Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version



Nebraska Life, May/June 2009, Vol. 13 Issue 3, pp. 72-75


FOR A FEW SHORT WEEKS each June, the stately flowering spikes of Great Plains yuccas illuminate Nebraska’s Sandhills and western plains. On each plant, spires of 20 to 60 ivory-white flowers emerge from a radiating array of needle-sharp leaves. The flowers rise above the rest of the vegetation like Roman candles freeze-framed in flight. Entire hillsides are sometimes transformed by this sudden flower display – often along with sprinklings of blue spiderworts, golden yellow hoary puccoons and white daisy fleabanes. After a few weeks the spectacular show is over, but for the yucca the story’s best chapter has barely begun. To reproduce, it depends entirely on a single species of moth, which in turn depends on this lone species of yucca for its own reproduction. Last June in Keith County in western Nebraska, I observed what you might call the oldest romance in the West.

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