How can such a beautiful plant have such an ugly name? Yuccas – those architectural shrubs with strappy sword-like leaves—have never been more popular in the landscape, thanks in part to America’s love affair with succulents in general.
And with good reason. This diverse family of perennial shrubs and trees, known as Asparagaceae, is native to dry, hot climates in North, South and Central America. Yet many yuccas are extremely hardy, found from the Gulf Coast to Canada – withstanding climates as low as 10 degrees F. They also adapt easily to a variety of soil types so long as the soil is well drained. And while best known for their ornamental qualities, several species of yuccas bear edible parts, including flowers, stems, seeds and roots.
With their pointed leaves, which emerge from rosettes, these evergreens add a distinctive feature to any landscape. Just make sure you don’t plant one too close to pathways and high-traffic areas, where encounters with their needle-like leaf tips can be painful. In mid- to late summer, many species produce creamy-white flowers with a soap-like fragrance if given plenty of full sun, which the plants prefer.
Like most succulents, yuccas are extremely low maintenance and grow well in pots.
When planting, mix equal parts gravel or sand with soil. In spring, prune away older leaves as they die, which encourages new growth.
Also cut back stems after the plant has flowered. And don’t forget to wear gloves when you handle this plant!
Here are a few yuccas to consider:
- Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’: Extremely popular because of its bold green and yellow variegated leaves. Compact at 2 feet tall by 2 feet wide.
- Yucca baccata: Grows up to 5 feet with shorter, almost blue leaves and purple and off-white flowers in spring. Also known as the Banana Yucca because of the shape of its fruits, which are edible.
- Yucca canerosana (Y. faxoniana): Can grow up to 12 feet by six feet wide and tolerates part shade. In spring, it produces white flowers that later turn pink.
- Yucca glauca: Gray-green leaves, prefers hot, dry climate of the Southwest, Produces greenish-white highly fragrant flowers.
- Yucca rostrata: Commonly known as Blue Beaked yucca, it has blue foliage and is one of the most cold hardy yuccas, found as far north as New York.
- Yucca schidigera: Also known as Spanish Dagger because of its extremely sharp yellow-green leaves, this tree-like variety produces white flowers accented with purple.