Yucca, Yacca, Yuca, What’s in a name?
Yucca, yacca, yuca, what’s in a name? When it comes to plants, a lot. A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but it might not have the same effects as Rosa L., which is a subspecies of rosoideae, and includes plants such as apple trees, peach trees, and mountain ash. When it comes to yucca, yacca, or yuca plants, it is a good idea to know the scientific name as well as the location of origin, because the name has been applied to at least four different types of plant.
Commonly known as the Australian grass tree, even though it is neither a tree or a grass, xanthorrhoea is sometimes referred to as yakka, with alternative spellings yacka or even yacca. The word is attributed to a south Australian aboriginal language, possibly Kaurna, according to Wikipedia. In appearance, it is similar to plants that can be found in Mexico and the southern United States, which are frequently referred to as yucca, yucca trees, and even grass trees.
- Order: Asparagales
- Family: Asphodelaceae
Superficially, a young yucca plant looks similar to a young Xanthorrhoea. Whether the plant is low-growing, or whether it becomes a tree, both have narrow, sharp leaves that look like grass but upon closer examination are more like sharp spears. When sufficiently mature, both will put up a central spike, called a scape, that will be covered with blooms, and then with seeds. Both have varieties that will, as the plant matures, develop a stem and resemble a tree. But there are some vital differences between the two, beyond geographical locations.
Both are members of the order Asparagales, but the yucca belongs to the family asparagaceae, which makes it more closely related to the common garden asparagus than to xanthorrhoea. With that said, even among the yucca plants found on the North American continent, there are differences in edibility and use.
Watch that double “c” in the middle of yucca! With two “c” letters, it is a North American plant with forty or fifty sub-species, some of which are edible, and some of which are dubbed “soap plant” and are good for cleaning, not eating. On the other hand, Yuca, with one “c”, is another name for casava, a staple plant in some areas, but one that requires proper preparation in order for it to be an edible tree. Despite the similarity of one of its names, cassava plants do not look anything at all like a grass plant – in fact, it is a type of spurge. When you look at its scientific name, Yuca, with one “c” is an entirely different type of plant.
- Order: Malpighiales
- Family: Euphorbiaceae
- Genus: Manihot
- Species: esculenta
This one might be more properly spelled jaca, which is the Portuguese interpretation of chakka, which is its Malaysian name. English speakers are more likely to recognize this plant as jackfruit, a sweet plant that can be used in a variety of dishes. Just incidentally, it belongs to the plant order rosales which makes it a relative of the floral plant to which Romeo compared Juliet.
- Order: Rosales
- Family: Moraceae
- Genus: Artocarpus
- Species: heterophyllus
So, what’s in a name? If the Shakespearean play is anything to go by, it can be the difference between a sweet romance and a family feud. When it comes to plant identification, it can be the difference between making a sweet drink, a frothy soap, a starchy vegetable, or even a tasty fruit. As with all plant identification, be sure you know the real name of that charming green thing before sampling it or purchasing one for your garden.