The genus Yucca includes about 40 species of stemless or erect, woody-stemmed plants with sword-shaped leaves arranged in a loose rosette. Yuccas are capable of growing to a considerable height (up to 40 feet) in the wild, but growth indoors is extremely slow and large specimens are relatively expensive to buy and difficult to find. The species most commonly used as house plants have short, brown, rough-textured, trunklike stems topped with clusters of long, leathery leaves. Outdoor yuccas produce flower spikes up to 2 feet long from leaf-rosette centers. Each spike is composed of many white or violet-tinged blooms, that are bell-or saucer-shaped and up to 4 inches across. The flowers are not normally produced on indoor plants, however, unless they are grown in specially designed plant windows.
(Spanish bayonet, dagger plant) forms a single, normally un-branched trunk, which can grow 3-4 feet long and about 2 inches thick in a large pot or tub. The trunk terminates in tufts of rigid, sharp-pointed, dark, blue-green leaves up to 2 feet long and 2 inches wide. Leaf edges are minutely toothed; do not keep this plant in a position where the leaves are likely to get knocked.
There are a number of interesting forms of this species. draconis is a much-branching plant with outward-arching leaves that are pliable instead of rigid. The leaves of most other forms are similar to those of the type species but differently colored. 'Marginata,' for example, has dark green leaves bordered in yellow. The leaves of 'Quadricolor' have green, white, yellow, and reddish lengthwise stripes. In 'Tricolor' there are white and yellow stripes running along the middle of the green leaves. Newly produced leaves are tinged with red. 'Variegata' has leaves with white lengthwise stripes. elephantipes produces a thickened stem 3-6 feet long and 1 ½ - 2 inches thick. The base of the stem is often greatly swollen. The somewhat thinner, much shorter branches at the top of the stem are topped with rosettes of downward-arching, non-rigid leaves. Each glossy, dark green leaf can grow 4 feet long and 3 inches wide. Leaf edges are roughly toothed, but leaf tips are soft. The general effect is of softness as compared with the hard rigidity of Y. aloifolia. One form, 'Variegata,' has leaf edges that are banded with creamy white.
Light These yuccas need bright light, with at least three hours a day of direct sunlight, throughout the year. Very little growth will be made if these plants are given insufficient light.
Temperature Normal room temperatures are suitable at all times. These yuccas can tolerate a wide range of temperatures, however, down to about 50T. In places where plants are likely to get insufficient light during the short-day winter months, keep them as cool as possible (but not below 500). Yuccas are tolerant of extremely dry air and will thrive in conditions unsuitable for most plants.
Watering During the active growth period (spring, summer, and fall) water plentifully as often as necessary to keep the potting mixture thoroughly moist, but never allow containers to stand in water. During the winter rest period water yuccas sparingly, giving only enough to keep the mixture from drying out.
Feeding Apply standard liquid fertilizer every two weeks during the active growth period.
Potting and repotting Use a soil-based potting mixture. Because of the weight of the rosettes of leaves at stem ends, some specimens may become top-heavy and easy to knock over. For this reason it is advisable to use clay pots rather than plastic. Move plants into containers one size larger in the spring, but only if they have filled the current container with roots. After maximum convenient container size (probably a 12-inch pot or 15-inch tub) has been reached, topdress plants annually with fresh potting mixture.
Propagation Professional growers propagate these yuccas by cutting up and rooting sections of the thick stems, but this is a tedious process. The only practical way for amateur gardeners to propagate an indoor yucca is to use offsets, which are sometimes produced. With a sharp knife or razor blade, cut away an offset that carries at least four 6- to 9-inch-long leaves. This is best done in spring. Insert the offset in a 4- to 5-inch pot containing a moistened equal-parts combination of soil-based potting mixture and coarse sand or perlite. Stand the pot in bright filtered light, and keep the mixture barely moist until rooting occurs (in six to eight weeks). As renewed growth indicates that new roots have formed, begin to water moderately, enough at each watering 'to moisten the rooting mixture thoroughly, but allowing the top inch of the mixture to dry out before watering again. Start regular feedings about four months after the beginning of the propagation process, and continue until the onset of the winter rest period. Move the young plant into a slightly larger pot of standard potting mixture the following spring, then treat it as a mature yucca.
Special points Indoor yuccas do best when they are kept out of doors during the warm summer months. If possible, stand plants outdoors from late spring to early fall. Be sure to choose a position that gets at least three to four hours a day of direct sunlight.
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