Hot, drought-prone areas are no problem for rugged yuccas. While many gardeners search for exotic cacti and aloe varieties to fill a dry, rocky landscape, these native plants really shine in sandy, free-draining soils. Whether you’d like a big tree or a low-border shrub, the diverse world of yucca varieties offers something unique for every landscape.
From scorching southern deserts and high-elevation canyons, these spiky agave relatives are among the most resilient North American native plants you can grow. The genus includes species native to the Southwest, Southeast, dry Colorado plateau, and beyond.
Let’s dig into 31 striking yucca varieties for drought-prone landscapes!
How Many Different Types Are There?
The genus comprises 40-50 species, ranging from tall Joshua trees to compact dwarf yuccas.
The Yucca genus includes 40-50 species of perennial trees and shrubs with recognizable rosettes of sword-shaped leaves. All yuccas are members of the agave subfamily of the asparagus family (Asparagaceae). These succulent plants are mostly stemless and bloom creamy white panicles of terminal flowers.
They range from 30+ foot tall Joshua trees to stout, compact dwarf types that stay smaller than 1 foot. Most species thrive in arid desert climates with well-drained sandy or rocky soil and lots of sunlight.
While many have sharp spines on their leaves, the spineless yucca (Y. elephantipes) or soft leaf yucca (Y. recurvifolia) are great choices for highly trafficked areas or indoor houseplants. There are also striking cultivars, such as banana yucca (Y. baccata), with giant edible bell-shaped blossoms and unique fruits.
31 Varieties for Drought Tolerant Gardens
The genus is rich in unique spiky specimens adapted to extra dry environments. Shopping for varieties can sometimes be confusing because many species are called the same common names. To find the best yucca for your garden, take care to research native varieties and use the scientific names to identify them at your local nursery.
Banana Yucca (Y. baccata)
Unrelated to bananas, this plant produces unique fruit and thrives in arid regions.
This native perennial has no relation to bananas. Rather, it gets its name from the unique fleshy green banana-shaped fruits that appear in late summer. The sweet, nutritious fruits were a traditional native food in the Southwest, often roasted or pounded into a pulp cake and sun-dried. This species thrives in arid plains and hilly grasslands of Arizona, California, southern Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and parts of Utah.
As a landscape plant, the banana yucca provides lots of aesthetic appeal with very little effort. It takes care of itself as long as it has sandy or rocky, well-drained soil, and lots of sunshine. It can handle partial shade but really prefers lots of heat and sun.
The clump-forming rosettes reach 4-6 feet tall, with slender leaves averaging 30 inches long. The needle-sharp tips make this plant a perfect border plant to keep unwanted visitors out of your garden. When it blooms in the late spring, it sends up a central flowering stalk up to 40 inches tall with beautiful fleshy, pendant, whitish flowers sometimes tinged in purplish red.
These flowers are only pollinated by a specific yucca moth (Tegeticula spp.) that evolved a mutualistic relationship with the plant for more than 40 million years. The species cannot spread in the wild without this moth, and the moth larvae cannot survive without the seeds of the plant.
Adam’s Needle (Y. filamentosa)
Popular for gardens, Adam’s Needle has striking foliage and blooms, subsisting in diverse conditions.
The 3-foot clumps of dramatic blue-green dagger-like leaves, and giant 6-foot-tall stalks of white blooms make Adam’s Needle one of the most popular garden varieties. Native to the Southeastern United States, Y. filamentosa is a great option for the Southern and Eastern states from Florida to New York and throughout the Midwest.
It remains evergreen in zones 4 through 10 and withstands extreme heat, poor soil, drought, and feeding from herbivores. The bell-shaped panicle flowers are noticeably beautiful in the landscape and attract a range of bees, butterflies, and moths.
Several varieties of this species are available in nurseries, including ‘Variegata’ (bred for unique striped leaves) and ‘Color Guard’ (bred for yellow-margined leaves). They are easy to plant and propagate as long as the soil is thoroughly drained. Once established, Adam’s Needle doesn’t need much else beyond occasional moisture.
