Soapweed Saunters

Waubonsie Saunter, January 2016. (Joseph Phillips)

Waubonsie Saunter, January 2016. (Joseph Phillips.)

When sauntering in the oak canyons of western Nebraska, we love to see  soapweed (or narrow-leaf yucca, Yucca glauca) in bloom and in fruit. The delicate bell-shaped flowers and creamy-colored pods brighten the prairie against the grayish green sword-shaped leaves. The seeds make a tasty snack in summer, but we have never had occasion or need to pound the roots into laundry suds. Happily and surprisingly, we also find Yucca glauca hundreds of miles to the east in Waubonsie State Park.

1957 Yucca

“With fruiting yucca stalks in the foreground and the broad Missouri river valley behind, Waubonsie Park Officer Lynn Johnson toils up a steep park hill. Yucca is common in the far west but most unusual in Iowa.” (Des Moines Register, 1957.)

At the southern reaches of the Loess Hills, yucca makes an odd companion with eastern forest trees like black oak (Quercus veluntina), redbud (Cercis canadensis), and pawpaw (Asimina triloba). On our first Waubonsie saunter of the new year, we were surprised again by green starbursts in the snow.

Yucca glauca at Waubonsie State Park, January 2016. (Robert Smith)

Yucca glauca at Waubonsie State Park, January 2016. (Robert Smith)

Winter promises to enliven us on every ridge and in each ravine, in crunchy prairies and in open woods laying black shadows on snow. Bundle up and be surprised, and join us at New Tree School if you can.

Frozen Thoreau, January 17th; Reading and Writing Nature, January 23rd at Hitchcock Nature Center, Honey Creek, Iowa. How to Plant a Sacred Tree, January 24th at John G. Niehardt State Historical Park, Bancroft, Nebraska. Click here for details.