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  for JULY

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Succulents at San Marcos Growers
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Products > Yucca elephantipes
Yucca elephantipes - Giant Yucca
Image of Yucca elephantipes
[2nd Image]
Habit and Cultural Information
Category: Succulent
Family: Agavaceae (now Asparagaceae)
Origin: Guatemala (North America)
Evergreen: Yes
Flower Color: White
Bloomtime: Spring/Summer
Synonyms: [Yucca gigantea, Y gloriosa, Hort.]
Height: 15-25 feet
Width: 15-25 feet
Exposure: Full Sun
Seaside: Yes
Summer Dry: Yes
Deer Tolerant: Yes
Irrigation (H2O Info): Low Water Needs
Winter Hardiness: 15-20 F
Yucca elephantipes (Giant Yucca) - This is a quick and easy-growing treelike yucca, usually multi-stemmed, to 15 to 25 feet tall or more and with a gray barked massive trunk. The soft tipped 12-18-inch-long flexible leaves are pale green with a soft tip and very small teeth along the margins that just make the edges feel rough. Large white flowers appear in late spring or summer on 2-3-foot-tall flower stalks.

Plant in full sun in a well-drained soil and irrigate little to occasionally. It is both drought, moderately frost tolerant and cold hardy to short duration temperatures down to 15-20 F without damage. It will grow well in seaside gardens but don't plant near foundations as this yucca has a massive base and is difficult to remove once mature.

This plant is native from southern Mexico south into Central America. The name Yucca was given to the genus by Linnaeus, perhaps by mistake, as it is the Latinized derivation of "yuca", the Caribbean name for Cassava (Manihot esculenta) an unrelated plant in the Euphorbia family that is native to the Caribbean area. Interestingly it was also Linnaeus who applied the name Manihot to Yuca. The specific epithet means means "elephant foot" in reference to the massive base of this plant that also happens to be about the same color as an elephant.

Though we continue to use the name Yucca elephantipes since historically it has long gone by this name and for convenience so not to confuse our staff and customers, this plants currently correct name is Yucca gigantea. It was first validly described as such by the French botanist Charles Lemaire in 1859, though earlier that same year the German horticulturalist, Eduard von Regel, wrote of a Yucca with a thickened base, calling it Yucca elephantipes to distinguish it from Yucca aloifolia and the American botanist William Trelease used the name Yucca elephantipes in his 1902 Annual Report of the Missouri Botanical Garden, referring to Regel's 1859 publication. Unfortunately, von Regel did not actually formally describe the plant and Lemaire's later naming of it would take precedence, so the name Yucca elephantipes is now considered "nomen illegitimum" meaning it an illegitimate name.

There has also long has been a discussion in horticultural circles about the erroneous application of the name Yucca gloriosa to this plant with nurseries on the west coast having long misidentified Yucca elephantipes as Yucca gloriosa. The true Yucca gloriosa of the south-eastern United States is shorter, with blue green leaves that are much more rigid (hence the common name Spanish Bayonet), and the plant does not get as massive a base. David Ferguson wrote in the May-June 2001 issue of the Cactus & Succulent Journal (V.73 N.3 pg. 140) where he addressed this issue when reviewing Mary and Gary Irish's Agaves, Yuccas and Related Plants noting that they made this identification error, stating "I noticed only one error. This is the result of the common misidentification of Yucca elephantipes as Y. gloriosa which has been perpetuated by growers and nurseries for many decades." This leads to the further problem of what to call the plant with long luxurious leaves that has long been misidentified as Yucca elephantipes. Some still believe this a form of Yucca elephantipes while others think it a hybrid. This prompted us to make a page addressing this issue - See Yucca elephantipes.

We have grown this unusual large succulent Yucca at our nursery since 1980 and we have a very large specimen that is over 25 feet tall and as wide with a massive base gracing the front of our sales office. We also grow two variegated forms of this species Yucca elephantipes 'Marginata' and Yucca elephantipes 'Variegata'

This information about Yucca elephantipes displayed is based on research conducted in our horticultural library and from reliable online resources. We also will relate observations made about it as it grows in our nursery gardens and other gardens we have visited, as well how the crops have performed in containers in our nursery field. We will also incorporate comments that we receive from others and we welcome hearing from anyone with additional information, particularly if they can share any cultural information that would aid others in growing it.