The blooms of the yucca plant were named the flower of New Mexico in 1927 after requests from women’s clubs and suggestions from the state’s school children. New Mexico lawmakers did not specify which of the 40 or 50 species of yucca would serve as the state flower of New Mexico. Botanists commonly believe either the Yucca elata or the Yucca glauca was intended as the state flower of New Mexico.
Official records making yucca the state flower of New Mexico refer to early pioneers using yucca leaves and roots as soap. Both elata and glauca species contain soapy substances in their stems or roots. Elata is also called soap tree yucca, while glauca is known as soap weed. Parts of these plants were used to cleanse the body, shampoo hair, and launder clothing.
The state flower of New Mexico is noted for its unique pollination system, carried out by a tiny yucca moth. This insect transfers pollen from one flower to another by shoving a ball of pollen into the stigmas of individual flowers. The yucca moth then lays an egg in the blossom, with the larvae eating some of the seeds after hatching. Both the moth and the yucca plant depend upon this pollination technique for survival.
Yucca plants contain fibers in sword-shaped leaves with spines on the ends. Native people in New Mexico used the fiber to create baskets, mats, fishing nets, and sandals. Natural yucca leaves created baskets with a yellowish-green tint. Native Americans used a natural dye from the root to add red to designs. Black patterns came from other native plants.
Blooms on the state flower of New Mexico represent an edible source of nutrition. The flowers are picked just as they begin to open when they taste best. These pure white blossoms emerge from a tall, erect stem. Each flower contains six petals, with a stigma in the center.
The fruit of the yucca also provided a source of food for Native Americans. It was baked or ground into a powder used in flatbreads. The sweet fruit has been compared to figs and commonly used as a laxative. The root of the yucca was used to shampoo hair and kill parasites.
Yucca stalks represent another edible part of the species. They must be harvested early in the blooming season before they become woody. Stalks contain carbohydrates and saponins, a chemical that acts as an antioxidant in the body. Parts of the yucca were also used in ceremonial rites to cure illness.