HARLINGEN, Texas — While much of the nation is still shivering with wintry weather, spring is already arriving in the Rio Grande Valley.
Each year, blooming yuccas or pitas, as they are called in Spanish, herald in the spring in deep South Texas. While some are just starting to thrust their bloom spikes skyward, others are fully opening their creamy white petals to morning sun.
Sure, we may have some cool weather on the horizon, but if the yuccas are any indication then winter’s grip is slipping fast.
Yuccas bloom in southernmost Texas from early January thru March. In some years the bloom is sporadic, while in others they flower in magnificent unison, and a view from the air fully reveals their extensive beauty.
Yuccas are not only beautiful to behold, but they are also one of the most useful plants in the region and helped to sustain the indigenous people and early Spanish settlers.
The flowers are edible, the stalk is edible and the leaves can be used for making rope. The roots are an excellent source for soap. In the early 1900’s a Chicago company produced a popular soap using yucca root.
Yuccas also provide food and shelter for wildlife and this chachalaca is enjoying a tasty snack of pita petals.
Many birds, such as the Aplomado falcon, build their nest within the protective spines of the Spanish dagger.
One of the best places to see blooming yuccas is Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge east of Rio Hondo, but just remember the plants and animals at Laguna are protected for all to enjoy, so don’t try and sample a pita from the refuge.
It is a magical season in the South Texas wildlands, but the annual flowering of the pitas is fleeting, so venture out and savor the splendor while it lasts in the land of the yucca.