Yucca plants are famed for their large, spiky leaves growing on the top of long, thick woody stems. Many species of yucca plants are ideal ornamental plants for garden landscapes. Yucca plants have the appearance of palm trees, so growing them in your backyard or indoors can create a tropical look.
There are nearly 50 species of yucca trees and shrubs. Although sometimes called a type of cactus, yuccas are not cacti but are perennial evergreen shrubs and trees in the plant family Asparagaceae.
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Some yucca plants can look like trees because their leaves grow on thick cane stems. Other yucca varieties look like shrubs. Yuccas can be identified by their distinctive sword-like spiky leaves and their white or whitish flowers growing on stems. Yuccas have foliage ranging in color from green to bluish-green. Some yucca varieties have yellow or white variegation.
One spectacular feature of yuccas is the large cluster of flowers they produce. Flower stalks rise from the center of the plant and can grow up to 12 ft. (3.6 m) tall. The huge panicles have bell-shaped creamy-white flowers.
Yucca shrubs and trees thrive in dry sandy soil and plenty of sunshine. All species of yuccas grow in most types of soil, as long as the ground is well-draining and not too rich. In garden landscapes, yucca plants grow as ornamental shrubs and will occasionally flower. But due to their sharp leaves, it’s best to plant them away from areas where people or pets frequent.
As a houseplant, the Yucca elephantipes (spineless yucca / stick yucca) grows in pots in bright sunlight and average room temperatures. Spineless or stick yuccas are ideal for growing indoors as they have soft broad leaves without sharp spines. Unfortunately, it’s rare when indoor species of potted yucca plants flower.
Common names of yucca plants often refer to the type of foliage that grows on the woody stems. For example, Adam’s Needle, Dagger Plant, Spanish Bayonet, Aloe Yucca, Needle Palm, and Narrowleaf Yucca are all common names for species of the yucca plant.
This article describes some of the most popular yucca plants for growing outdoors or indoors. Along with their scientific name and descriptions, pictures of yucca plant varieties will help identify them.
Types of Yucca Plants (With Pictures)
Here are some common types of yucca plants to enhance your garden landscape.
Adam’s Needle and Thread Yucca Plant (Yucca Filamentosa)
Adam’s needle is a variety of flowering yucca that produces a dramatic tall stalk. The panicle has a massive cluster of white flowers and can reach up to 8 ft. (2.4 m) high. The Yucca filamentosa thrives in USDA zones 4 – 11 and is cold hardy down to 5°F (-15°C).
Also named the common yucca, Adam’s needle and thread yucca is a popular evergreen landscape plant. The yucca shrub has long sword-shaped green leaves that grow up to 3 ft. (1 m) tall. The sharp, spine-tipped foliage forms a clump up to 3 ft. (1 m) wide.
An identifying feature of Adam’s needle and thread yucca plants are the thin filaments in their foliage. These thread-like growths are a reason why the yucca’s botanical name is filamentosa, and its common name is ‘needle and thread.’
Adam’s Needle ‘Color Guard’ (Yucca filamentosa ’Color Guard’)
The Yucca ‘Color Guard’ is a spectacular type of Yucca filamentosa. The yellow and green variegated leaves identify this variety of yucca. You’ll also notice that the foliage grows in a rosette form and has the distinctive curly threads in the leaves that become pink and rose-colored in the winter.
This variegated Adam’s needle and thread yucca plant grows as a clumping shrub that is 2 to 3 ft. (0.6 – 1 m) tall and the same width. A large cluster of whitish flowers emerges on a long stalk in the middle of June. Grow the sun-loving yucca in sandy soil. Ideal as a garden border shrub where its sharp leaves will deter animals and intruders.
Adam’s Needle ‘Excalibur’ (Yucca filamentosa ‘Excalibur’)
Adam’s Needle ‘Excalibur’ is a stubbing yucca variety. Also called the thready yucca, the shrub has stiff, sword-shaped leaves that have bluish-green to gray-green color. Looking at pictures of this yucca cultivar, you will see the curly filaments growing among the foliage.
During summer, Adam’s needle yucca produces a large cluster of bell-shaped creamy-white flowers. This cluster sits proudly on the top of a 5-ft. (1.5 m) high flowering stem. Plant this yucca in the backyard where you need to create a dramatic statement. Ideal for growing in USDA zones 5 – 10.
Spineless Yucca Plant (Yucca Elephantipes)
One of the tallest yucca trees is the spineless yucca. Its common name comes from the lack of sharp spines on the leaves. As the yucca plant matures, its thick gray stem begins to resemble an elephant’s foot—hence the botanical name ‘elephantipes.’
The distinctive feature of the spineless yucca is its smooth leathery evergreen leaves. These leaves grow in a spiral rosette shape, making the yucca tree look like a tropical palm tree. In the garden landscape, the hardy yucca plant grows up to 30 ft. (9 m) high.
