Banana Yucca (Yucca baccata)

Yucca baccata (datil yucca or banana yucca) is a common species of yucca native to the deserts of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico, from southeastern California north to Utah, east to western Texas and south to Sonora and Chihuahua.

The species gets its common name “banana yucca” from its banana-shaped fruit. The specific epithet “baccata” means “with berries.” Banana yucca is closely related to the Mojave yucca (Y. schidigera), with which it is interspersed where their ranges overlap; hybrids between them occur.

Yucca baccata is recognized by having leaves 30–100 cm long with more of a blue-green color, and short or nonexistent trunks. It flowers in the spring, starting in April to July depending on locality (altitude), and the flowers range from 5 to 13 cm long, white to cream with purple shades. The flower stalk is not especially tall, typically 1–1.5 meters. The seeds are rough, black, wingless, 3–8 mm long and wide, 1–2 mm thick; they ripen in 6–8 weeks. The indehiscent fleshy fruit is sweet, 8–18 cm long and 6 cm across, and cylindrical.

The Paiutes dried the fruits for use during the winter.

Subspecies

Yucca baccata has been divided into three subspecies:

  • Yucca baccata ssp. baccata—Datil Yucca, Banana Yucca
  • Yucca baccata ssp. thornberi (McKelvey) Hochstätter—Thornber’s Yucca
  • Yucca baccata ssp. vespertina (McKelvey) Hochstätter—Mohave Datil Yucca

Distribution

The plant is known from the Great Basin, the Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan Deserts, in the states of Utah, California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas in the United States, and the state of Chihuahua in Mexico. It can be found in several habitat types, including Pinyon-Juniper, Sagebrush, and Ponderosa pine colonies at elevations generally between 1,500 and 2,500 meters.

It is associated with Yucca schidigera, Yucca brevifolia, Yucca arizonica, Yucca faxoniana, Agave utahensis, and other Agave species. It can be found among Sclerocactus, Pediocactus, Navajoa, and Toumeya species.

Yucca baccata occurs in a large area of the North American deserts and exhibits much variation across its range. Yucca baccata specimens from the higher, mountainous regions of the Rocky Mountains is winterhardy and tolerates extreme conditions.

 

Use as food

The flower petals of the Yucca baccata are edible raw, and can be plucked directly from a blossoming plant. The fruits can also be harvested and eaten raw, however roasted provides better flavor.

 

 

Terms of use: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

Photo credits: Brewbooks, Pete Watters

About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.

Leave a Comment