Yucca gigantea in the Parc de la Ciutadella, Barcelona
Yucca gigantea in the Parc de la Ciutadella, Barcelona
Yucca elephantipes is a perennial, evergreen. palm-like, tree noted for its ornamental rosettes of sword-shaped leaves and large panicles of white flowers. Native to Mexico, Central America and Guatemala, it is a popular houseplant in Northern Europe and is the most widely cultivated of all Yucca species.

There has been some confusion with its botanical name as it was originally named and described as Yucca gigantea by French botanist and botanical author Charles Antoine Lemaire (1800–1871) in November 1859.

Yucca elephantipes - botanical image
Yucca elephantipes - botanical image
The synonym and more widely used name of 'Yucca elephantipes' was coined in the same year by German horticulturist, botanist and Director of the Russian Imperial Botanical Garden of St. Petersburg, Eduard August von Regel 1815-1892). In a published, non-scientific journal, he claimed that the species Yucca aloifolia was sometimes mistaken for Yucca elephantipes when grown in European gardens. The species name 'elephantipes' reflects the thickened stem base of mature plants which resemble the base of an elephant's leg. Then later, in a major article on yuccas and allies in the 1902 'Report of the Missouri Botanical Garden. St. Louis' 1902, American botanist William Trelease (1857–1945) reinforced the name Yucca elephantipes by referring to Regel's original publication. While the name now appears to have stuck, Yucca elephantipes is still an illegitimate name while Yucca gigantea had been previously established and is still the accepted name.

Under favourable conditions you can expect Yucca elephantipes to grow to approximately 9 m (30 ft) in height, with a spread of around 4.5 m (15 ft) for multi-stemmed specimens. The tough, sword-shaped leaves are spineless and can be up to 1.2 m (4 ft) in length on mature specimens. Avoid plant near buildings as Yucca elephantipes develop large root balls.

White bell-shaped flowers are produced in the summer on large terminal panicles up to 1 metre tall. Specimens grown as houseplants do not tend to bloom due to the lower light levels.

Yucca elephantipes is drought-tolerant species and can be grown in a variety of soils in a position that received full sun. It will perform best in well drained soils, however heavy or clay soils can be improved by digging in plenty of organic compost and grit. Avoid planting in frost pockets and soils prone to waterlogging.

It is not considered hardy in the cooler temperate regions of northern Europe although it have been known to successfully overwinter in the milders areas of southwest England and Ireland.

Main image credit - Georges Jansoone

For related articles click onto the following links:
RHS - Yucca Elephantipes

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