Publication TypeReport
Year of Publication1929
AuthorsCampbell R.S.
Series TitleNew Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts and Agricultural Experiment Station, Press Bulletin 577
Date PublishedJune 18, 1929
Keywordsdescription, government publication, perennial evergreen, soapweed, Yucca elata

Soapweed (Yucca elata) is a perennial evergreen belonging to the lily family. The stems vary from 3-6 feet in height, although some specimens as tall as 30 feet have been observed. The slender, sharp-pointed leaves forming the green crown vary from 1-2 feet in length, and although they die after the second or third year, they are persistent on the stem. The soapweed annually produces a lateral expansion of the stem, an unusual phenomenon for a member of the lily group. Yucca is found through southern Arizona and New Mexico to western Texas and into old Mexico. It commonly occurs on sandy soils of grama grass range. The number of plants may vary from a few up to about 300 per acre. Stockmen regard the soapweed as a valuable forage plant since cattle may often graze almost entirely upon the green leaves during the spring months when grass is short. The tender flower stalks and flowers are eaten with considerable relish by cattle; from 1916 to 1919, the succulent stems and leaves were chopped for ensilage and used extensively in southern New Mexico for supplemental feeding. The plant is a desirable ornamental shrub but is rather difficult to transplant. The soapweed stem and leaves contain abundant fibers of potential economic value. The fibrous strands laid down by the growing point of the stem are much branched and are continuous with those of the eaves. The older stem makes a small, annual addition of straight fiber lateral to those produced by the growing point.