Sonoran Desert Experience…thru “lens & pen!”
Hi … I’m Cyndy Warnier, the Program & Development Director here at Spirit in the Desert. I am the shutter-bug of the photos you see on our website. I am also a lover of the desert, and along with my husband, Al who also works here and is an arborist, study the desert through my lens as well as through forums to learn about its unique flora and fauna. So, from my “lens & pen”–welcome to a “Sonoran Desert Experience!” Each month I will post an article, with pictures-of course, about life in this beautiful and diverse desert. Birds, mammals, reptiles…even an arachnid or two, plus a variety of plants whose botany is specific to Arizona’s portion of the Sonoran Desert–and all whose existence are endangered. Our registration lobby features many of my photos in a variety of matted sizes, as well as on 5×7 photo cards, complete with blank insides or nice mix of all-occasion prose. You can always “take away a bit of the desert” in my pictures to remind you of your stay at Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center.
There’s over 40 different species of Yucca around the world and even though they look familiar on the outside, their uses can vary widely.
Animal Use: The Yucca has powerful medicinal uses for gastrointestinal issues and is important for livestock, especially goats, sheep and cows. The extract of the Yucca schidigera is successfully used in agriculture as a soil conditioner and as an animal feed ingredient, because once animals ingest it, it lowers the amount of ammonia inside their digestive track, which in turn lowers the amount of ammonia in the animals confinement. And even more so, it also cleans their digestive track so it improves feed utilization.
Regenerative: Unlike some plants, we don’t have to kill the Yucca to make use of it! Yucca grows in colonies of several individuals. In an environment where there are thousands of acres of these plants, you collect less than 50% of the stems found in a single colony, it’s more like pruning than harvesting. Whether cultivated or in the wild, they only have ONE way of pollination–the Yucca moth! It also lays its eggs in the plant and this ensures the longevity of the plant and the moth it needs to pollinate more plants. It’s a really good “set-up” for regeneration. (The Yucca Moth picture on this blog is courtesy of the USDA Forest Service.)
What Yucca do we encounter most in the Sonoran Desert? The datil yucca, also called the banana yucca, Spanish bayonet, Spanish dagger or amole. Yucca (yuck-ka) is a Caribbean name for the cassava plant, which originally was named Yucca gloriosa. Baccata means “fruited,” referring to the plant’s large fruits. The name banana yucca also refers to the large fruits. In wet years, when many yuccas bloom over the landscape, they resemble large snowy-white candles; hence, the plants may be called by yet another name, “Our Lord’s candles.” Unlike the Agave family, with which yuccas are often confused, yuccas bloom each year, while Agaves bloom only once. From just the Datil Yucca alone, look at what we get from our Pueblo Native Tribes, of which many are still in use:
- The fleshy fruits were eaten green or dried and stored for winter consumption. Baked, the fruit has a flavor which is reportedly similar to potatoes. In some pueblos, the datil pulp was mixed with berries and made into cakes that could be dried for winter use. The young flower stalks were also eaten, like asparagus.
- From the yucca leaf came fibers that were either twisted or plaited together to make cordage. Leaves were soaked in water, then pounded with stones to separate the long fibers. Sometimes human or animal hair or even bird plumage was added to the strands, which were twisted into string or ropes. These were used for belts, rope ladders, sandal toe straps, cradle board ties, fishnets and sandals. The fibers were also used for mats and clothing and were incorporated into baskets.
- The leaves were also utilized as paintbrushes by the Southwest Indians. Women chewed the leaf tip to a fine fringe which created an excellent paintbrush to use in decorating pottery.
- From the roots comes shampoo, which has been used both prehistorically and historically. The dry roots were pounded by the Indians then whisked into cold water to create suds. The saponin-rich roots create a soap-like lather which can be used in cleaning. The suds were used to wash the hair in both personal and spiritual cleansing. The white frothy suds reminded Native Americans of the large summer thunderstorms which cleansed the landscape with their rain showers, thus, datil yucca suds represented a spiritual cleansing of the person. In more recent times, Yucca-Dew Shampoo was a commercial product that utilized the sudsing agent of a yucca plant. Shasta Root-beer contains yucca on its list of ingredients; the yucca ingredient creates the soda’s white, foamy head.
- Yucca wood has the lowest ignition temperature of any other wood, which makes it useful as a fire-starter.
- The ancient and often ‘ethereal-looking’ Joshua Tree is from the Yucca family.
That’s the October skinny on the Yucca! Another important species that loves the Sonoran Desert and offers so much to the animals and people who live there.