Saturday, November 8, 2008


On her last visit my eldest sister, Phyllis, brought her stash of treasures from The Old House so that I could look for clues. Amongst other very interesting things there was a little stack of drawings my grandmother Sarah made on tracing paper, mostly of flowers, and mostly, I think, designs for needlework. One however, seems to be simply a drawing, from direct observation, of a yucca.

Seeing it was a bit of a thrill, since an offshoot of the same plant is still living in our backyard. Cebah says that when my grandmother gave Phyllis and Ruth Ann starts of it, they fought "backards and forth" and beat each other over the heads with them all the way from The Old House to our yard. Yuccas are tough plants though, and they survived, unattended and seldom even noticed here, for at least 60 years. Who knows how long they lived at The Old House, or who may have planted them there... I'm carefully scanning early photos to see if tell-tale spikes stick up anywhere in the background.

We did not call them yuccas however. That name came once I began to study plants, and especially after I became familiar with their cousins in the Utah desert backcountry. Cebah calls them Devil's Shoestrings. This, I assumed, was from the tough fibers that curl off the edges of the mature spikes. I didn't know until recently that the name also refers to the root of a different plant, used in African American conjure. The function there is to bind. Was this something that Pete knew?

Yucca fibers are still used by the desert tribes to make all sorts of useful and very durable things, literal bindings. I've made paintbrushes from them myself. The root yields a lather in water which makes a superior shampoo, and it is used for that purpose to prepare the hairstyles for ritual dances. I've tried that too, whilst llama treking in the canyon country.

The Old Oak Tree, the Cemetery Cedar and the Yuccas, were not the only plants to span beyond a generation of my father's family. I also moved a strange and beautiful peony that I discovered behind the coal shed; an old rose, alledgedly brought on horseback from Wythe County Virginia; and, in the window by my bed right now, a gigantic and venerable Christmas Cactus.
Each has a story to tell ~ if only I can slow down enough to listen.


Nancy said...

I have been told this yucca is indigenous to Kentucky.

Dan Dutton said...

Yes - it is. I've never seen it growing anywhere but near old homesteads though. I don't think that people plant it much anymore.

For pollination it needs a certain moth - a complicated relationship!

SBD said...

Remember the story Cebah tells about Phyllis and the yucca? Remind her and report her version.

Alan Evil said...

There are a lot of yuccas in the Highlands here and they all bloomed this year. I don't think they bloom every year.

Dan Dutton said...

These bloomed the past couple of years, (drought years!), rarely, if ever, before. I think I remember one time, many years ago. I hope that doesn't mean we're turning into a desert.

Nancy said...

I think yours may be a bit shaded on the hill.