Yucca Plants: Different Types, How To Grow and Plant Care

Yuccas are a diverse group of plants that are very striking, and add architectural beauty both in your outdoor space and indoors. 

There are a huge variety to choose from, and there are some which are very hardy to cold, and some which can withstand drought and heat in abundance. 

It’s not difficult to see why yucca plants are grown all over the world, as they are very beautiful and versatile plants. 

They’re native to hot and especially harsh environments that other plants will simply not thrive in, and they are prized for being able to adapt to most conditions. 

If you live in a climate that you think you can’t grow yuccas in, you might be surprised, and failing that, you can always grow them indoors (see also How To Grow Yuccas Indoors). 

Yuccas are grown by experienced gardeners as well as beginners, as they are fairly easy plants to care for, but it can be difficult to know where to start.

Keep reading to discover everything you need to know about the yucca. 

The Different Types of Yucca Plants

Within the United States, there are at least 27 types of yuccas which are recognized, and they’re found throughout the country, in zones 5 to 11, making them very popular for gardens.

You can find them in the Great Plains, across the Midwest, and in several eastern and southern states.

Across the world, there’s about 50 species of yucca in total, forming the Agavoideae subfamily of the plant family Asparagaceae. If you look at an asparagus, it’s a little difficult to see the resemblance.

So how do you recognize a yucca?

How to Identify a Yucca

All yuccas have large, spiky leaves, and produce clusters of flowers. For most species of yucca, these are huge blooms found in white, and grow well above the foliage, contrasting nicely.

You can recognize a yucca by their densely-clustered leaf rosettes, which are usually thin and can be covered with curly hairs. 

The leaf tips will sometimes feature spines, and while these are sharp, they are still less pointy than those which are produced on agave plants, such as Agave Tequilana

In their native conditions, some yuccas can reach a height of 30 feet tall, spreading to 25 feet. Smaller types will reach 2 to 4 feet tall, and spread about the same, but this will be smaller in colder climates

While most yuccas vary in appearance, all can grow hugely tall if they are given the right growing conditions. 

In especially hot and fierce climates, yuccas will stay smaller in order to save energy and water. 

The flowers that a yucca produces usually appear once a year, which are usually bell-shaped and found in large clusters.

Yuccas also have a very slow growth rate, and store water in the base of the plant, away from heat and predators. 

They have evolved to withstand long periods of drought, and don’t need much attention in order to thrive, making them a cornerstone of planting schemes in hot and dry climates. 

Where Yuccas Grow Naturally

Before we get into the types of yuccas you can grow yourself, it’s important to understand exactly where the different types grow, so you choose the right type for where in the world you live. 

Before you write off yuccas as being unsuitable for your garden, you should know that you can find them in both humid and dry climates, and some can withstand much cooler temperatures than you’d think.

Those yuccas native to the southwest of the US have evolved to cope with very dry conditions, while those native to the southeast require humidity in order to thrive. 

You can also find these beauties in the desert, mountain grasslands, and coastal scrub land in Central America, the US, Mexico, and the Caribbean Islands. 

They are also found naturalized in several areas overseas, as well as being grown as houseplants all over the world.  

The Uses of a Yucca Plant

It’s also worth considering what you want to use the yucca plant for, before you go and buy one, as several species have more uses than just purely ornamental purposes.

If where you live is unsuitable for yuccas, you can grow them inside as houseplants to add greenery and interest into your home. They help purify the air, too. 

Lots of yuccas also produce edible fruit and flowers, and two in particular to consider for this purpose are Yucca baccata, the banana yucca, and Yucca glauca, the soapweed yucca.

Some yuccas also contain steroidal saponins, which have been used for years to soothe arthritis, and some believe it can help cleanse the body. 

The yucca roots can also be used to improve scalp health and hair growth. The soapweed yucca is often used in cosmetics, as it has anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties.

Some yuccas can be made into baskets or rope, and some can even be used as natural fire starters.

Yucca plants are also an excellent choice when you have a deer population living near your garden, as they are highly resistant to deer! They also attract the yucca moth at night, which is the plant’s sole pollinator. 

How to Grow Outdoor Yucca Varieties

If you are lucky enough to live somewhere which is suitable for growing yuccas outside, it is the perfect place. 

Yucca plants are extremely low maintenance, and often the best thing to do is to let them take care of themselves, as you can kill them with kindness.

If you want to plant a yucca outside, you’ll need to do so in full sun. Otherwise, the leaves may turn spindly and elongated, trying to reach for the most light possible, and the plant may not flower at all.

