Lilyturf, bronze pin heads, and ungrammatical yucca

All on a recent trip to Stanford Shopping Center, where I hadn’t been for several years. After massive reconstruction, it’s even more upscale than before, with a huge range of very high-end stores with designer facades and interiors (the older buildings, like Macy’s, now look like commercial architecture from a previous age), plus, in the mall’s ad copy, “breathtaking gardens, sculptures and fountains” and places to sit everywhere — the last important to me as I cope with shortness of breath under exertion. The effect is of world-class shopping streets located in the middle of extraordinary public parks (though it’s all very much private property).

A quick general tour, then three specific items: masses of lirope, or lilyturf, an amiable and modest plant, in the midst of extravagantly showy plantings; whimsical “pin head” bronze sculptures by Albert Guibara; and the oddly named fusion-Cantonese restaurant Yucca de Lac (with plenty of yuccas and a lot of dim sum, but, here in Palo Alto, no lake; lakelessness is not, however, the real problem with the name).

The place is a monstrous monument to affluence, privilege, and pretension — thoroughly enjoyable if you approach it in those terms and can maintain your detachment about the experience, in which case it is both pleasurable and humorous. Some ad copy:

(#1) Mall map

Welcome to Stanford Shopping Center, Northern California’s premier open-air shopping and dining destination with Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Wilkes Bashford and more than 140 world-class specialty stores, ranging from luxury brands to local favorites.  Enjoy an extraordinary mix of restaurants and cafes from Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, Max’s Opera Café and The Melt, to Yucca de Lac and so many more. Shop the European Street Market for the freshest California produce and gourmet specialty foods. Breathtaking gardens, sculptures and fountains accent the garden environment that people come from all over the world to see.

… Stanford Shopping Center serves the nearby affluent communities of Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Woodside, and Atherton [forget about East Palo Alto and Redwood City].

Among the stores:

Coach, Cartier, Burberry, Max Mara, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany, Brooks Brothers, Michael Kors, Abercrombie & Fitch, J. Crew, Banana Republic, The Gap; Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, Godiva Chocolates; Apple, Microsoft, Tesla (yes, the electric cars)

Two views (from the net) showing some of the plantings:



On my recent visit, there were dahlias almost as tall as I am, with flowers about the size of my head; long planters full of huge dark coleus plants; and much more. Everything always looks completely fresh and at the top of their blooming cycle; the maintenance costs must be extraordinary.

There’s one big piece of wall art:

Come take a walk down our Parisian Street Market and get lost in our 180-foot long life-sized mural.  A trompe-l’oeil 18th-century Parisian street scene painted by Bay Area artist John Pugh, between Louis Vuitton and Sigona’s Farmer’s Market.

And a number of sculptures scattered about, not all of them whimsical.

Now for notes, on one of the plants, on one of the sculpture installations, and one of the companies in the mall.

The lilyturf. Liriope muscari, a ground cover, planted in masses under trees, in spots where not many plants will grow, but where lilyturf flourishes. A tough, undemanding plant with tufts of narrow strap-like leaves, attractive but not showy spikes of blue flowers, and then black berries in the winter. From Wikipedia:

(#4) ‘Big Blue’ liriope

Liriope is a genus of low, grass-like, flowering plants from East Asia and Southeast Asia.

Some species are often used in landscaping in temperate latitudes. It may be called lilyturf [also: monkey grass] in North America, although it is neither a true grass (family Poaceae) nor a lily (genus Lilium)… in the family Asparagaceae… Like many lilioid monocots, it was once classified with lilies in the family Liliaceae… The genus was named for Liriope in Greek mythology.

Note: The nymph Liriope was raped by the river-god Cephissus and bore his son Narcissus (the famously self-admiring lad).

Note: The family Asparagaceae includes yuccas, agaves, asparagus, aspidistra, hostas, hyacinths, lilies-of-the-valley, and much more (but not narcissus / daffodils).

Bronze pin heads. From Albert Guibara’s website:

(#5) Delighting shoppers as they stroll this upscale open-air shopping mall, several sculptures peek out from their places including Guibara’s signature “pin heads”.

All of his sculptures are designed and built on site in Burlingame [CA, between Palo Alto and San Francisco], often with use of his foundry. Once finished, he insists on installing pieces himself so they fit into their setting exactly as he intended. Of his many acclaimed sculptures, the rabbits and banyan tree at the Grand Café, Hotel Monaco in San Francisco and the swaybacked horse Blackie in Tiburon are two of the most beloved. Then there are the donkeys and manini fish that line the road to Kukio Resort in Kona, Hawaii, where Guibara’s signature piece, a pair of intertwined wiliwili trees, tells the story of the land a hundred years ago.

