Hesperoyucca whipplei grows in the chaparral & sage scrub plant communities from sea level to ~2500 meters (8200 feet), and in the high desert — but despite its desert-like look, it isn’t actually a desert plant. It occurs in Southern California and Baja California.
Formerly included in the Yucca genus, Hesperoyucca whipplei has been separated into the Hesperoyucca (“Western Yucca”) genus*. And the entirely family of Agavaceae is now called Agavoideae, a sub-family of the Asparagaceae. It’s science!
Common names include Chaparral Yucca, Our Lord’s Candle, Quixote Plant, Spanish Bayonet (a reference to the plant’s sharp, pointy leaves)… and some combinations thereof! Despite the sharp leaves, the plant is not a cactus or a succulent.
In spring, one can easily see Hesperoyucca whipplei in the chaparral, its enormous inflorescence with hundreds of cream-white, slightly maroon-tinged flowers standing tall and bright — the common name “Our Lord’s Candle” refers to this big inflorescence, which in its entirety is often flame-shaped. When individual flowers fall from the inflorescene, the sharp tips of the thin leaves might actually catch them.
Past bloom, the big and dry beige stalks tip over and fall. The biggest stalks of the inflorescence may have been hollowed out and used as quivers in the past.
Hesperoyucca is composed of the Greek word for Western (hesperos) and the native Haitian word for the Manihot plant (yuca). The latter is of course a total misnomer because Yuccas aren’t related to Manihot, at all. The species epithet whipplei refers Amiel Weeks Whipple, an early surveyor.
Alternate scientific names include: Hesperoyucca whipplei var. graminifolia, Yucca californica, Yucca graminifolia, Yucca nitida, Yucca ortgiesiana
*) Karen J. Clary, 2001: The genus Hesperoyucca in the western United States and Mexico: New Nomenclatural Combinations