Yucca

Family: Agavaceae
Habitat: Central America: Mexico, California, Caribbean.
Cultivation: The Yucca prefers exposure to full sun, especially in the summer season. Protect them from low temperatures and use an averagely fertile soil, fertilizing during spring and summer with a product rich in microelements.
Curiosity: The name of this genus was decided by the botanist Johann Jakob Dillen, who towards the end of the 1700’s took the name given by the people of Central America to the most common of these plants, extending it to the whole genus.

KEY FEATURES

The genus Yucca includes about 30-40 shrubby plants native to the central and central-northern part of the Americas. Yuccas inhabit different climate regions
Numerous species formerly classified as part of Yucca have now moved to the genera Dasylirion, Furcraea, Hesperaloe and Nolina.

They are very frequent plants both in nature and in our apartments, given their robustness and decorative appearance. They are very common evergreens, moreover, inside offices and commercial spaces. Some species, also, are cultivated to provide cellulose for the production of paper. However the stems and fruits of many species of Yucca are edible, Yuccas are mainly used as ornamental plants, especially because they need little water. In the 1960s, a research by Mexican chemist Alfonso Romo de Vivar discovered another use for Yucca, as an inexpensive source of steroids for pharmaceutical use.

It is also known colloquially in the lower Midwestern United States as “ghosts in the cemetery,” as it is commonly found growing in rural cemeteries and, when in bloom, the cluster of (usually pale) flowers on a slender stalk look like floating ghosts.

Yucca can be rosette-forming plants, shrubby plants, trees or herbaceous plants, terrestrial or epiphytic. An epiphytic plant grows on trees instead of the soil, using the little amount of dust or soil settled on the trunks.
They are characterized by a woody trunk, generally not so branched, from the top of which open large tufts of very long, lanceolate, deep green leaves. The dimensions can vary a lot and in nature you can find specimens of 15 meters; in our apartments, however, they rarely exceed 2 meters.

Some species of Yucca have a caudex. A caudex is an evolutionary device typical of semi-arid areas and used as a stock for nutrients and water to face harsh conditions of dry environments.

The flowers are hermaphrodites, bell-shaped, generally white or in any case of light colors. They grow grouped in panicle-like inflorescences in a period from late summer to autumn, but house plants very rarely flower.

From the flowers the fruits are formed. They might be indehiscent, pulpy, fleshy fruits or dry, dehiscent capsules. Dehiscent and indehiscent are botanical term referring to the capacity of a fruit to open up, spreading the seeds, after ripening. Dehiscent means that it does open, on the contrary indehiscent refers to fruits that don’t open, nor once ripen. Most of the indehiscent fruits are pulpy, while the dehiscent ones are usually dry.

Another interesting fact about Yuccas is their pollination system, a specific mutualism with some species of lepidoptera belonging to the family Prodoxidae, the so-called “Yucca butterflies”. These butterflies carry out the polinization and, “in exchange”, lay its eggs inside the flowers. When the larvae are born, they feed on the seeds, but it always leave a number of them sufficient to allow the plant to reproduce.

If you live in a warm region, where the medium temperature never fall below 10ºC, Yucca is the perfect choice for your rocky garden. If you need to occupy a central, sunny position, bigger species such as Y. guatemalensis, Y. rostrata o Y. treculeana; on the other hand, if you have less space, choose smaller species such as Y. aloifolia. On the other hand, if live in a temperate region with cold climates, we suggest to shelter your Yucca during the Winter.

VARIETY AND TYPES

Here are a few species of Yucca recognized to date.

  • Y. aloifolia
  • Y. angustissima
  • Y. angustifolia
  • Y. arkansana
  • Y. baccata
  • Y. baileyi
  • Y. brevifolia
  • Y. cernua
  • Y. confinis
  • Y. constricta
  • Y. decipiens
  • Y. elata
  • Y. endlichiana
  • Y. faxoniana
  • Y. filamentosa
  • Y. filifera
  • Y. flaccida
  • Y. gigantea
  • Y. glauca
  • Y. gloriosa
  • Y. grandiflora
  • Y. harrimaniae
  • Y. intermedia
  • Y. jaliscensis
  • Y. kanabensis
  • Y. lacandonica
  • Y. madrensis
  • Y. nana
  • Y. pallida
  • Y. periculosa
  • Y. recurvifolia
  • Y. rigida
  • Y. rupicola
  • Y. schidigera
  • Y. schottii
  • Y. standleyi
  • Y. thompsoniana (syn.: Y. rostrata)
  • Y. thornberi
  • Y. torreyi
  • Y. treculiana
  • Y. valida
  • Y. yucatana

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TIPS FOR GROWING

Here are our cultivation advices:

  • They prefer exposure in full sun, especially in the summer season.
  • Yuccas need a warm climate. Their ideal temperature is around 25°C and the minimum tolerated one is 10ºC. In our climates it is necessary, therefore, to protect them from cold.
  • They need abundant watering in spring and summer: when it is hot, we suggest to water them every day, in order to keep the soil always slightly damp.
  • Decrease the frequency with the arrival of Autumn and Winter. In summer, we also recommend steaming the foliage in the morning.
  • They need a more fertile soil than other succulents; it is advisable to choose a universal soil.
  • Fertilize once a month during the vegetative period, choosing a product for green plants that is also rich in microelements.
  • Yuccas needs to be repotted every year or almost every spring, because as it grows the foliage becomes larger and heavier to support.

Propagation of Yuccas is carried out through sowing. New seedlings can also be obtained by taking and planting the shoots that the plant produces at its base. This is, indeed, the recommended method for its simplicity and speed. To take off the shoots it is better to wait until they have at least four leaves and a small branch about ten centimeters long. Alternatively, you can try cuttings from portions of branches but the chances of them taking root are more rare.

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