Spineless yuccas are one of the few yucca plants suitable as a houseplant. As an indoor plant, spineless yuccas only grow to about 5 ft. (1.5 m) high. However, its slow growth means that this tall indoor plant takes many years to reach that height.
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Spanish Bayonet (Yucca Aloifolia)
The Spanish bayonet multi-stemmed yucca plant is one of the most ornamental of the yucca species. As its name suggests, the leaves are long and sword-like. It’s not just the leaf shape that looks like a sword—the stiff evergreen blades also have sharp serration along the margins and a sharp pointed tip. A cluster of white flowers appears on 2-ft. (0.6 m) long flowering stems.
Also called the Spanish dagger, the tall yucca shrub-like tree grows to between 5 and 10 ft. (1.5 – 3 m). Densely growing spiky leaves form crowns on multiple stems. The yucca tree compliments other tropical trees and is ideal for growing in arid landscapes in coastal regions. This yucca species Yucca aloifolia thrives in USDA zones 7 – 11.
This palm-like yucca plant also grows well indoors as a tropical plant.
Weak-Leaf Yucca Plant (Yucca flaccida)
The weak-leaf yucca has leaves that tend to droop or bend over. The low-growing evergreen shrub only grows up to 2 ft. (60 cm) tall with a spread of up to 5 ft. (1.5 m). As with most yuccas, the plant species is identified by its sword-shaped leaves with sharp points.
Another common name for this yucca shrub is Adam’s needle. Botanically speaking, the species is related to Yucca filamentosa.
When the yucca produces flowers, it’s has a mass of bell-shaped white flowers on the end of long stems. Stunning cultivars of this yucca are the ‘Garland Gold’ or ‘Golden Sword’ with a rosette growth of spectacular yellow and green leaves.
Spanish Dagger (Yucca gloriosa)
Yucca gloriosa shares a common name among other yuccas—the Spanish dagger, and grows on sandy soil in warmer climates. It has sword-like narrow dark green leaves and is usually multi-stemmed. It grows to about 8 ft. tall (2.5 m), and its panicle has white flowers which sometimes have purple-red hue.
Yucca gloriosa has several cultivars such as ‘Variegata’ and ‘Bright Star’. Yucca gloriosa ‘Bright Star’ is attractive ornamental shrub that has brightly-colored green leaves with yellow margins. The rigid, sharp leaves grow in a rosette pattern and can grow to between 2 and 4 ft. (0.6 – 1.2 m) tall.
The ‘Bright Star’ yucca tolerates full sun and thrives in sandy, well-draining soil. The spiky yellowish shrub thrives in USDA zones 7 – 11 and is cold hardy down to 0°F (-17°C). When the temperature drops, the leaves take on a light reddish-pink hue.
Red Yucca Plant (Hesperaloe parviflora)
The red yucca plant can be identified by its grass like leaves and pinkish flowers that grow on tall narrow spikes. This is not a real species of yucca, and this bushy shrub has spineless leaves that grow in a rosette shape. This yucca-like plant gets its name from the way the bluish-green leaves turn reddish-bronze in cold weather.
Similar to yucca plants, the red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) produces dainty bell-shaped red or dark pink flowers on the end of tall, 5-ft. (1.5 m) stems.
The red yucca plant is drought tolerant and is suitable for planting in borders, containers, and Mediterranean gardens. Because the leaves are spineless—unlike most yucca species—they won’t cause any injury to humans or animals. The red yucca grows well in USDA zones 6 – 11.
You should still take care if you have pets in your garden. Species of yucca plants are toxic to cats and dogs. And the red yucca also contains poisonous substances.
Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia)
The Joshua tree is a type of fast-growing desert tree that is symbolic of the Mojave Desert in arid southwestern U.S. You can identify the Joshua tree yucca by its thick, fibrous trunk that divides into thick branches. Compact clumps of spiky sharp dark-green leaves crown each of the branches.
Joshua trees grow to about 49 ft. (15 m) tall, and their roots can reach down to 36 ft. (11 m) to search for moisture. The yucca tree produces clusters of creamy white flowers in late winter and early spring.
The Yucca brevifolia ‘Blue’ is the Blue Joshua tree—a rare type of yucca tree with blue leaves. Another name for this yucca tree is the ‘Sonoran Blue.’
Soapweed Yucca Plant (Yucca glauca)
Another type of shrubby yucca is the soapweed yucca—a drought-tolerant plant that grows in deserts. The small sharp-leafed yucca plant thrives in arid conditions. You can identify the plant by its long, narrow spiky leaves and globular growth habit. The low-growing desert shrub grows about 2 ft. (0.6 m) tall and wide.
When the soapweed yucca plant blooms, it produces pale green-white flowers on the end of a flowering stem that is 3 ft. (1 m) tall. Although this yucca shrub is also called the Spanish Bayonet, it is a different species from the Yucca Aloifolia. The cold-hardy yucca thrives in USDA zones 4 – 8.