After being pollinated by the yucca moth, Adam’s Needle will naturally self-sow its seeds and produce new plants nearby. You can leave the young plants to mature in place or use a shovel to relocate them.
Weak Leaf Yucca (Y. flaccida)
Similar to Adam’s Needle, Yucca flaccida has slender leaves and suits various climates.
The popular Yucca flaccida is sometimes called Adam’s Needle, but it has minor differences, such as thinner, more flexible leaves and finer, straighter filaments that outline the foliage. Some researchers say it is the same species as Y. filamentosa, while others insist it is different, but we can grow them basically the same way in our gardens.
Weak leaf has a gorgeous rosette form and doesn’t mind colder, damper climates of the northern U.S. It handles saturated soils better than other varieties yet still produces the signature fleshy white flower clusters.
Weak leaf yuccas tolerate partial shade but won’t flower in full shade. The leaves are tipped with stiff spines, so avoid planting too close to walkways.
Soapweed Yucca (Y. glauca)
Named for its soap-producing roots, soapweed yucca is an attractive, spiky ornamental plant.
Soapweed yucca got its name because the roots were traditionally used to make soap. People indigenous to the Americas also used the roots to make hair wash for lice, baldness, and dandruff. In the landscape, this plant is highly ornamental and spiky, like a cute little porcupine.
Sometimes called “plain’s yucca”, it is native to the Great Plains and grows wild as far west as Montana and Wyoming. In June or July, you’ll be surprised by the white or palish green flowers with tinges of pink. The giant elongated stalks complement other rock garden plants like spiral aloe or sedum.
This much stouter species grows just 3-4 feet wide and up to 5 feet tall when in flower. The evergreen leaves last for many years and resist prolonged droughts. Plant soapweed in a xeriscape setting with exceptionally gravelly, well-drained soil. These plants can die if exposed to oversaturated clay or standing water.
Soaptree Yucca (Y. elata)
Known for its saponin-rich roots, soaptree yucca is a slow-growing, ornamental variety.
Like soapweed yucca, soaptree yucca was most well known for the saponins in the roots and trunk. When mashed, they make a sudsy solution to use as shampoo or soap. This fine-leaved tree-like plant is considered one of the most ornamental varieties, and its edible flowers smell delightful.
It varies from a stout 5-foot single-trunk shrub to a giant 20-foot tree. The 4-6 foot flowering stalk appears in early summer from mature plants, yielding giant bell-shaped clusters of white flowers similar to others in the genus.
The leaves have bluish undertones and white lines. The grass-like heads atop the shreddy trunks create a palm-like appearance. One local name, Palmilla, references this resemblance to a small palm.
Soaptree yuccas grow extremely slowly (about one inch per year), but supplemental irrigation helps them reach larger sizes more quickly. They thrive in desert mesas and grasslands. Their native range encompasses most of the Southwestern U.S., from Texas to Arizona, especially in the Chihuahuan desert. This plant is cold-hardy down to 0°F (-18°C) and ruggedly drought tolerant. It needs no maintenance once established from rhizome, seed, or offset.
Spanish Bayonet or Spanish Dagger (Y. aloifolia)
Reaching up to 10 feet, Spanish bayonet’s sword-shaped leaves add an exotic touch with minimal care.
This woody evergreen shrub grows a striking 6-10+ feet tall and has multi-branched stems with long green leaves that each end in a point. Sometimes, the trunk doesn’t branch and grows as a stocky, central column. The plants add an exotic look to your landscape and require little to no care.
The Spanish bayonet got its common name from the sword-shaped rough-edged leaves that resemble weapons used by Spaniards on the muzzles of their rifles. This species naturally occurs in the coastal southeastern plains of Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and the Carolinas. It also grows throughout the Caribbean.
It prefers sandy dunes and sometimes brackish marshes. In your garden, it readily thrives in sandy soils amended with pumice, perlite, or fine gravel.
Spanish Dagger (Y. gloriosa)
Ideal for humid climates, Y. gloriosa forms spiky clumps with trunk-like branches.
