Wildflowers & Trees Of Appalachia

Adam’s Needle

adams needle

Miss Cindy’s blooming Adam’s needle

Adam’s needle noun A yucca plant (Yucca filamentosa or Yucca smalliana). Cf bear grass.
1940 Caton Wildflowers of Smokies 65. 1964 Stupka Trees Shrubs Vines 32 During some years Adam’s needle begins to bloom at the end of May. [from the sharp points on the yucca plant]

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


I thought I remembered Don Casada telling me the yucca plant could often be found around old homeplaces. I sent him an email and asked if my memory was correct and he sent me the following information.

“Yes, yucca is often found at old home places and at cemeteries. I know there’s yucca at the Hannah cemetery over in Little Cataloochee, and it seems like there might be some at the Little Cataloochee Church cemetery as well. I’ve heard that the leaves were used for hanging hams to cure. That’s certainly believable – the stuff is really tough and fibrous. There is some in the Bryson City Cemetery, and a grass trimmer won’t cut it – the stuff just sort of shreds. The stuff pops up in unexpected places, and once it has a foothold, it is hard to get rid of.

I’ve found it growing at quite a few home sites, usually accompanied by other plants like boxwoods, iris, japonica (flowering quince), yellowbells, mock orange, daylilies, daffodils, etc. There is one place where I found a few scattered plants that was well away from a home. You may remember that there was no yucca at the Casada home on Juneywhank Branch; the non-native plants there are mock orange, japonica and day lilies (Daddy called them cow lilies). But probably a quarter of a mile or more away, in a holler off to the NE of the home and well away from where there were any buildings, there are a few isolated plants. The leaves on them seem sparser and maybe a little smaller than on others I’ve found. It sort of makes me wonder if they might be native. The USDA map below indicates they are native to NC, but if they’re native to the mountains, they’re sure not common (except at home sites), at least in my woods-wandering experience.”


Granny never had any Adam’s needle growing around our house. She said they were too sharp and she was afraid someone might get cut on them. Miss Cindy’s house has them growing in several areas and her house was built in 1937 so that goes along with the old homeplace connection. I wonder if the common name Adam’s needle was used not only because of the sharpness, but also because of the thread like fibers that are on the sides of the sword like leaves.


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  • Reply
    Clyde Kessler
    October 13, 2017 at 5:08 pm

    My father called this plant Rock Lily…he lived in Franklin County, VA

    • Reply
      May 19, 2019 at 10:08 pm

      My parents from SW Virginia also call them Rock Lilies.

    • Reply
      deanna smith
      July 5, 2020 at 4:59 pm

      So did my mother, Clyde. We had these growing along the bank in front of my child hood home. I still call this yucca plant ROCK LILY we lived in Rockbridge Baths Virginia

  • Reply
    September 9, 2017 at 8:21 am

    I was once told that Thomas Edison used a yucca needle for the needle on his first phonographs. Not sure it’s true, but it seems like those needles would do the job and last a long time too!

  • Reply
    September 6, 2017 at 8:43 pm

    Never heard them called Adams needle only Yucca. Have one in our yard in central Kentucky. They are found a lot in this area. Mine does not bloom fully, only small blooms that don’t fully open. I tried to dig it out of the ground and divide it and eventually usd an ax to dig out roots and remove it. But as everyone else said it came back now twice the size but same problem with the flowers this year. I’m going to leave it be–it fought its way back from my ax so it deserves to be left there.

  • Reply
    Lee Mears
    September 6, 2017 at 6:57 pm

    You better really want these things if you plant them b/c you can’t kill them.
    My brother planted some, on purpose, at his house and they spread up to my Mothers house, which was later my place until I sold it. The yuccas had not only spread to my yard but the hay field and the man I sold the hay to had to take wide swath around the things.
    I tried digging, Round Up / Super round Up and gasoline/fire but you can’t kill them.

  • Reply
    September 6, 2017 at 1:18 pm

    I was just looking at some the other day growing on side of the road, I remember a Older Gentlemen living down the road from us growing up saying they use to use it to hang meat in the smoke house, I know it sure is tough.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    September 6, 2017 at 12:28 pm

    Well, I have a joke on myself about these plants. I have them scattered in several places in my yard. One time I took a notion to move some that were either sorta in the way or else nor thriving. Didn’t work. They are still in the same old places but at least some of the transplants didn’t take. Sigh, moss and yucca do not make a very attractive yard.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    September 6, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    Yuca plants are plentiful along the Little Tennessee River at and around Needmore where I was raised, in fact I’ve transplanted some to where I now live just out of Bryson City. I had never heard it called Adam’s Needle though, we always called it Devil’s Shoestring. If Don wants some for his yard (the flowers are beautiful) I will take him some seed or possibly a transplant. This and Prickly Pear Cactus were two plants that prospered in the sandy soil at Needmore and in particular on our island that the Swinging Bridge crosses the lower end of. For years there was a Baseball field on this island, we were able to keep the infield fairly clear of the Prickly Pear but not the outfield, this make playing outfield challenging since you had to keep one eye on high fly balls and one on the ground to avoid the cactus

