Yuccas are a unique garden plant

A yucca glauca is seen blooming in a Jamestown garden with its unique flowers. John Zvirvoski / The Sun

Part of the joy of gardening involves trying out new plant materials and being rewarded with a successful venture. Some of these rewards come within the first growing season and others take many years to display their fine qualities. Many that take patience usually put on a show that can be quite stunning.

Six years ago, I planted a seedling yucca plant that was about 3 inches tall. It sort of resembled a wide-leafed grass appearing from the garden floor. In the first year it grew to about 5 inches tall and equally as wide. With images of grandeur dancing in my head, I thought within a couple of years I would be rewarded with a beautiful flower spike. Much to my dismay, this did not come quickly.

In the fourth growing season, it was nearly 18 inches tall and wide. After the winter had passed, I thought I had lost it this time around due to root rot from the cool wet spring, but soon it decided to come through and grow. Still, there was no flower spike for the season. During its fifth year, it came through the long, hard winter well, but still did not send up a flower spike. If it hadn’t turned out to be such a healthy plant, I would have been ultimately discouraged.

During the sixth growing season, I watched it closely. While I noticed other yucca species in town develop their flower spikes and begin to bloom, mine only created leaves. Feeling another season of defeat underway for this flowerless plant, I accepted the fact and continued working in the garden with some of the other blooming plants that needed my attention.


In mid-June, I was working on a new project and happened to look at this yucca plant in the background. All of a sudden, I noticed a change and nearly dropped to the ground in amazement. The yucca plant of six years was finally sending up its first flower spike I had been waiting so long to appear. Right at the tips of the leaves was a central shoot that resembled a thick spear of asparagus coming up about the thickness of a thumb. The time had arrived that I was finally going to see this plant bloom for the very first time.

As the weeks passed, the elongating stem began developing short little branches covered in small buds. Eventually, there were as many as 100 new buds on the stem that had reached nearly 5 feet tall. Within the first week of July, the creamy white bell-shaped flowers began to open from the central region. Each flower had six delicate lance-shaped petals emitting the scent of fresh smelling bath soaps. As more flowers began blooming, it became a glowing candelabra of hanging bells that scented the humid evening air.

After six years of waiting, my yucca plant had finally rewarded me with the display of flowers that was well worth the wait. Since then another seven years have passed without more blooms, but I am confident I will see them again in the coming years.

Yucca plants enjoy a hot and dry location with a sandy soil. Mostly native to the Southwest and Central American regions, some will grow as far north as the Dakotas. Most yucca plants in the state of North Dakota are known as Soapweed yucca or yucca glauca. Its leaf rosettes create leaves about 18 inches long, which are rigid and sharp to the touch. You don’t want to fall into one of these plants or trip over one at night as you may poke your eye out! Most are common to the Badlands of North and South Dakota and some are planted in residential landscapes.

Another common yucca of the Southwest is known as the Joshua Tree or yucca brevifolia. These get quite large and are a protected species. This selection usually grows actual trunks and stems with numerous floral spikes.

The yucca filimentosa is most commonly grown in the coastal sands regions, but is also hardy in our area as long as it is not in a wet, heavy soil.

The yucca plants of the prairies were commonly referred to as the "Ghosts of the Graveyards" as they were commonly seen growing in the graveyards of the West. At night, their stems of flowers seemed to glow above the foliage like a floating apparition.

Yuccas always get noticed in the landscapes while in bloom, as they are not a common landscape plant. As with many plants in the garden that get noticed, it is the unusual and spectacular that receive the most attention.


Sometimes the Century Plant gets confused with the yucca species, but they are in a category all their own known as the Agaves. These plants grow in the southeastern and southwestern parts of the country where they do not have to endure hard frosts. The plant are anywhere from 6 to 12 feet tall and when they are ready to bloom (which is usually after 10 years of age), the flower spikes can grow to a staggering 12 to 25 feet tall! They are known as a candelabra of flowers due to their size! If you have ever been to the south, you would recognize this species right away. Unfortunately, we cannot grow this one here. There is, however, a selection that is hardy to zone 5, but that would still be a bit touchy for our area.

If you feel patient and would like to try a yucca, find one of the selections hardy for our area and sit back and wait to be rewarded. Yes, it may take years, but when they bloom, they are worth it!

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