Big Bend Blooms!

Giant daggers at Dagger Flat on March 27, 2023.

by Rick LoBello, Board of Directors Chair

Giant daggers at Big Bend National Park should reach their peak blooming period between now and Easter Sunday.

Last year nearly 600,000 people visited Big Bend National Park and most missed seeing something truly spectacular, a forest of giant daggers in full bloom. NOW is a great time to see the giant daggers and Torrey yuccas in bloom. Torrey yuccas are extremely common in the lower elevations with the greatest abundance of blooms this week along Highway 385 south of Marathon, but to see the giant daggers reaching nearly 25 feet tall you have to drive the high clearance primitive road to Dagger Flat.

The biggest challenge in seeing one of the greatest flower shows on earth is not just knowing when to see the blooms at their peak, but the fact that nearly every campground and motel in the park and outside the park in the Terlingua-Study Butte-Lajitas area is full. If camping is out of the question look for rooms in Alpine two hours to the north. If you are prepared to camp primitive camping sites at the Stillwell Store a few miles west of the north entrance at Persimmon Gap are your best bet.

Primitive campsite at the Stillwells Store and RV Park. Reservations are a must at this time of year.

The gravel road to Dagger Flat is definitely off the beaten path, but for those who don’t mind the road conditions and visit at the right time, the rewards of seeing the area in its full glory is worth all the effort. The best time to visit is during the months of April or early May, but you have to be lucky to be there at the height of the blooming period.   Granted there are other parts of the country and on the continent where you can find colorful flower displays, but in my book Dagger Flat, at the right time, has one of the greatest flower shows on earth.

The star of the flower show is the giant dagger, Yucca faxoniana, found only in Texas, New Mexico and the northern Mexican states of Chihuahua and Coahuila.    These desert giants are abundant in the Dead Horse Mountains in the northeast area of Big Bend National Park where they can grow up to 25 feet tall and have a single bouquet stalk of 1000 flowers weighing up to 70 pounds!

The big challenge in seeing this flower show is picking the right date to visit when the majority of the giants are in bloom.   Not many people drive the road because it is out of the way and compounding the challenge of being there at the right time is how park rangers don’t have the time to check on the flowers on a regular basis. Winter rainfall is also important and some years there are not that many flowers.   So what can you do?   The best way to find out what is happening at Dagger Flat is to call the park and ask for an update or message the park on their Facebook page.

From El Paso it’s about a 5 hour drive to Dagger Flat. It will take a lot of effort on your part to see the giant daggers in their glory, but if you go at the right time you will be rewarded with a great experience.

Giant Dagger getting ready to bloom on March 27, 2023

Like other species of yucca the giant dagger depends on the yucca moth for its survival. Once the moth pollinates the flower, it will lay its eggs so that as the fertilized flower develops into a fruit, the eggs will be inside. Then when the eggs hatch the caterpillars have a food supply ready to feed on. No other insect is known to pollinate the yucca and no other plant provides food for the yucca larvae. Biologists call this kind of relationship obligate mutualism.

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature the wild population of giant daggers is stable and there are no major threats to its future since the species occurs largely within protected areas like Big Bend National Park and the Black Gap Management Area.

The El Paso Zoo and Botanical Garden is a member of the American Public Garden Association.  Because of the Zoo’s dedication to maintaining a collection of plants for the purposes of public education and enjoyment, conservation, and higher learning, this was a natural next step.  The Zoo will continue our dedication not only to the animals in our care, but also to the plants and birds, butterflies and bees that visit our zoo every day.

Photos – All photos by Rick LoBello were taken on March 27, 2023.

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