All About Yucca Plants

Yucca plants are a genus of around 40 species of perennial trees and shrubs belonging to the agave family. They are generally found in the desert areas of Mexico and the southwestern United States, but some species grow in other regions.

Yucca Moth

The yucca plant is unique in that it's pollinated by the yucca moth, which lays its eggs on the plant. The larvae feeds on the seeds of the yucca plant, and thus the relationship is mutually beneficial.

The yucca plant has a recessed stigma, and the yucca moth is genetically programmed to stuff the pollen into the recessed stigma and to lay just the right amount of eggs so that all of the yucca seeds aren't consumed. If you try to grow a yucca plant where there are no yucca moths (like in Europe) you must  pollinate the plant by hand.

Characteristics of a Yucca

Whether a shrub or tree, the yucca's leaves are generally sword-shaped, usually thick and stiff, clustered in a circular rosette pattern. The leaves' fibers can be used to make rope, and the dried leaves can be used for weaving baskets.

Creamy white flowers grow in clusters on a stem that can reach up to 8 feet into the air (on shrubs). Yuccas flower in the summer, often lasting through the beginning of autumn.

Yucca trees can grow up to 40 feet while shrubs generally range from 1 to 8 feet. Shrubs are generally as wide as they are tall.

Growing a Yucca

As these plants are native to desert climate, position them where they can drink in the hot afternoon sun. 

Yuccas prefer well-drained soil, but they are so adaptable that have even been known to grow in moist soil commonly found in the southeastern United States. The ideal pH level is 5.5 to 7.5, which is an accommodating wide range.

If planting from seed, keep indoors for a couple years between 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Germination can take up to 1 year.

Yuccas are adaptable, hardy plants that need little care after planting outdoors. For best results, prune your plant regularly.

Popular Yuccas

  • The Joshua Tree - This woody stemmed tree is one of the oldest living trees in the world, and a good choice for colder climates as it very hardy. It grows best in USDA zones 6 to 11.
  • Bear Grass (Adam's Needle) - Another of the hardier species, this yucca has fragrant bell-shaped flowers that shoot straight up from the gold and green leaves of the shrub. Ideal for USDA zones 6 to 9.
  • Spineless Yucca - Commonly grown indoors to clean up the air, this indoor tropical plant has a smooth trunk that looks like bamboo can. Place in a south, east or west-facing window. The spineless yucca prefers high light and can be killed by overwatering. If in high light, make sure the top 1/3 of the soil is dry before watering. If in low light, top ¾ should be dry before watering.

Yuccas are generally planted for their ornamental purposes and appreciated for their distinct and unique beauty.