This article is about the genus comprising species of perennials, shrubs, and trees. For yuca, the term in many Latin American dialects for a species of root vegetable, see Cassava. For other uses, see Yucca (disambiguation).
Yucca filamentosa naturalized in New Zealand
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Asparagales
Family: Asparagaceae
Subfamily: Agavoideae
Genus: Yucca

See text.


Clistoyucca (Engelm.) Trel.
Samuela Trel.
Sarcoyucca (Engelm.) Linding.[1]

Yucca is a genus of perennial shrubs and trees in the family Asparagaceae, subfamily Agavoideae.[2] Its 40-50 species are notable for their rosettes of evergreen, tough, sword-shaped leaves and large terminal panicles of white or whitish flowers. They are native to the hot and dry (arid) parts of the Americas and the Caribbean. Early reports of the species were confused with the cassava (Manihot esculenta).[3] Consequently, Linnaeus mistakenly derived the generic name from the Taíno word for the latter, yuca (spelled with a single "c").[4] It is commonly found growing in rural graveyards and when in bloom the cluster of (usually pale) flowers on a thin stalk appear as floating apparitions.[5]


Distribution of the capsular fruited species in southwest, midwest USA, Mexico's Baja California and Canada, overview

The natural distribution range of the genus Yucca (49 species and 24 subspecies) covers a vast area of North America, Central America, and South America. From Baja California in the west, northwards into the southwestern United States, through the drier central states as far north as Alberta in Canada (Yucca glauca ssp. albertana). Yucca is also native to the lowlands and dry beach scrub of the Gulf and South Atlantic States from coastal Texas to easternmost Virginia. To the south, the genus is represented throughout Mexico and extends into Guatemala (Yucca guatemalensis). Yuccas have adapted to an equally vast range of climatic and ecological conditions. They are to be found in rocky deserts and badlands, in prairies and grassland, in mountainous regions, in light woodland, in coastal sands (Yucca filamentosa), and even in subtropical and semitemperate zones, although these are generally arid to semi-arid.


Yuccas have a very specialized, mutualistic pollination system, being pollinated by yucca moths (family Prodoxidae); the insect purposefully transfers the pollen from the stamens of one plant to the stigma of another, and at the same time lays an egg in the flower; the moth larva then feeds on some of the developing seeds, always leaving enough seed to perpetuate the species. Certain species of the yucca moth have evolved antagonistic features against the plant and do not assist in the plants pollination efforts while continuing to lay their eggs in the plant for protection.[6] Yucca species are the host plants for the caterpillars of the yucca giant-skipper (Megathymus yuccae),[7] ursine giant-skipper (Megathymus ursus),[8] and Strecker's giant-skipper (Megathymus streckeri).[9]

Large Joshua tree with thick trunk at Grapevine Springs Ranch, AZ
Purplish fruits of Yucca aloifolia.


Species of yucca have adapted to a wide variety of climates in mountains, coastal sand, grasslands and prairies as well as rocky badlands and deserts. Most species of yucca have thick, waxy skins to prevent loss of water through evaporation. They frequently store water in thick roots. Some yuccas store water in thick, fleshy leaves. Some desert plants have an oily coating on their leaves or pads that traps moisture, thereby reducing water loss. Some species drop their leaves during drought to prevent the loss of water through transpiration. Dead leaves of yucca collecting against the trunk of the trees help protect it from the sun. The channeled leaves of a yucca direct dew and rainfall water to their roots. Yuccas are said to be "fire adapted"; that is, they grow and spread vigorously after wildfires.


Yuccas are widely grown as ornamental plants in gardens. Many species also bear edible parts, including fruits, seeds, flowers, flowering stems,[10] and more rarely roots. References to yucca root as food often arise from confusion with the similarly pronounced, but botanically unrelated, yuca, also called cassava or manioc (Manihot esculenta). Roots of soaptree yucca (Yucca elata) are high in saponins and are used as a shampoo in Native American rituals. Dried yucca leaves and trunk fibers have a low ignition temperature, making the plant desirable for use in starting fires via friction.[11] In rural Appalachian areas, species such as Yucca filamentosa are referred to as "meat hangers". The tough, fibrous leaves with their sharp-spined tips were used to puncture meat and knotted to form a loop with which to hang meat for salt curing or in smoke houses.


Yuccas are widely grown as architectural plants providing a dramatic accent to landscape design. They tolerate a range of conditions, but are best grown in full sun in subtropical or mild temperate areas. In gardening centres and horticultural catalogues they are usually grouped with other architectural plants such as cordylines and phormiums.[12]

Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia) are protected by law in some states. A permit is needed for wild collection. As a landscape plant, they can be killed by excessive water during their summer dormant phase, so are avoided by landscape contractors.

Several species of yucca can be grown outdoors in temperate climates, these include:-[12]


The "yucca flower" is the state flower of New Mexico. No species name is given in the citation.