If you live in a humid climate with sandy soil, Y. gloriosa is perfect for a large border garden. Juveniles start about 3 feet wide and tall in big clumps of spiky rosettes that eventually grow upward from each stout trunk or branch.
Sometimes called Spanish Bayonet or Spanish Dagger, or curved leaf yucca, Y. gloriosa has lots of misnomers. It is visibly similar to the Y. aloifolia, but the rosettes grow closer to the ground rather than atop a big trunk. They have smooth margins but very sharp points.
Variegated cultivars like ‘Bright Star’ have ivory leaf edges and shades of pink in cooler weather. They thrive in zones 7 through 12 and become more tree-like over time as they develop trunks. The plants form suckering colonies by branching out and spreading underground. Keep this species farther toward the garden margin to avoid it taking over your garden or poking people as they walk by.
Spineless Yucca (Y. elephantipes)
Ideal for houseplants, spineless yucca features spine-free, shiny leaves atop stout, branched trunks.
For those who have had painful run-ins with the sharp spikes of this genus, spineless yucca is the perfect solution. The spine-free shiny leaves look like welcoming pom poms atop stout branched trunks. The trunks have thick, rough bark and a tendency to branch from the plump base.
Spineless yucca is popular for houseplants, but is unlikely to flower in a pot. Still, it is great for northern growers who want to add a desert vibe to their house plant selection. The potted yucca enjoys dry environments with low humidity and plenty of bright light.
As an outdoor specimen, it is only hardy in zones 9 to 10 and needs to be protected from frosts. Spineless yucca is native to eastern Mexico and Central America. This evergreen can reach a whopping 20-40 feet in its wild habitat but is more likely to stay under 20 feet in a domesticated landscape. Provide plenty of space and soil drainage for this species.
Mojave Yucca (Y. schidigera)
The gorgeous Mojave yucca is hardy in zones 9 and above.
This little evergreen can grow as a humble 3-foot mound on the ground or a stout 10-15-foot tall tree. It can only survive outdoors in zones 9 and warmer, as temperatures below 20°F (-7°C) will kill this desert plant.
The Mojave yucca is unique because its giant inflorescence occurs down in the center of the spiky cluster rather than elongating on a tall stalk. The huge clumps of creamy flowers are spectacularly dense and fleshy, rising just a bit above the leaves as if held by a bowl of foliage. The leaves range from dark green to yellow to bluish, with stiff spines on the ends and curly white filaments lining the margins.
Unsurprisingly, this yucca thrives in the Mojave desert regions of California, Nevada, and Arizona. It is insanely rugged, sun-loving, and extremely drought-tolerant. The relatively small size ensures it doesn’t take up much square footage in a small xeriscape.
Navajo Yucca (Y. baileyi)
This yucca forms low mounds with narrow blue-green leaves.
The tight-clustered mounds of Navajo yucca create nice, dense colonies of low-growing foliage for a drought-prone landscape. The leaves are narrow, blue-green, and about 3 feet long, emerging from the center rosette like a low-growing spiky pom pom.
Navajo has a relatively narrow range in Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico, but it can survive in warm xeriscapes throughout the southern states. A little water after planting is usually all it needs to survive.
Beaked Yucca (Y. rostrata)
This tree-like variety forms symmetrical pom-poms on cylindrical trunks, adding desert charm.
Want a drought-resilient landscape that looks like a desert oasis? As one of the best tree-like varieties, the beaked yucca grows perfectly symmetrical pom-poms of sharp-tipped leaves atop attractive cylindrical trunks.
Plantings with desert palms, saguaro, and prickly pear cacti add an intriguing vertical dimension to the landscape. As older lower leaves die, they turn brown, yielding a shaggy appearance over the trunk-like stem. Fortunately, these fibrous leaves are soft. This plant behaves more like a tree, which means it’s less spiky and dangerous to run into compared to other varieties.
