact Theater, founded by Jill Garson and Shawnda Davis in 2014, is a non-profit theater group that specially adapts plays for performance by adults with disabilities in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Nov. 4: Major Impact Theater Presents Blunderland
California State University, Northridge will make history on Thursday, Oct. 26, by becoming the first California State University with a Sustainability Center.
Oct. 26: CSUN to Open Sustainability Center
Registration for the Purple Walk of Strength is now open.
Oct. 21: Purple Walk of Strength to Benefit Domestic Violence Center
Raising a child is a demanding job for any parent, especially when supportive resources seem to be elusive or nonexistent.
Oct. 22: CSUN Hosts Special Needs Resource Fair
College of the Canyons dominated its match vs. Bakersfield College from start to finish on Friday night, resulting in a 5-1 victory over the Renegades for the Cougars' first conference win of the season.
COC Gets First Conference Win of Season Against Bakersfield College
RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Following a two-week layoff, College of the Canyons cross country was back in competition on Saturday, running with a mix of community college and Division I programs at the Sixth Annual UC Riverside Highlander Invitational.
COC Cross Country Back in Competition After Two Week Layoff
The race to qualify for the Big West Conference Men's Soccer Tournament continues for CSUN this week with a home match against UC Riverside Wednesday night before the Matadors head to UC Irvine Saturday.
Oct. 18: CSUN Faces Off Against UC Riverside
After 16 years as director of Parks, Recreation and Community Service for the city of Santa Clarita, Rick Gould announced Monday he's retiring in mid-December.
Rick Gould Retires as City’s Parks & Recreation Chief
High school seniors whose dream is to make a difference in the world by majoring in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) are invited to apply for Edison International’s $1.2 million Edison Scholars Program.
STEM Students Encouraged to Apply for Edison Scholars Program
Motor vehicle collisions are the leading cause of death for teenagers, ahead of all other types of injury, disease, or violence.
National Teen Driver Safety Week Underway
Elder abuse and scams targeting seniors are a growing problem, Santa Clarita detectives said, but there are numerous resources and protections available.
Resources, Outreach Available to SCV Victims of Elder Abuse
Despite rallying from an early 2-0 deficit, College of the Canyons dropped a 4-2 decision to visiting Victor Valley College on Friday.
Canyons Rally Not Enough To Hold Off Victor Valley College
The College of the Canyons baseball program and Playa Vista Orioles youth baseball organization will host a free instructional clinic for players ages 11-14 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 21, at Cougar Field.
Oct. 21: Youth Baseball Clinic at COC
Sacramento – In an effort to curb the fraudulent use of Disabled Person Parking Placards, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has launched a statewide public awareness campaign to educate Californians about the proper use of disabled parking placards and the consequences of misusing one.
DMV Launches Statewide Campaign on Use of Disabled Parking Placards
A California State University, Northridge program that provides support to undergraduate students from underrepresented communities to pursue graduate degrees in the mathematical sciences has been named a 2017 Example of Excelencia in Education.
CSUN Math Program Lauded 2017 Example of Excelencia in Education
RE/MAX of Valencia will be hosting a blood drive benefiting Children's Hospital Los Angeles.
Nov. 1: RE/MAX Blood Drive to Benefit CHLA