  • Reply
    September 6, 2017 at 11:12 am

    In the early 80’s, I ordered several flowers along with about 8 or 10 Yucca Roots. The next year all came up and had pretty white leaves at the top. Those things grew about as tall as I was, until my dozer man covered them up. …Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    September 6, 2017 at 9:55 am

    Cousin Bill Burnett might correct me on this but it seems that the big island in the Little Tennessee River right above the swinging bridge is covered in Yucca aka Adam’s Needles. When we were boys we wouldn’t go over there barefooted or barelegged ’cause that stuff will eat you up.
    Seems like those Adam’s Needles were small compared to the one I have growing in my yard now. Mine is about 3 feet tall and the flower spike is 5 or 6 feet when it blooms (it didn’t this year). I have found out I need to stay away from it with the weedeater and lawnmower. The fibers in the leaves are as long as the leaves. If you get into it they tie themselves tightly around turning shafts, blades and pulleys until they choke the engine down. It’s like mowing into a pile of fishing line.
    Mine has little plants that start around the mother plant kinda like hens and chicks. Those are not as fibrous as the mother so they get cut back. If I didn’t they would take over the whole yard.

  • Reply
    harry adams
    September 6, 2017 at 9:02 am

    We were introduced to the uses of the Yucca at one of the western National Parks many years ago. You can break the point back and strip it down the leaf and come out with a needle and long thread of fiber, a natural sewing thread. All the more reason to call it a needle.

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    September 6, 2017 at 8:58 am

    I love the name Adam’s Needle — even though yucca is the state flower here in New Mexico and grows everywhere and I have loved it all my life, I have never until this minute heard the beautiful name Adam’s Needle!!! You can make soap or shampoo out of the yucca root, and the fiber in the needles
    is good for weaving baskets.

  • Reply
    September 6, 2017 at 8:50 am

    I was surprised to read about yucca in y’alls’ part of the country. I had always thought of it as a dryland plant! We have a lot of it growing in the caliche and limestone soils of central Texas. On a full moon night they fairly glow and look like elegant ladies waiting to be asked to dance – or perhaps ghostly soldiers standing watch. I think ours are of the “Spanish Dagger” variety and they do have a sharp point as well as sharp edges to their leaves, but I’ve never known any variety to have the smaller spiney thorns similar to those on other cactus. For anyone wanting to investigate, the Lady Bird Johnson (National) Wildflower Center lists 28 varieties with photos, descriptions, and other information.

  • Reply
    Lonnie Baker
    September 6, 2017 at 8:11 am

    I’d never heard it called Adam’s needle. In Texas, it’s called bear grass. Many people plant it under their kid’s windows to keep them from sneaking out.

  • Reply
    September 6, 2017 at 8:09 am

    We have several clumps of these around our house & garden.
    Great deer & rabbit repellent plants!
    They are , however, extremely difficult to rid out once they’re planted.
    They just keep coming back.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    September 6, 2017 at 7:57 am

    I’ve grown some prickly plants on our place thru the years….but hard as we tried we never succeeded in transplanting the Yucca from the woodland edges or from the prolific large plants at my mother-in-laws driveway…The prickly pear native grew and grew, bloomed every year and made fruit…nope, I never made the jelly that is said to be delicious from it’s fruit…After, many falls into and brushes by the plant, it became necessary to dispose of it. Not fun to pick a zillion prickly spines out of your childs legs or mine for that matter…ha
    The yucca is beautiful with the spires of flowers. A very useful plant as well. Not only for moths, butterfly’s and birds…they are a great habitat for other critters as well. My granny in Marshall and the one in Mars Hill had yucca plants…I have always heard that the roots and plant can be used for a variety of things, medicine, soap and if you are injured by a cut and lucky enough to be near this plant…could sew yourself up with the stripped out strong fibers…My grandmother always warned us to not throw a ball near the plant and play elsewhere she said the spikes would put an eye out…
    Thanks Tipper,
    This post was not “yucky” at all. Pun intended….by the way my kin didn’t call the plant “Adams needle”, that I can remember!

  • Reply
    Craig Lawhorne
    September 6, 2017 at 7:52 am

    We knew they were yucca plants, but most people around here call them rock lillies. Growing up, I had one in my back yard that made the trip long ago from “Aunt Sallie’s place” in Coffeytown (Alto) in Amherst County, Virginia.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    September 6, 2017 at 7:42 am

    Tipper, you must be reading my mind. I’ve recently been wondering the name of those plants. I’d like to get some more growing on the creek bank. I guess I could grow them from their seeds, I recently scattered some on the creek to see if more will come.
    I’ve never heard the name Adam’s needle, though they are a prickly plant with sharp points on the end of each frond or leaf, not sure what to call them, so the name fits
    Seems like they should be in the mid west around desert country rather than here in the mountains. I suspect they have been here a long time at this house, along with the lilies.

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