The “tough as nails” Red Yucca

Red Yucca blooms

Red Yucca blooms


The tough beauty – Red Yucca.

Firstly, Red Yucca is not a real Yucca! And secondly, the flowers are not really red either. So, now that the misleading common name is fully exposed, perhaps there should be a move to more correctly call this plant the “Rose-Coral Yucca Imposter”. Red Yucca, (Hesperaloe parvifolia) is a succulent in the Agave family.

Deceptive name aside, Red Yucca is a very useful plant in many landscapes. Thin, tough foliage gives it excellent heat, drought and cold protection for Southwest gardens. Bright tubular flowers bloom for months and are a great bee, butterfly and hummingbird attracting feature.

Red Yucca is native to Texas and can be found residing in the western portions of the Edwards Plateau as well as growing west into the Chihuahuan desert of Arizona and Northern Mexico.

Although it is not a true Yucca it does act and look similar to one (without the dangerous dagger leaf tips). Rosettes of thick, sword-shaped, gray-green evergreen foliage have attractive peeling margins. The leaves turn a slight plum color during colder weather. The plant (sans blooms) is about 2-3 ft tall.

Red Yucca plant

Red Yucca plant

The arching flowering stalks can reach 5 ft. The buds are a very attractive bright pink-red. The tubular blooms are pink on the outside and open to display a salmon color in the center. Yellow and cream cultivars are also available. Red Yucca blooms from spring until early fall. Periodically round seedpods form.

Red Yucca is remarkably cold hardy and has been found growing high up in the Colorado mountains (hardiness zones 5-10). It blooms best in full sun. Once it is established, Red Yucca has quite low water requirements and has good drought tolerance. It will appreciate some supplemental irrigation during dry periods though. Conversely, do not overwater. This plant likes gravelly limestone soils with fast drainage. Fertilize lightly (do not apply excessive nitrogen) in the spring.

Plant Red Yucca close together since they are rather sparse and their natural openness encourages weeds around them. If a mulch is used, do not pack an organic type high around the rosette. This will hold too much moisture against the woody stem and may cause damage. Planting Red Yucca close together also gives a more dramatic show when the arching flower wands are in bloom. For maximum effect also consider planting them in front of a stone wall or with a dark green evergreen backdrop.

Red Yucca blooms

Red Yucca blooms

Propagate by dividing the rhizomes and offsets. Ripe seed can be started in the fall (but much patience is needed). One report was that after two years, seedlings were only 6 inches tall. Red Yucca is slow growing in the beginning (maybe even sulks for a year or two). Eventually, offshoots and baby plants will appear as a signal that the plant is ready to really grow. Minimal maintenance is required with just a periodic tidy up with the pruners. No serious pests (except possibly deer nibbling on the flowers and buds).

Long blooming, good looking, “tough as nails”, low maintenance, drought tolerant and it attracts hummingbirds. What a winner!

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