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Desert Diary


It's a wonder that some plants ever survived Native American usage. The Banana Yucca, or Datil, for example, does so many things that by rights, it should be extinct. Fruit? Eat it raw or cooked, or dry for later. Flower buds? Cook and eat, if you don't mind a slightly soapy taste. Flowers? Eat as a vegetable, if you can get them before they turn bitter. The young flower stalk? Roast and eat. Young leaves? Cook to add flavor to soup.

There's more, though. Fiber from leaves can be woven into cloth or used in the manufacture of baskets and rope. Split a leaf and use it for baskets and mats, and a leaf's sharp terminal end serves as a needle. Need a small paint brush? Pound the end of a leaf sliver to reveal the fibers. Need soap? The roots contain saponin, handy for washing hair, body, and clothes. Small roots have been used for basketry—as the main component or to add a pattern of red. It's a real wonder that this plant wasn't loved to death!
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Overview of <i>Yucca baccata</i>, Banana Yucca

Banana Yucca (Yucca baccata), Chihuahuan Desert Gardens. Image by A.H. Harris.