Summary of mohave yucca and its traditional use

Kumeyaay name: sha’a

Mohave yucca (Yucca schidigera)


Mohave yucca grows below 4,000 feet in elevation on dry slopes and desert washes throughout southern California, northern Baja California, Nevada, and Arizona. This plant produces a spiral of tough, dagger-like leaves. A branching inflorescence appears in late spring and clusters of cream colored flowers emerge. These flowers then yield light green, oblong seed capsules in the summer.

The Kumeyaay use the tough leaf fibers to make ropes, nets, sandals, etc. These leaves are split, braided and used as lashing and cordage. The root of this plant is mashed up to produce a lather and used for soap. The flowers petals are boiled and eaten. Seeds from the fruits are used as decorative beads. The seeds are also ground and either cooked as mush or chopped up for tea.

Interestingly, the Kumeyaay word for this plant ‘sha'a’ translates to soap.