Beaked yucca survives down to zone 5 and doesn’t mind partial shade as long as it gets at least four hours of direct sun. In the late spring, yellowish-orange stalks emerge from the top center of the plant, yielding white flower clusters that some say resemble birds’ beaks. It is sometimes called Big Bend yucca because it is found throughout Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas. Plants grow extremely slowly, so patience and adequate spacing (at least 3-5 feet) are essential for happy mature plants years down the line.
Soft Leaf Yucca (Y. recurvifolia)
With non-pointed leaves, this yucca prefers xeriscape gardens and requires minimal maintenance.
Speaking of softer varieties, this exotic-looking species doesn’t have the sharply pointed leaves of its cousins. Soft leaf yucca is an evergreen perennial often planted in xeriscape borders, poolsides, and rock gardens.
Its graceful blue-hued leaves fold over in a nice open rosette that doesn’t look quite as “desert-like” as other types. The giant central flower stalks are a baffling sight in the summer, reaching up to 8 feet tall and grabbing your attention from afar.
This plant looks best with supplemental water during establishment and through scorching summers, but it doesn’t mind prolonged heat and drought. It tolerates clay but prefers sandy loams. The only maintenance required is aesthetic, such as removing spent blooms and old foliage. Soft-leaf is hardy to zones 7-10 and looks especially lovely alongside yarrow, sedum, sempervivum, and evergreen trees.
Dwarf Yucca (Y. harrimaniae)
A tiny and low-maintenance shrub, dwarf yucca suits small spaces and offers aesthetic versatility.
If you don’t have much room for a giant plant but still want to fill a rocky or sandy area with pretty desert-like statement pieces, dwarf yucca is perfect for you! This extremely low-maintenance mini shrub is the littlest type you can buy, remaining under 1 foot tall by 1 foot wide at maturity. The compact rosettes are narrow, cute, and cluster-forming. They develop pretty spike-balls along the ground or in containers.
The white filaments create a mystical aura to this little plant. Popular cultivars include ‘Magenta Magic,’ with pretty purple-striped leaves, and ‘Nana,’ which is more blue-green. Dwarf yuccas are hardy in zones 5-10 and don’t mind frost as long as their roots are protected from oversaturated or soggy soils.
‘Blue Boy’ (Y. desmetiana)
Compact, flexible-leaved ‘Blue Boy’ is perfect for small spaces.
This compact, flexible-leaved yucca is another great accent plant for small-space xeriscapes, borders, and container plantings. The foliage is still pokey but not as intensely so as other varieties.
‘Blue Boy’ is the most popular cultivar, with gray-green young leaves that turn purple or maroon-tinted in the winter. It is native to northern Mexico and hardy to zone 8. Plants reach about 5 feet tall and wide at maturity but can remain smaller if planted close together.
New Mexico Yucca (Y. neomexicana)
Compact and spiky, the New Mexican Spanish Bayonet thrives in cold climates.
Sometimes called the New Mexican Spanish Bayonet, this small shrubby plant grows in familiar spiky rosettes throughout New Mexico, Colorado, and Oklahoma. Its flowering stalk is longer than the classic Spanish bayonet, and its flowers are sometimes tinted with a pretty purplish-red.
This species is less common in cultivation but would be a great option for gardeners as cold as zone 5 in its native range. Rocky or gravelly soil is ideal.
Carneros Yucca (Y. carnerosana)
Standing tall at 20 feet with a thick trunk, Carneros yucca is a striking West Texas native species.
At up to 20 feet tall with a 1-foot diameter trunk, Carneros is one of the most noticeable tree species of yucca you will see when driving through West Texas. The stiff, dagger-like leaves radiate out from central rosettes on top of the thick trunks, producing a giant central flower stalk that grows floral clusters weighing up to 70 pounds! However, they don’t reliably flower every year.
Its relatively narrow range confines its wild habitat to limestone soils at 3,000 to 5,000 feet elevation. However, gardeners in West Texas should certainly consider this native species as part of their landscape. Carneros survives impressively hot temperatures and long, dry summers.
Narrowleaf Yucca (Y. angustissima)
Thriving in dry landscapes, narrowleaf yucca is an excellent choice for native plant enthusiasts in arid regions.
