Les Harrison is the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Director
Those who have never visited Florida tend to imagine the entire state encompassed by sprawling, white sand beaches and palm trees. Though our state is famous for its coast, inland Florida has something entirely different to offer.
Long-leaf pine and saw palmetto are plants that any local can identify, but our area is also inhabited by a less-familiar species of plant. Yucca often goes unnoticed, until the beautiful blooms appear like an apparition in the woods, or an unfortunate collision makes one painfully aware of its existence.
Local yuccas are perennial shrubs which can grow into small trees with a unique shape. There are approximately 50 species in this genus worldwide on every continent except Antarctica.
Their most obvious and notable feature which makes them easy to identify is their leaves. These are elongated in thick clusters around the stems.
The sword-like shape is tipped with a hardened point which can quickly get the attention of anyone passing too close. The bristly structure of these evergreen plants gives them an intimidation appearance which most animals and people avoid.
The annual blooms appear at the top of these plants and protrude above the greenery. Honeybees and other pollinators will visit the profuse fragrant bell-shaped flowers to collect nectar and pollen.
In their native range, these plants are seen in sites where there is high exposure to the sun. They will not grow in heavy shade, and languish with little change if there is less than six to eight hours of sun.
Sandy well-drained soils are the most likely locations where yuccas will prosper and grow. Their nutrient requirement are low, so they rarely display symptoms of a nutrient deficiency.
Likewise, their need for water is paltry. Once established, they will easily withstand droughts and extended dry periods.
The common species, native to north Florida, in this genus are Adam’s needles (Yucca filamentosa) and Spanish bayonets (Yucca aloifolia). These plants are similar in appearance, but each has distinctive traits.
Adam’s needles are the smaller and shorter of the two species. The multiple stems may reach three feet in height, but extend to over six feet when the cream color blooms appear in early summer.
The green leaves are pliable with white threads of fiber trailing from each. There is a variegated cultivar which is popular for landscaping projects.
Spanish bayonets produce multiple trunks per plant and may grow to over 15 feet. They produce rigid dark green leaves projecting from the thick trunks and will impale any trespasser.
White blossoms appear in the center of the plant above the foliage from spring to late summer depending on several weather related factors. These yuccas have a high salt tolerance, making wild plantings common to coastal areas.
Disease and insect problems are few for these hardy plants. Too much water, resulting in excessively wet roots, and extreme cold are the biggest problems.
For the sharp homeowner, these native plants make a pointedly good addition to the landscape.
For more information about Spanish Bayonet, Adam’s Needle and Agave, see the EDIS publication, Agave and Yucca: Tough Plants for Tough Times.
To learn more about native yuccas in Wakulla County, contact the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Office at 850-926-3931 or https://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/wakullaco.