A Gardening Journal

Beaked Yucca in Bloom

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Well, well:  My Beaked Yucca is in "bloom."  Over a month ago it was just figuring out its first-ever bloom spike, and now it's figured out the flowers themselves.  Apparently, actual petals didn't enter into the calculations:  Each is just a sextet of pistils surrounding a stamen.  If Beaked Yucca ever marketed its own line of T-shirts, the slogan would be "Petals Are For Wimps."

 

But going petal-free doesn't mean boring.  Look how the pistils emerge from the flower buds in a tightly-furled tip like a lipstick or, true, a missile.

 

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After the pistils are fully extended, the yellow pollen itself only ripens if the weather stays dry and sunny.   

 

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Welcome rains last night have put the kibosh on pollen emergence so far.  But when hot sun lifts that edict, I'm expecting that the entire bloom spike will turn from flesh-pink to fluffy yellow.  Stay tuned.

 

 

Here's how to grow this fierce beauty:

 

Latin Name

Yucca rostrata

Common Name

Beaked Yucca

Family

Asparagaceae, the Asparagus family.

What kind of plant is it?

Evergreen tree.

Hardiness

Zones 5 - 9

Habit

When young, a perfectly-round sphere of sharp-tipped quill-like foliage.  Develops a trunk over time, and may also branch. 

Rate of Growth

Medium.

Size in ten years

In favored climates, to five feet tall or more, and three wide.

Texture

Dramatic, sculptural, and airy.

Grown for

the orderly sphere of foliage, so uniform that it doesn't quite look real. 

 

early-Summer spikes of flowers that, because they have no petals, only sizable pistils, create a fluffy mass instead of a spike of recognizable individual blooms.

 

the uncompromising and stark geometry of the plants, especially as they get old enough to develop a trunk.

 

being deer-proof. 

 

its self-reliant nature.  After it's established, it doesn't need watering (although it will grow faster with it).

Flowering season

Mid-Spring into Summer: Late May into July in Rhode Island.

Culture

Any soil as long as it's extremely well-drained, especially in Winter.  Full sun.  Great drainage is essential for hardiness at the cold end of its range. 

How to handle it

Yuccas are native to dry climates of the New World: North and South America as well as the Caribbean.  Think Mexico, Texas, Dry Tortuga:  Hot, sunny, lean.  If the soil's alkaline, that's OK too. 

 

Some species, including Y. rostrata, are remarkably cold-hardy—there's a yucca native to Alberta, Canada, for heaven's sake—but only provided that they are kept dry in Winter, both above and below ground.  The really hardy yuccas do better in Winters that are dry as well as cold, just like their native Winters in, say, the Colorado Rockies, or at high altitudes in Northern New Mexico.  Mild, wet Winters in regular soil would often be fatal.

 

Beaked Yucca is a plant-it-and-forget-it pleasure out West, but needs all possible considerations in the lower-altitude, Winter-wetter, Summer-sweltering East.  North of Zone 7, only try growing it outdoors in an extremely well-drained and sandy bed, with all possible Sun and, ideally, some protection from Winter wind.  A sloping sandy bed against a West-facing stone wall would be heaven—if, admittedly, an unlikely situation to be able to offer.  Or grow it in a container and move it to a cool sunny spot indoors by Thankgsiving, or just to an unheated greenhouse. 

Downsides

The leaves are ferociously-tipped—really painful to encounter—so moving a containered plant is a matter of heavy clothing, leather gloves, and no-fast-moves concentration.  Yuccas are happy in surprisingly small pots, though, so even large specimens aren't anything like the sheer weight of a similarly-sized palm, citrus, or ficus. 

Variants

'Blue Sapphire' has exceptionally steel-blue foliage.

Availability

On-line and at retailers.

Propagation

The species can be grown from seed.  'Blue Sapphire' is tissue-propagated.

Native habitat

Mexico & the American Southwest.

 
 
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