Red Yucca: Drought Tolerant and Colorful - July 24, 2002
Jeff Schalau, County Director, Agent, Agriculture & Natural Resources
Arizona Cooperative Extension, Yavapai County
From time to time, I write about a particularly interesting and locally suitable landscape plant. Red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) is a no-brainer for north central Arizona. Red yucca is native to southwestern Texas and Coahuila, Mexico making it very fit to our local climate/environment. Better yet, once established, they are virtually maintenance free.
Red yucca somewhat resembles true yucca with linear leaves arising from the base and flower stalks rising above the leaves. Red yucca, however, produces several pups (new plants formed adjacent to the parent plant) and has finer leaves than true yucca giving it a more grass-like appearance. The serrated leaves are about 1 ½ to 2 feet long and a mature plant can be about 3 feet across.
The "red" in red yucca refers to the flower color. This is misleading because there is also a yellow flowered variety available. Both are well suited. Red yucca produces several flower stalks each year, having abundant tubular flowers that bloom in spring and extend well into summer. The flower stalks can grow up to 9 feet high, but most I've seen are 3- 5 feet high. Hummingbirds are also attracted to the flowers.
After flowering, do not remove the flower stalks. Rather, leave them be to produce fruit. After opening, seeds are a food source for birds or can be used to start new plants. New plants can also be started by dividing established clumps or removing individual pups.
Red yucca loves the heat and is ideally suited to the Verde Valley. It can tolerate cold temperatures down to 10 degrees F. I have seen it doing well in Prescott, so it must tolerate the cold fairly well.
Plant red yucca in full sun where it has room to grow without needing to be trimmed back. Nothing is worse than seeing one of these plants mowed, or worse yet, shredded by a weed eater. So, place the plants 2 to 3 feet away from sidewalks, walkways, or driveways. After planting from a nursery container, provide ample irrigation for the first year taking care not to over water. After the first year, they should do nicely on native rainfall or with infrequent irrigation during extended droughts.
Maintenance is easy. On established plants, the older leaves eventually will die and lay on the ground. These can be cut off individually to create a neater appearance. This and removing dead flower stalks are the only maintenance practices needed.
Red yuccas are drought adapted plants and should be planted in conjunction with plant having similar irrigation requirements. They are equally attractive when planted with cacti and succulents or with leafy plants such as Mexican primrose, brittlebush, Penstemon, or annual wildflowers.
As usual, now it is time to provide you with some trivial, little known, and possibly useless factoid. A close relative of red yucca (Hesperaloe funifera) is being tested as a crop plant by University of Arizona researchers. H. funifera is quite a bit larger than red yucca and in the leaves, it produces long, thin fibers that can be used to produce paper with exceptional strength. It has been experimentally grown at the University of Arizona Maricopa Agricultural Center since 1995 to learn its cultural requirements. Maybe this plant will replace cotton someday? Meanwhile, plant red yucca in your landscape. You won't be disappointed.
The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension has publications and information on gardening and pest control. If you have other gardening questions, call the Master Gardener line in the Cottonwood office at 646-9113 or E-mail us at email@example.com and be sure to include your address and phone number. Find past Backyard Gardener columns or submit column ideas at the Backyard Gardener web site: http://ag.arizona.edu/yavapai/anr/hort/byg/.
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Last Updated: July 16, 2002
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