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Yucca schidigera is a large desert plant also known as the Mojave yucca. It is the most common yucca found growing wild in the southwestern deserts of the United States and in Baja California. It is also a common horticultural specimen in the Southwest. This cultivated plant is also sometimes known as Yucca shidigera.
The Mojave yucca generally has several stems and can live to be hundreds of years old. It commonly grows to heights of 2 to 20 ft (0.5 to 5 m), with a rosette of leaves at the ends of branches and a furrowed trunk. The leaves are typically 12 to 59 in (30 to 150 cm) long, and 0.8 to 4.3 in (2 to 11 cm) wide with sharp, pointed tips up to 0.5 in (12 mm) in length. The tree grows very slowly, and generally produces two to four sets of leaf groups — each consisting of about six leaves — annually.
The plant bears white or very light purple flowers in late winter or early spring, but a stalk will only produce flowers once. Yucca schidigera has a symbiotic relationship with a particular moth that will pollinate these flowers, but seeds rarely form. The plant generally propagates reproductively, through the sprouting of roots. Sometimes, fruit will form that is eaten by small mammals.
Yucca schidigera is generally found growing from sea level to 5,900 ft (1,800) m. It is normally seen in soils containing a lot of gravel, although it can tolerate saline and alkaline soils. In its native areas, it is typically found in areas with winter rains but no summer precipitation.
Except for a spineless yucca, yuccas, in general, should be planted away from walkways. This is primarily so the sharp tips of their leaves do not injure passersby. They also make for striking landscape plants when viewed from a distance. It is best to plant Yucca schidigera in well-drained soil, in full sun, and to only give it an occasional soaking during the winter months. It should not be watered in the summer.
There are a number of other yuccas from the Southwest that may be of horticultural interest. One of these is Yucca rigida, the blue yucca. It comes from Mexico and may require protection during the winter. The blue yucca blooms in spring or early summer, and grows to the same height as Yucca schidigera.
Another is Yucca elata, the soaptree yucca. This slow-growing yucca generally becomes a 20 ft (5 m) tall tree. It flowers during late spring and into summer, although it may not bloom yearly.
The Mojave yucca was greatly utilized by the indigenous populations of its native growing regions. The yucca leaves have fibers that were often used to make cloth, rope, and sandals. The edible fruit and flowers were eaten, and the seeds were ground into a flour. Yucca schidigera extract is commercially available and is used for a wide array of purposes, ranging from use as a fertilizer to an ingredient in livestock and pet foods.
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