In late June and early July, the spiky leaves, compared to bayonets, of the Our Lord's Candle yucca create their own sharp silhouette amongst the rocky foothills of the Sierra Range in California. The yuccas that are near the end of their lives, a fraction of all those on the slopes, each send up one spectacular bloom, high enough that they compete with the beauty of the ridgeline. The creamy flowers, sometimes with a cast of royal purple, are the real California gold. There can be thousands of flowers in one cluster. But like early July fireworks, the beauty is short-lived. Next to the blooming yuccas are the skeletons of those that bloomed before, sculptural dried brown flowers and lifeless leaves. The yuccas die after blooming.
However, clones of the yucca often prosper at the base, and each plant can live for five years before it makes its flowery offering. Yucca moths respond to the invitation and pollinate the plant at night, a common theme for all yuccas.
Our Lord's Candle is also known as the chaparral yucca, and this is its favorite habitat. I have most often seen it on rocky foothill slopes in Southern California. It also lives in coastal sage scrub and oak woodland habitats. I have seen the blooms most often in late June and early July, and it does seems that only a fraction of the yuccas bloom during any one season, a fact that would make sense with the once-every-five-years blooming formula.
The dramatic shapes, the sharp leaves and tall blooms, of this yucca have inspired many names: chaparral yucca, Our Lord's Candle, Spanish bayonet, and Quixote yucca. My favorite name is Our Lord's Candle. From a distance, the blooms do look like candles, and they light up the hillsides on a grand scale.
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