With their arresting symmetry and sturdy texture, yuccas (Yucca) can be smoothly incorporated into almost any garden style – from a highly formalized perennial planting to the wild exuberance of a native wildflower patch. All typically have sweet-scented, creamy-white flowers and do fine in full sun just about anywhere (except in the deserts of the Southwest, where a high, light shade is preferred).

Yucca pallida

Yucca pallida is a central Texas native.

Photo Credit: Gary Irish

Yucca recurvifolia

Yucca recurvifolia grows equally well in sand dunes and forest soils.

Photo Credit: Gary Irish

Yucca glauca

Yucca glauca can withstand -20 degrees F.

Photo Credit: Gary Irish

Yucca filamentosa

Yucca filamentosa grows as far north as Maine.

Photo Credit: Gary Irish

Not all yuccas are giants like the Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia), and the smaller ones offer gardeners throughout much of the country an opportunity to incorporate these beautiful, drought-tolerant plants into their own gardens.

Here are some of the outstanding ones:

Spanish dagger (Yucca aloifolia) is native along the coast from Louisiana to Florida and north to Virginia. It has numerous stiff, spine-tipped leaves that crowd around a 3-foot trunk that’s often branched, supporting a number of stems. A mature plant can grow more than 6 feet tall and up to 10 feet wide (although they are generally grown to be much smaller). Depending on the variety, the leaves can range from long, wide and lax to short, stiff and upright, as well as from bright to dull green, white or yellow-striped. Some even have leaves that turn deep purple in cool weather. Spanish dagger thrives in any well-drained soil – even the rocky native soils of the Southwestern desert.

Adam’s needle (Yucca filamentosa) has wide, thin, flexible, spike-shaped leaves that form a low rosette 2 feet tall and about as wide. Native along the coast from Mississippi to Florida and north to New Jersey, it grows well as far north as Maine. Good drainage is essential, but otherwise Adam’s needle isn’t particular about soil type. It does well in the heat of the Southeast, but it can suffer in the extreme heat of Southwestern desert.

Yucca flaccida is native to the mountains of western North Carolina to northern Alabama, making it one the most tolerant of all yuccas to cold, damp conditions. It can suffer, though, in the dry heat of the deserts. This plant is a trunkless species with 5-foot-wide rosettes of thin, flexible leaves lined with straight, delicate filaments (parts of the leaf margin that separate and come at least partially free from the leaf). Plants form numerous offsets, and a mature clump can be extensive.

Plains soapweed (Yucca glauca) is an extremely cold-hardy, trunkless species that grows as a ball of narrow, white-edged, blue-green leaves, looking much more like a grass than a yucca. The plant forms a dense rosette about 3 feet tall and wide. The similar-sized Yucca harrimaniae – from the mountains of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah – has slightly wider leaves with a brown edge and white filaments. Both of these yuccas are fully hardy to -20 degrees F and tolerate a wide range of soils, as long as drainage is superb.

Curveleaf yucca Yucca gloriosa var. recurvifolia is a graceful species with a short trunk that can grow up 5-6 feet tall over time. The plant has multiple stems, each of which may branch into two or more rosettes, giving it a shrubby appearance. The wide, blue-green, drooping leaves usually have prominent raised ribs along their length. Native to the dunes and sandy area of the Gulf from Louisiana to Georgia, this plant is arguably the most widely grown of all the small yuccas. It grows equally well in the rich, forest soils of the Southeast – as long as drainage is excellent – and it thrives in the rocky, alkaline soils of the Southwest, too. It even does extremely well in full sun in the desert, unlike some of its other relatives. The plant is hardy to about 10 degrees F.

Twisted-leaf yucca (Yucca rupicola) and pale-leaf yucca (Yucca pallida) are native to central Texas. Twisted-leaf yucca has curving yellow-green leaves, while pale-leaf yucca has wide, flat, light blue to gray leaves. Rarely over 1 foot tall and up to 2 feet wide, twisted-leaf yucca is a trunkless species that forms small clumps as it matures. Pale-leaf yucca is likewise small, rarely growing over 1 foot tall and up to 2-2½ feet around, and also forms clumps of only a few rosettes. Both species are especially effective when planted in groups.

Both of these plants grow naturally in alkaline soils with excellent drainage, although they’ve performed well in areas with deeper, more acidic soils as long as drainage is excellent. They’re fully hardy to around 10 degrees F, and pale-leaf yuccas even tolerate temperatures near 0 degrees F.

Whether used as an accent to balance an abundance of round leafy shapes, mixed with shrubs and wildflowers in a native garden, used as a dramatic accent or interplanted with cacti and agaves, any of these yuccas make a stunning contribution to gardens throughout the country.