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YUCCA brevifolia

Image of Yucca brevifolia

Mark A. Miller

Family

Agavaceae

Botanical Name

YUCCA brevifolia

Plant Common Name

Joshua Tree

General Description

This is likely one of the best known yuccas due to the popularity of Joshua Tree National Park in Twentynine Palms, California. Yucca brevifolia is a succulent, evergreen that reaches great heights with a candelabra of branches topped with rosettes of spiky leaves. A Mojave Desert endemic, it exists in sagebrush, pinyon-juniper and desert grassland ecosystems where it survives the harshest growing conditions. This is a very slow-growing, very long-lived yucca. Mature specimens reach huge, tree-like heights and develop open, rounded crowns and thick, corky trunks.

Tall, branched candles of ivory or white flowers appear at various times in late winter to late spring. Though open during the day, Joshua tree blooms are only pollinated in the night by certain moths; specific Yucca species often have single moth species that pollinates them, a true instance of coevolution. At night, the flowers emit a unique, soapy fragrance and turn upwards to receive their pollinators. The moths gather balls of sticky pollen and actively pollinate the flowers. In turn, the female moths lay their eggs in the flower’s ovaries and plug the ovipositor hole with a ball of sticky pollen. When the larvae hatch, they consume some, but not all, of the developing seeds. Enough seeds remain to fall to the ground and germinate. This is one of the most interesting and well-researched plant/pollinator relationships. The capsule fruits are large, oval, fleshy and mature from green to papery brown.

Joshua tree is easy to grow but is not well-suited to the intensely cultivated gardens of residential areas where irrigation and fertilizers are used. Grow it in full sun and well-drained soil with average to low fertility. It thrives in poor, rocky or sandy desert soils. The summers must be long, hot and dry. Summer humidity and rains quickly leads to plant decline and death.

In the landscape, Joshua tree is typically grown as a specimen plant to draw visual focus to a natural desert garden design. It offers fine-textured foliage along with bold, architectural form. Plant it near a rustic path where the night blooms are best enjoyed on a stroll.

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    12 - 7

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    6 - 10

  • Sunset Zone

    9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23

  • Plant Type

    Cactus or Succulent

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun

  • Height

    20'-40' / 6.1m - 12.2m

  • Width

    10'-20' / 3.0m - 6.1m

  • Bloom Time

    Early Spring, Spring, Late Winter

  • Native To

    Southwestern United States, Mexico

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Acidic, Neutral, Alkaline

  • Soil Drainage

    Well Drained

  • Soil type

    Loam, Sand

  • Tolerances

    Drought

  • Growth Rate

    Very Slow

  • Water Requirements

    Xeric/Desert

  • Habit

    Upright/Erect

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Showy

  • Flower Color

    White, Ivory

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Gray Green, Dark Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Gray Green, Dark Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Gray Green, Dark Green

  • Foliage Color (Winter)

    Olive, Gray Green, Dark Green

  • Bark Color

    Sandy Brown

  • Fragrant Flowers

    Yes

  • Fragrant Fruit

    No

  • Fragrant Foliage

    No

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Flower Petal Number

    Single

  • Repeat Bloomer

    No

  • Showy Fruit

    Yes

  • Edible Fruit

    No

  • Showy Foliage

    Yes

  • Foliage Texture

    Coarse

  • Foliage Sheen

    Matte

  • Evergreen

    Yes

  • Showy Bark

    No

Special Characteristics

  • Bark Texture

    Smooth

  • Usage

    Feature Plant, Rock Garden / Wall

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    Yes

  • Invasive

    No

  • Self-Sowing

    No