Banana Yucca Plant (Yucca baccata)
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The banana yucca plant is a perennial evergreen shrub that is native to arid deserts in the U.S. and Mexico. Only growing to 3 ft. (1 m) tall, the Yucca baccata has long thin spiked leaves that are between 1 and 3 ft. (0.3 – 1 m) long. One of the differences between the banana yucca and other yucca species is that its flower stalks don’t grow as tall.
To identify the banana yucca, look at the fruit it produces. After blooming with whitish flowers, banana-shaped fruits appear. The banana yucca grows in zones 4a – 9a. The short, spiky shrub is related to the next plant on this list of popular yuccas—the Mojave yucca.
Mojave Yucca Plant (Yucca schidigera)
The Mojave yucca is another type of yucca with the common name ‘Spanish dagger.’ As its name suggests, the yucca plant is native to the Mojave Desert and has dangerously sharp leaves. Unlike its cousin, the banana yucca shrub, the Mojave yucca is a type of tree that grows to 16 ft. (5 m).
The Mojave yucca plant looks like a medium-sized tree with spiked green crowns. The sharp, stiff foliage is a yellowish-green or bluish-green color. A bulbous cluster of white flowers with a purple tinge blossom at the end of a 4-ft. (1.2 m) flower stem.
Beaked Yucca Plant (Yucca rostrata)
The beaked yucca is a spectacular single-stemmed yucca tree with a stunning spray of bluish-green leaves radiating from the trunk’s top. The crown of foliage is a round pom-pom shape that contains hundreds of sharp thin blades that are 2 ft. (0.6 m) long. To add to the yucca tree’s ornamental appeal, a large cluster of white flowers emerge from the foliage.
This yucca tree grows between 6 and 15 ft. (1.8 – 4.5 m) tall. It’s a cold-hardy type of plant and grows in USDA zones 5 – 11 and withstands temperatures as low as -10°F (-23°C).
The Yucca rostrata shouldn’t be confused with the Mexican blue yucca (Yucca rigida). The Yucca rigida isn’t as cold-hardy as the beaked yucca, and it has stiffer leaves.
Buckley’s Yucca (Yucca constricta)
Buckley’s yucca plant is an evergreen perennial shrub that thrives in rocky, sandy soil in hot deserts. This yucca variety usually grows in stemless clumps between 1 and 3 ft. (0.3 – 1 m) tall. Buckley’s yucca is identified by its narrow, twisting leaves that are pale blue to dark green.
Buckley’s yucca is ideal for landscapes that have poor, infertile soil. Looking up close, you’ll also see thread-like filaments growing among the foliage. Tall flowering panicles up to 5 ft. (1.5 m) rise from the middle of the plant when it blooms.
Twisted Yucca (Yucca rupicola)
Twisted yucca is also named Texas yucca, rock yucca, and twisted-leaf yucca. Its twisting sword-shaped leaves are bright green to dark green. As with most species of outdoor yuccas, care is essential when handling the plants as they have sharp, cutting edges leaves with pointed tips.
The low-growing yucca plant grows in clumps of rosettes. The lanceolate leaves are up to 2 ft. (0.6 m) long and start to twist as they mature. As with most species of flowering yuccas, a flowering stalk up to 5 ft. (1.5 m) emerges from the plant, producing clusters of white, bell-shaped drooping flowers.
Our Lord’s Candle (Yucca whipplei)
Our Lord’s Candle is an evergreen yucca shrub that grows on the ground without a trunk. The bluish leaves are rigid and sharp, with piercing serrated edges. The stiff blades grow up to 3 ft. (1 m) long. The striking feature of this yucca plant is the stunning flower stalk. The yucca produces a flowering stem up to 14 ft. (4.2 m) tall. The crowning glory of the yucca is its mass of scented creamy-white flowers.
The Yucca whipplei is a species of yucca that dies after flowering. However, offsets from the mother plant usually grow in its place. Grow this spectacular yucca as an accent plant in an ornamental garden. The ‘Our Lord’s Candle’ yucca thrives in USDA zones 7 – 9 and is cold hardy down to 10°F (-12°C).
How to Care for Yucca Plants
Yucca plants—both the indoor and outdoor varieties—are low-maintenance plants. Once established in the garden landscape, you can almost leave them alone so they can care for themselves.
Here are some tips on how to care for yucca plants:
The best soil for yucca: Grow yucca plants in sandy soil with excellent drainage. If necessary, you can work in perlite or small pebbles to allow water to flow better.
Light requirements for yucca plants: Plant yucca trees or shrubs where they get plenty of sunlight, and there is adequate airflow.
How to water yucca plants: Only water yucca plants when the soil dries out—this applies to potted yucca plants and garden yuccas.
How to prune yucca plants: Prune dead, brown leaves. Before pruning outdoor yuccas, put on protective gloves and goggles to protect yourself from the sharp blades and spikes.
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