While some people give yucca plants a bad rap, I think they’re great. Granted, the extensive (rhizomatous) root system by which the plants spread can make them rather difficult to get rid of, but who would want to? Yucca plants are some of the most versatile and long-lasting evergreens in the landscape. Need some drama or perhaps something different? Add a yucca. Want a focal point that really stands out? Plant a yucca.
People have been growing and using yucca plants for many years. Native to both Central and North America, yuccas not only offer interest with their spiky, dagger-like foliage, but when grown in the right conditions, they will send up striking white flowers from midsummer through fall. In addition to their beauty, yucca plants are also pretty useful. Sure they look great in the back of that rock or succulent garden, but they’re also a natural detergent. In fact, one of the common names for yucca is Soapweed. Whether it’s soap for bathing, shampoo for washing hair, or detergent for cleaning clothes, the roots from yucca plants can be crushed and soaked in water to produce a foamy mix that’s well suited for this purpose.
Yucca juice has been used to make paint and is sometimes included as an ingredient for dyes. Another well-known use for yucca plants is fiber for sewing or making rope. Some species are even used for paper pulp. The leaves are suitable for basket-weaving (though I would definitely recommend practicing extreme care, as their needle-sharp foliage packs quite a wallop). When picked at the right time, just as they come into bloom, yucca flower buds were often roasted and eaten. The fruit from thick-leafed varieties was deemed edible, as were the cooked leaves and stems in some species.
There are well over forty types of yucca plants species. Some are shrubby while others are tree-like. Some are solid green; others are variegated. Some are grown in pots and others in the ground. Likewise, many can be grown indoors while others prefer to be outside. Adam’s needle (Y. filamentosa) is the most commonly seen variety in the garden, having curly threads along the leaf margins. A shorter version well adapted to cooler regions is Y. glauca, otherwise known as Soapweed. The Spanish bayonet (Y. aloifolia) is a tall, shrubby-branched species while the Joshua tree (Y. brevifolia) is a tree-like variety with short leaves that form on the twisted ends of branches. Y. treculeana, or Spanish dagger, is a thick-leafed yucca whereas Buckley (y. constricta) is a thin-leafed variety. The stemless Lord’s candle (Y. whipplei) has attractive bluish-green foliage, and then there’s the variegated species, Y. filamentosa ‘Color Guard.’ Other noteworthy yucca plants include Y. flaccida, Y. rigida, Y. guatamaensis, Y. filifers, and Y. elata.
Yucca plants are easy to grow, thriving in sunny, well-draining areas of the landscape. They are especially tolerant of drought-like conditions. Since they do have those extensive root systems, put them in an area that will allow them plenty of growing room. They may require occasional pruning too, especially for those grown indoors. I love how carefree yucca plants are and the number of uses they can provide makes them one of the most versatile evergreens in the landscape.
Resources: Personal experience
Garden & Forest, Vol. 8, Tree Yuccas in the United States by Charles Sargent
Agaves, Yuccas & Related Plants: A Gardener’s Guide by Gary & Mary Irish