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Wildlife Spotlight: Chaparral Yucca

PictureChaparral Yucca

Hesperoyucca whipplei, or Chaparral yucca, is an unmissable sight on the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks. When flowering, it looks something like a giant Dr. Seuss character, with shaggy cascades of white, yellow-green or purple hair springing more than mid-way up its stalk. You might know Chaparral yucca by any of its common names, such as Spanish bayonet, Quixote yucca, or Our Lord’s candle. Yucca plants typically live a few years before they flower and die, but the flowering growth can happen in a short time span: the flower part of the plant can grow as tall as 15 feet in a matter of weeks.

The symbiotic relationship between chaparral yucca and its primary pollinator, the California yucca moth, is essential to its success. California yucca moths lay their eggs in yucca plants, and the moth larvae feed on yucca seeds. In turn, the moth pollinates the yucca and disperses its seeds, facilitating yucca growth in the region. These moths are the only know pollinators of chaparral yucca.

Throughout human history, yucca has been used as a food and to produce fiber that was used to make blankets and baskets. It grows in chaparral, coastal sage scrub and oak woodland habitats. See if you can spot these unique plants on your next adventure!