Yucca flaccida, or Weak-Leaved Adam’s Needle

Yucca flaccida, colored plate by
S.A. Drake in Edward’s Botanical
Register
, published in 1836
While Riverview Cemetery has a significant tree inventory, the grounds also include a rather large collection of perennials and woody plants. I am always on the lookout for those that have a “history,” especially when they are found in our historic cemeteries.

Yucca flaccida, commonly known as the Weak-Leaved Adam’s Needle, is a member of the Asparagaceae family, its Latin epithet deriving from weak sword-like outer leaves that generally fold under their own weight, supporting the inner leaves. Native to Eastern North America from Ontario to Florida, they stand about 1-1/2 feet tall and two feet across, and panicles of bell-shaped creamy white flowers rise four feet above the foliage in early-summer.

A hand-colored lithograph of Y. flaccida drawn by Sarah Ann Drake in London’s Garden of the Horticultural Society in 1835 appeared in Edward’s Botanical Register that was published the following year.

Indeed, the literature is replete with descriptions of Y. flaccida, including The Horticulturist, edited by landscape designer, horticulturist and writer Andrew Jackson Downing, which in 1852 noted that the plant “blooms in our northern gardens as freely as the common white lily—throwing up its beautiful pyramidal flower stalks, two or three feet high, about the end of June, and bearing a profusion of fine milk-white flowers, all the month of July. It is one of our favorite evergreen plants, beautiful at all seasons.”

A stand of Y. flaccida is located along Elm Avenue in Section N.

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