As of February 2012, the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families recognizes 49 species of Yucca and a number of hybrids:[13]

Species name Common name
Yucca aloifolia L. (Type species) (syn. Yucca yucatana) Aloe yucca, Spanish bayonet
Yucca angustissima Engelm. ex Trel. (including Yucca kanabensis) Narrowleaf yucca, Spanish bayonet
Yucca arkansana Trel.
Yucca baccata Torr. (including Yucca thornberi) Banana yucca, datil
Yucca baileyi Wooton & Standl. (syn. Yucca standleyi McKelvey)
Yucca brevifolia Engelm. Joshua tree
Yucca campestris McKelvey
Yucca capensis L.W.Lenz
Yucca carnerosana (Trel.) McKelvey
Yucca cernua E.L.Keith
Yucca coahuilensis Matuda & I.L.Pina
Yucca constricta Buckley Buckley's yucca
Yucca decipiens Trel. Palma China
Yucca declinata Laferr.
Yucca desmetiana Baker
Yucca elata (Engelm.) Engelm. Soaptree yucca
Yucca endlichiana Trel.
Yucca faxoniana Sarg. (syn. Yucca torreyi) Torrey yucca
Yucca filamentosa L. Spoonleaf yucca, Filament yucca, or Adam's Needle
Yucca filifera Chabaud Palma Chuna yucca
Yucca flaccida Haw. Flaccid leaf yucca
Yucca gigantea Lem. (syn. Yucca guatemalensis) Spineless yucca
Yucca glauca Nutt. Great Plains yucca
Yucca gloriosa L. (including Yucca recurvifolia) Moundlily yucca, Adam's needle, Spanish dagger
Yucca grandiflora Gentry Sahuiliqui yucca
Yucca harrimaniae Trel. (syn. Yucca nana) Harriman's yucca
Yucca intermedia McKelvey Intermediate yucca
Yucca jaliscensis (Trel.) Trel. Izote
| Yucca lacandonica Gómez Pompa & J.Valdés Tropical yucca
Yucca linearifolia Clary
Yucca luminosa (syn. Yucca rigida) Blue yucca
Yucca madrensis Gentry Soco yucca
Yucca mixtecana García-Mend.
Yucca necopina Shinners
Yucca neomexicana Wooton & Standl. New Mexican Spanish bayonet
Yucca pallida McKelvey Pale yucca
Yucca periculosa Baker Izote
Yucca potosina Rzed.
Yucca queretaroensis Piña Luján
Yucca reverchonii Trel.
Yucca rostrata Engelm. ex Trel. Beaked yucca, Big Bend yucca
Yucca rupicola Scheele Texas yucca, or twist-leaf yucca
Yucca schidigera Roezl ex Ortgies Mojave yucca
Yucca × schottii Hoary yucca or mountain yucca
Yucca sterilis (Neese & S.L.Welsh) S.L.Welsh & L.C.Higgins
Yucca tenuistyla Trel.
Yucca thompsoniana Trel. Thompson's yucca
Yucca treculeana Carrière Texas bayonet, Trecul's yucca
Yucca utahensis McKelvey
Yucca valida Brandegee Datilillo

A number of other species previously classified in Yucca are now classified in the genera Dasylirion, Furcraea, Hesperaloe, Hesperoyucca, and Nolina.

Taxonomic arrangement


In the years from 1897 to 1907, Carl Ludwig Sprenger created and named 122 Yucca hybrids.


  1. "Yucca L.". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. 2010-01-19. Retrieved 2010-06-07.
  2. Chase, M.W.; Reveal, J.L. & Fay, M.F. (2009), "A subfamilial classification for the expanded asparagalean families Amaryllidaceae, Asparagaceae and Xanthorrhoeaceae", Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 161 (2): 132–136, doi:10.1111/j.1095-8339.2009.00999.x
  3. Irish, Gary (2000). Agaves, Yuccas, and Related Plants: a Gardener's Guide. Timber Press. p. 18. ISBN 978-0-88192-442-8.
  4. Quattrocchi, Umberto (2000). CRC World Dictionary of Plant Names. 4 R-Z. Taylor & Francis US. p. 2862. ISBN 978-0-8493-2678-3.
  5. Winslow, Chris (January 18, 2012). "Yuccas: 'Ghosts in the Graveyard'". Hays Free Press (Hays County, Texas) (Vol. 109, No. 41). Hays County, Texas: Barton Publications, Inc. p. 1C. Retrieved 5 February 2015. Another more evocative name for them is 'ghosts in the graveyard.' This comes from the high number of yuccas growing wild in forgotten graveyards, where their large white flower clusters appear as 'ghosts' in the moonlight.
  6. SEGRAVES, KARI A.; ALTHOFF, DAVID M.; PELLMYR, OLLE (1 October 2008). "The evolutionary ecology of cheating: does superficial oviposition facilitate the evolution of a cheater yucca moth?". Ecological Entomology. 33 (6): 765–770. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2311.2008.01031.x.
  7. Daniels, Jaret C. "Yucca Giant-Skipper Butterfly, Megathymus yuccae (Boisduval & Leconte) (Insecta: Lepidoptera: Hesperiidae)". Electronic Data Information Source. University of Florida IFAS Extension. Retrieved 2010-06-07.
  8. "Ursine Giant-Skipper Megathymus ursus Poling, 1902". Butterflies and Moths of North America. Retrieved 2010-06-07.
  9. "Strecker's Giant-Skipper Megathymus streckeri (Skinner, 1895)". Butterflies and Moths of North America. Retrieved 2010-06-07.
  10. Couplan, François (1998). The Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America. McGraw Hill Professional. ISBN 978-0-87983-821-8.
  11. Baugh, Dick (1999). "the Miracle of Fire by Friction". In David Wescott. Primitive Technology: A Book of Earth Skills (10 ed.). pp. 32–33. ISBN 978-0-87905-911-8.
  12. 1 2 RHS A-Z encyclopedia of garden plants. United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. 2008. p. 1136. ISBN 1405332964.
  13. World Checklist of Selected Plant Families, The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, retrieved 2012-02-23, search for "Yucca"
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