This is the time of year that U.S. Southwest deserts are in bloom with their spectacular wildflower displays — just in time for the northeastern monarch migration. Right now Death Valley National Park is experiencing a superbloom. Wildflowers blanket the desert landscape in a sea of gold, purple and white – a rare occurrence caused by last fall’s high rain amounts.
Similar wildflower floral displays are going on in other California deserts as well as those in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Texas. Unfortunately, these colorful wildflowers will start to wane as the desert heat and drought become more imminent, but they’ll be replaced with equally awesome desert native plant displays.
For example, the Soaptree Yucca (Yuca elata) which is one of various species spread across New Mexico’s lower elevations. These hardy plants are members of the Family Agavaceae and thrive under trying conditions. (Including Wisconsin before I realized that planting a native plant out of place makes it a non-native.)
According to the New Mexico Secretary of State, “Soaptree Yucca can grow up to 30 feet, rarely to 35, in height with roots stretching for a hundred feet or more in search of water. This is easily seen in areas where there are moving sand dunes such as at White Sands National Monument near Alamogordo. Flowers are a creamy white and borne on a long slender stalk. Some individuals grow low while others form a tall stalk topped with broad, sharp-edged leaves.
It occurs in sandy soils, gypsum area, rocky areas, grasslands and similar areas from the lowest elevations up to 6,000 feet. The flowers can be eaten and are fed on by cattle during times of drought. Settlers would crush the roots and stems for a soap substitute. Leaf fibers were once used to make rope and twine.” The yucca is New Mexico’s state flower.
Back in the late 1960s/early 70s, when we lived in New Mexico, we thrilled at the sight of the blossoming yucca. We would often travel to the White Sands National Monument to slide down the dunes. There we would see this beautiful plant many times with roots exposed because of shifting sand, but still thrusting its lovely candles to the sky.
We were so entranced by this formidable, yet beautiful plant that I purchased some to bring back to Wisconsin. After more than 40 years, they are still growing at our first home — but they are not native to Wisconsin.