Plants solitary or forming small colonies of rosettes, caulescent or rarely acaulescent, distinctly arborescent, mostly few-branched, 1.2-4.5 m; rosettes usually large, symmetrical or asymmetrical. Stems 1-7 per colony, erect, thick, 1-1.5(-2.5) m. Leaf blade pale green, linear, widest near middle, 25-95 × 0.2-1.3 cm, flexible, margins entire, curled, filiferous, whitish, apex tapering to short spine. Inflorescences mostly paniculate, sometimes distally racemose, arising beyond rosettes, mostly narrowly ovoid to ovoid, 7-15 × 2.5-6.5 dm; branches 0.7-3.5 dm; bracts erect; peduncle sometimes scapelike, 1-2 m, 2.5-5.5 cm diam. Flowers pendent; perianth campanulate or globose; tepals distinct, creamy white, often tinged green or pink, narrow to broadly elliptic or ovate, 3.2-5.7 × 1.3-3.2 cm; filaments 1.5-2.5(-3.2) cm, pubescent; anthers (2-)2.5-4.8 mm; pistil 2-3.2 × 0.6-1 cm; style white or pale green, 6-11 mm; stigmas lobed. Fruits erect, capsular, dehiscent, oblong-cylindric, symmetrical or rarely constricted, 4-8.2 × 2-4 cm, dehiscence septicidal. Seeds dull black, thin, 7-11(-14) mm diam. J. L. Reveal (1977c) reduced S. D. McKelvey´s (1938-1947) Yucca utahensis and Y. verdiensis to varieties of Y. elata based primarily u!pon growth forms. J. M. Webber (1953) considered that these taxa are populations of hybrids between members of the Y. glauca alliance of the Great Plains and Y. elata of the American Southwest. Reveal believed that Webber did not provide adequate justification for his hybrid hypothesis. K. H. Clary (1997, pers. comm.) believes that Y. utahensis is genetically distinct from Y. elata and Y. verdiensis, based on DNA evidence and the morphological characters of style, stigma, fruit, and leaf. Her DNA evidence shows that Y. elata and Y. verdiensis are sister taxa, while Y. utahensis is not. Although there is a great range of variation within Y. elata as circumscribed here, the two varieties recognized are difficult to distinguish.
FNA 2008, Benson and Darrow 1981, Lunz and Hanson 2000b, Carter 2012
Common Name: soaptree yucca Duration: Perennial Nativity: Native Lifeform: Succulent General: Arborescent plant with definite trunks, usually 1 to 2 m tall but can be up to 9 m, simple with a few branches; solitary or in small colonies. Leaves: In large rosettes, leaves linear, sharp-pointed, flexible, 25-95 cm long by 1 cm wide, light green, the margins white with curly filaments 2-5 cm long, the apex tapering to a short spine. Flowers: Inflorescence a spreading panicle, the uppermost portion narrow and racemose; on a scape that lifts it well above the foliage. Flowers campanulate to globose, 4-6 cm long, creamy white, often tinged with green or pink, pendant, on slender to stout pedicels. Fruits: Capsules erect, dry and papery, oblong-cylindric, 4-7 cm long, splitting open at maturity to release seeds. Seeds dull black, thin, 7-11 mm. Ecology: Found on mesas, desert washes, sandy plains, and grasslands from 1,500-6,000 ft (450-1900 m); flowers May-July. Distribution: NV, AZ, NM, TX; south to n MEX. Notes: Distinguished by often being arborescent (sometimes with a small trunk or lacking), with thinner, more flexible leaves than other Yucca species in the region, the leaf edges with curling fibers and lacking teeth; racemose inflorescences of large cream colored flowers; followed by dry, erect fruits which split open at maturity. Often found in desert grasslands, the upright and elongate trunk of old leaves helps to clearly distinguish the species. Ethnobotany: Flowers and buds were used as food, the roots were used to make soap, and the leaves used for basketweaving. Etymology: Yucca comes from Haitian word yuca, or manihot, because young inflorescences are sometimes roasted for food; elata means tall. Synonyms: Yucca constricta Editor: SBuckley 2010, FSCoburn 2015, AHazelton 2015