Guibara is a lifelong resident of California. He was born in Los Angeles and has spent the entirety of his professional life in San Francisco. In addition to sculpting, he loves to paint, travel, and restore mid-’30s custom-body Packards

Lakeside yucca. On to the restaurant Yucca de Lac (or, sometimes, Yucca De Lac or Yucca de lac). The background, from Wikipedia (with the crucial bit boldfaced):

Yucca de Lac was a high-end restaurant in Hong Kong, famous for frequently serving as a scene for the black-and-white Cantonese films made in the 1960s. Located at Tai Po Road, Ma Liu Shui, near the Chinese University of Hong Kong, it was opened in 1963 and closed on September 20, 2005.

The scene of a man and woman enjoying afternoon tea under a parasol in the restaurant is part of the collective memory of many Hong Kongers.

The restaurant’s name is derived from “yucca”, a species of evergreen plant, and de Lac meaning by the lake in French.

On March 26, 2012 the Fung Lum Restaurant Group opened a USA branch of the Yucca de lac bar and restaurant in the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, California.

And from the restaurant’s website:

(#6) The Palo Alto restaurant, with yuccas

A Hong Kong tradition for over 50 years, Yucca De Lac features a fresh and exciting modern-Cantonese menu and casual upscale dining.

Here at Yucca de lac we provide Hong Kong-inspired Chinese fusion cuisine in an elegant fine dining setting, and specialize in Dim Sum.

Some of our most popular dishes are our Yucca Classic Potstickers, Cha Siu Bau, Grilled Ahi & Mango Salad, Rib-Eye Mongol, Chilean Seabass, and Mango Dreaming. We serve all our entrees family style, and encourage trying and sharing a variety of our delicious dishes, all of which are made with organic ingredients in-house.

The yucca part of the restaurant’s name is straightforward — but yuccas are interesting plants, and get to them below. The de lac part of the name, however, is problematic. My first reaction to the name was to break out in astérisques, the asterisks of ungrammaticality: if the second part of the name is supposed to be conveying ‘lakeside’ (more literally, ‘of the lake’) in French, it’s just wrong. A sg. common count noun requires an article here, so the name should should be Yucca du Lac, with du standing for de le ‘of the (masc. sg.)’ (lac being a masculine noun).

Now, if the last word in the name had been the proper name Lac (cf. English Lake, as in Veronica Lake), as it could certainly have been, then Yucca de Lac would be entirely correct (and would mean ‘Lake’s yucca’); in fact, Yucca du Lac would then be peculiar, if not outright incorrect.

My French is definitely on the fragile side, so I checked with two French-speaking linguists, whose judgments were straightforwardly in agreement with me (though Philip Miller went on to note peculiarities in the way non-native speakers of French assigned genders to French nouns — interesting but not directly relevant here, though it would have been if the restaurant people had chosen the name Yucca de la (fem. sg.) Lac. (Why, you ask, name a fusion-Cantonese restaurant in French? Probably because in matters of food, French is the cosmopolitan language, valued for its toneyness. Yucca de Lac is, after all, a high-end fusion-Cantonese restaurant.)

Until a little while ago, the restaurant’s website had a History section, written in English but with a notably Chinese cast to its syntax; this rather charming essay has been removed, presumably so that something more professional-looking can eventually replace it. In any case, I’d guess the owners’ French is no better than their unedited English: serviceable but rocky.

Finally, yuccas. In a 9/6/15 posting, I looked at Yucca brevifolia, the Joshua tree; wrote about the genus Yucca and the family Asparagaceae (in which yuccas as especially close to agaves, and quite far from liriopes); and noted Yucca recurvifolia, the softleaf yucca, a commonly grown garden plant. This last species is in fact the one outside Yucca de Lac (in #6 above). From Wikipedia:

Yucca gloriosa var. tristis (syn. Yucca recurvifolia, Yucca gloriosa var. recurvifolia), known as curve-leaf yucca, curved-leaved Spanish-dagger or pendulous yucca [or softleaf yucca], is a variety of Yucca gloriosa. It is often grown as an ornamental plant, but is native to the southeastern United States.

There are lots of yuccas. Beyond Y. brevifolia and Y. recurvifolia, Y. elata is a significant species in the genus:


Yucca elata is a perennial plant, with common names that include soaptree, soaptree yucca, soapweed, and palmella. It is native to southwestern North America, in the Sonoran Desert and Chihuahuan Desert in the United States (western Texas, New Mexico, Arizona), southern Nevada, southwestern Utah, and northern Mexico (Chihuahua, Coahuila, Sonora, Nuevo León).
… Native Americans used the fiber of the soaptree yucca’s leaves to make sandals, belts, cloth, baskets, cords, and mats, among other items. Inside the trunk and roots of the plant is a soapy substance high in saponins. In the past, this substance was commonly used as soap and shampoo, which was used to treat dandruff and hairloss. … The Apaches also use yucca leaf fibers to make dental floss and rope. In times of drought ranchers have used the plant as an emergency food supply for their cattle.

In a similarly utilitarian vein, a serviceable needle and thread can be made from some agaves, notably Agave americana —  a fact that I currently appreciate personally, having been wounded by the needles of my Agave desmetiana while trimming it back. (I’ll spare you pictures of the big ugly bruise on the back of my right hand.)

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