Yucca: Mother Nature’s Candelabra

Express News
Sunday, March 23, 2003

By Lynn Rawe

Many conscientious Texans are looking for ways to save water and also use adapted, drought tolerant plant material. Xeriscape is on the minds of more and more gardeners. The exotic appearance of the yucca can fill this niche.

Yuccas are as tough as the leathered skin of a West Texas cowboy. They have a dramatic silhouette, and flowers that form a tiered candelabra of fragrant, white to cream-colored inflorescence. There are about 40 species of this magnificent plant. Many of the species grow natively in South and West Texas. The plant is a perennial, evergreen that can have the form of a tree or shrub. Most species are slow growing and have sword-like leaves.

Most yuccas need full sun, well-drained soil and arid conditions. Plants of the less cold tolerant species should be planted in the spring and summer in order for the plants to establish themselves before cold temperatures arrive. The more cold tolerant plants can be planted any time.

There are two species that known by the common name of Spanish Dagger. Yucca aloifolia gets its name from its very sharp, sword-like leaves. The gray-green leaves are about two feet in long and 1-2 inches wide. Flowering most often in the summer, this yucca can occasionally surprise you with fall flowers. It=s a rapid grower that clusters with age. The variety AMarginata@ has yellow-edged margins, AVariegata@ white-edged margins and ATricolor@ has yellow or white stripes in the leaf center. Combined with an evergreen plant, the contrast of any of these plants are striking. Yucca gloriosa is not only known as Spanish Dagger but also as Mound Lily Yucca. The 2-4 foot panicle is white, tinted with purple and reaches 6-10 feet in height. The foliage is grayish, turns to dark green with age.

For those of you that might be concerned about the sharp leaves of most yuccas, there is an alternative for you. Yucca recurvifolia, is known as the Soft Leafed or Weeping Yucca. The pliable blue-green foliage bends and droops at the tips and produces a 3 foot tall flower spike that bears creamy blooms in the summer.

Hesperaloe parviflora or Red Yucca is a lovely plant that forms a 4-6 foot tall spike with dark pink or yellow blooms in the summer and fall. The leaves, reaching 3 feet in height, resemble the yucca, but are more narrow and not as spiny. The combination of Red Yucca and Red Carpet rose makes a breathtaking impact in the garden.

Grouping yuccas with Texas sage (Leucophyllum sp.), makes a spectacular display. Designing a xeric area with desert willow, ANew Gold@ lantana, red yucca or verbena mixed with yucca, can soften the landscape and provide an enticing habitat for birds.

Lynn Rawe, Extension Agent-Horticulture with Texas Cooperative Extension in Bexar County, contributed this article. For more information, call (210) 467-6575.


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