The yucca plant, native to Central and North America, has bcome popular in gardens around the world for its architectural beauty, but Australian gardeners have discovered a downside. Over a five-year period, Melbourne's Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital has treated 28 Australians for injuries from the fashionable plant.
The culprit is the long spikey leaf of the yucca, with its sharp end resembling an arrowhead. In a report published by the UK Journal Clinical Otolaryngology, an alarming one in seven of the injuries caused permanent deafness.
All the injuries occurred while gardeners were attending the plants. The yucca has surged in popularity outside America, becoming a fixture in public gardens as well as on private land. It certainly looks striking, but little is known about it outside of its native terrain. Those who suffered injury were working around the plants, unaware that the spikey leaves could enter the ear quite easily if they got too close.
Usually, the spikey leaves just perforate the eardrum, the report said, which can be remedied. But the shape and angle of the leaf mean it can also go much deeper into the inner ear, which is the cause of significant and permanent injury to hearing.
Most people who come into contact with the yucca plant are well aware of the potential for injury to the eyes and avoid getting stabbed, but few associate the plant with loss of hearing. Anyone who suspects they been injured in the ear or who experience dizziness after working with a yucca plant should consult an ENT surgeon as soon as possible.
But prevention is better than cure, and that is the wisest course in this case. While working with a yucca plant be aware of the danger and cover your ears with headphones, so you avoid injury and enjoy music at the same time. It is also wise to wear thick gardening gloves and a hard hat or thick scarf. Those arrowheads can cause nasty wounds to the head and hands as well.
Yucca belongs to the asparagaceae family and is often confused with yuca, which is better known as cassava. Cassava is used as a food and a medicine by Native Americans, while yucca is regarded outside the Americas as a more ornamental plant. Its stately beauty is a pleasure to grow, so there is no need to rip up your yucca plants. Just be aware of its spiky nature and protect yourself when getting up close.