Plant a yucca in your garden in spring, which is when most varieties will start to flower. 

You’ll also need to wait until the temperature is at least 55°F, or more if the variety you’ve chosen isn’t hardy to cold temperatures. 

It probably goes without saying, but it’s worth saying anyway – any yucca needs well-draining soil, otherwise it will rot. 

If you choose a variety that has a lot of spines, it’s worth remembering this when you are choosing where it should go in your garden. You don’t want to be attacked each time you pass!

Spiny yuccas do not mix well in gardens which usually feature pets or children, so keep this in mind. 

Some yucca varieties are also unsuitable as they are toxic to all when ingested, and you’ll also need to consider the mature size the plant will reach. Some elaborate root systems can damage foundations and pipes in the earth!

Growing a Yucca from Seed

You’ll need to submerge the seeds in water for about a day, which will help kick-start the germination process. 

Pop the seeds into the soil, and make sure that the soil keeps moist, in which case you’ll see signs of the seeds sprouting within four weeks. 

Remember that yuccas grow slowly, so it will take a while for your new yucca to establish itself, and to look like one!

You won’t have to prune a yucca, but you can remove any dying or damaged leaves if you need to, but only remove the bare minimum.

You don’t need to fertilize yuccas either, and it’s best not to, as it can upset their delicate growth.

Varieties of Yucca Plants You Should Consider Growing

While yuccas are fairly slow to grow, they almost make some of the most striking plants you can grow in your garden with barely any maintenance needed. 

They are very long-lived plants, and there’s a Mojave yucca which is around 12,000 years old, living in its native Mojave Desert in the southwestern US. 

While this is obviously living in the conditions it has adapted to over its lifetime, yuccas can live for a significantly longer period than some other plants, even if they are not native there, or grown indoors.

Here’s just some of the striking varieties you can grow yourself.

Yucca baccata ‘Banana Yucca’

Native to the Southwest US, this is a very undemanding yucca which requires no maintenance, and very little water. 

The leaves can reach a height of 3 feet, and while it can take years for the banana yucca to bloom, the sight is worth it.

It’s also worth collecting the seeds, as the banana yucca will often die after the flowers wilt.

Yucca Flaccida ‘Weak Leaf Yucca’

The weak leaf yucca only reaches about 2 feet tall, but it can spread to about 5 feet wide when it matures. It’s a very cold hardy variety, making it perfect for colder regions. 

The leaves are evergreen, and stay compact, only reaching about 55cm in length, making them perfect for smaller spaces or even containers. 

The flowers produced on the weak leaf yucca come in white or cream, extending the height of the plant to about 5 feet. 

Yucca elephantipes ‘Spineless Yucca’

If you’d prefer a much taller-growing yucca, the spineless yucca is the perfect choice. Outside, it will reach a lofty 40 feet tall in the right conditions.

It’s also the most popular yucca which is grown as a houseplant, as the plant is only hardy in zones 9 to 11.

You can recognize it by its upright trunk resembling an elephant’s foot, and the leaves which also grow upright, reaching about 4 feet when mature.

In summer, the spineless yucca also produces flowers which you could eat, if you wanted to, but people generally grow the spineless yucca for its ornamental value, rather than culinary.

This yucca barely needs any maintenance at all. Outside, it will take care of itself. If you are growing a spineless yucca indoors, you’ll occasionally need to water it very sparingly, and even rarer, you’ll need to repot it. 

Yucca rostrata ‘Beaked Yucca’ 

If you’d prefer your ornamental plants to resemble trees, the beaked yucca is the one for you. 

It has a very showy, almost palm-like appearance, producing a plethora of needle-thin leaves atop a single trunk, which is covered in the old leaf fibers. 

These leaves pack so tightly together that it looks almost like an explosion of leaves atop a tall stem. There is, however, a trade-off to this pretty plant. The leaves are extremely sharp!

This plant can range between 6 and 15 feet tall, depending on the conditions of your garden, and produces creamy white flowers with a hint of purple, blooming in spring, which is unseasonably early for a yucca.

It’s also hardy in USDA zones 5 to 11, making it a great option for most gardens.

Yucca shidigera ‘Mojave Yucca’

This yucca comes from the desert in California and Nevada, and it grows about 16 feet tall, in its natural habitat. In gardens, it may be as compact as 3 feet, depending on the conditions.

 You can also grow it in a very large container for a unique look. The Mojave yucca grows in a tree shape, not unlike the beaked yucca. The leaves are sharp, too, so you may want to refrain from planting it somewhere you’ll pass regularly. 

The roots of the Mojave yucca are used in traditional medicine, to soothe the symptoms of arthritis, and to help bolster the immune system. 

Yucca Whipplei ‘Our Lord’s Candle Yucca’

One of the most ornamentally-prized yuccas on this list, Our Lord’s Candle is a very interesting plant. 

The leaf rosettes produce grayish foliage with spiky tips, and these leaves can change to a blue tint, depending on the light. They also stay pretty close to the ground, but the flowers are a different story.

Producing some of the most beautiful blooms a yucca is capable of, the flower spike itself can reach a maximum height of 14 feet! These flowers grow in large cream clusters with a hint of purple, up to 90cm a cluster, producing a fantastic fragrance.

It’s also a great plant for places with harsh frosts, as it can tolerate plummeting temperatures of 10°F!

Yucca constricta ‘Buckley’s Yucca’

This is a widely admired yucca, notable for its very sharp leaves growing in a ball shape, as well as curling filaments which stem from the leaves. 

It’s a notable yucca as it doesn’t have an obvious stem above the ground, which makes for an interesting appearance.

Like other flowering yuccas, Buckley’s yucca produces a very large flower spike which towers over the rest of the plant at about 8 feet tall. 

The flowers this yucca produce are a lovely white tinged with green, and each bloom can measure 2 inches long. 

It also helps that this yucca is also fairly cold tolerant, and will not need you to water it, even if there’s a prolonged drought.

Yucca brevifolia blue ‘Blue Joshua Tree’

One of the largest native succulents to grow in the US, this is a protected plant in its natural habitat, and features the most striking blue foliage. 

Joshua trees are so protected that if one grows naturally in your garden, you must have permission before you consider removing it. 

It also reproduces in an interesting way, as Joshua trees do. They form ‘groves’ of clones, which can be as high as 50 individual stems spreading as wide as 50 feet, developing through new bulbs.

The trunk of this yucca is much more pronounced than other yuccas, having a more tree-like form, which contrasts nicely with the ‘explosions’ of spines on the top of the branches. 

Besides its ornamental qualities, this plant has also had many uses over the years. Native Americans have used the bark for dishes (See also 16 Best White Bark Trees), and the limbs as food containers. 

The pulp was also used to make paper, and during the first World War, the wood also made excellent splints for those injured.

Yucca glauca ‘Soapweed Yucca’

As you might guess from the name of this yucca, the soapweed has often been used to make soap, and still plays a role as an ingredient in cosmetics. 

Ornamentally, this is a lovely yucca, which produces full rosettes of bluish leaves, reaching about 4 feet tall, and produces fragrant flowers in white and green during June, July, and August.

This plant is also hardy in USDA zones 9 to 11.

Yucca smalliana ‘Beargrass Yucca’

One of the hardiest yuccas on this list, the beargrass yucca can withstand extremely cold temperatures and some pretty severe frost, making it perfect for many climates. 

However, they still need full sun in order to thrive. This yucca features sword-shaped leaves, which are softer than most yuccas, and each leaf can even get to about 70cm long, so you’ll need plenty of room for this one!

You can find the beargrass yucca in a myriad of different locations, including woodland, prairies, and roadsides, so long as there’s plenty of sunlight and the soil drains well.

The beargrass yucca produces a flower spike which can reach 8 feet tall, and beautiful blooms which appear in a brilliant white. 

It also regularly produces offsets, which you don’t need to separate, as they will eventually engulf the parent plant. 

Yucca aloifolia ‘Spanish Bayonet Yucca’

If you’d prefer a yucca that produces a flower spike close to the foliage, the Spanish bayonet yucca is for you. 

The foliage grows in a globular cluster of rosettes, featuring bright green leaves, each reaching a maximum of 2 feet long. 

The flower spike itself only reaches about 2 feet, producing white or purple flowers which are very striking, appearing during spring. 

It’s one of the best architectural yuccas available, and can get to a maximum of 10 feet tall, spreading to about 5 feet wide. It’s also hardy in USDA zones of 7 to 11.

Yucca filamentosa ‘Adam’s Needle Yucca’

This is one of the most interesting yuccas you can grow. The pointed leaves are very sharp and generously spaced, though they still form a lovely rosette. 

The leaves are also covered in fine hairs or filaments which curl over the leaves, which is where the name comes from. 

Once the plant is mature, it will send up a huge flower spike which can reach over 8 feet, producing clusters of white, bell-shaped blooms from June until July. 

This plant is also hardy in USDA zones 5 to 10, making it a diverse planting option. 

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