For dry sagebrush landscapes in Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico, narrowleaf yucca is eager to grow regardless of water. This variety is rarely cultivated, but native plant lovers should certainly consider it in extremely drought-prone areas.
You can spot narrowleaf because its spiky foliage is finer than most all other varieties. However, it is sometimes mistaken for a Dracaena or Hesperaloe species. You can identify the plants by searching for the fine white curly-q threads along the center and edges of the plant.
Traditionally, the fibrous leaves were used for needle and thread, cordage, basket weaving, and sandals. The fresh flowers are edible and beautiful.
Arkansas Yucca (Y. flaccida)
Ideal for prairie gardens or meadow landscapes, this yucca thrives in zones 6-9.
Another so-called “soft-leaf yucca,” Arkansas yucca would be the perfect addition to a drought-prone prairie garden, meadow landscape, or even a walkway border. This clump-forming evergreen enjoys partial shade and grows more flower-like than others.
Its flexible, leathery leaves average 2 feet long and radiate from a central trunkless base. The inflorescence is relatively short (about 3 feet tall). Arkansas yucca is extremely hardy in zones 6 through 9 and perfect for temperate climates.
Chaparral Yucca (Hesperoyucca whipplei)
This yucca boasts striking purple flowers but takes 5-10 years to reach maturity.
The flamboyant purple-hued flowers of Chaparral yucca add a unique appearance to a dry landscape. The pendant flowers are absolutely captivating to stare at.
However, this species requires 5-10 years to flower and reach maturity. Sometimes called Our Lord’s Candle or the Quixote plant, the silvery vegetation looks very nice in containers or borders, reaching up to 4 feet tall and wide.
Twist Leaf Yucca (Y. pallida)
The twist-leaf yucca is ideal for shadier rock gardens with its compact size and unique, less-spiky features.
Shadier, small-space rock gardens are perfectly suited for the twist-leaf yucca. This species has blue-green leaves that twirl as they age, forming pretty olive-green wavy clusters. They aren’t as dangerous or spiky as other species.
The flowers are much smaller and less fleshy than other varieties, yet still put on a unique upright summer show. Plants average 1-2 feet tall and wide and thrive in a range of soils as long as there is adequate drainage. They reliably overwinter in zones 7-9.
Texas Yucca (Y. rupicola)
This is a compact species with twisting, wider leaves, suitable for shaded rock gardens.
The adaptable Y. rupicola is also called twist leaf yucca, but this species has flatter, wider leaves that flop out sideways. Maxing out at 2 feet tall, this species is great for partially shaded understories. The foliage also twists with age and is sometimes edged in reddish or white margins.
The early summer flowering stalk emerges up to 5 feet tall and bears bell-shaped flowers averaging over 2 inches long. Texas yucca does extremely well in shaded rock gardens with limestone or sand.
Moundlily Yucca (Y. madrensis)
Native to Florida and Georgia, Moundlily Yucca thrives in sandy, well-drained soils, forming impressive rosettes.
Florida and Georgia growers take note! This variety is endemic to sandy dunes near sea level. It has wider bayonet-like leaves that grow in a rosette up to 5 feet tall and wide. It can grow in many soils as long as they are well-drained, and is one of the most commonly cultivated types in zones 7 through 10, available in a diversity of cultivars with yellowish or white stripes.
In the wild, moundlily grows on sand mounds and slopes near beaches, marshes, and woodlands in partial shade to full sun. The big spiky spherical shape is very intriguing when scattered amongst taller trees, and the cream-colored flowers reliably appear every summer once the plants mature.
Thompson’s Yucca (Y. thompsoniana)
This variety reaches 12 feet tall, blooms in full sun, and withstands zones 7-11.
A trunk-forming species, this plant is similar to beaked yucca but slightly smaller at about 12 feet tall and 6 feet wide. At maturity, Thompson’s Yucca produces a flower spike that matches its giant stature. It thrives in full sunlight and is hardy in zones 7 through 11. It doesn’t mind light frosts but does best in dry, hot conditions.
Joshua Tree (Y. brevifolia)
The iconic Joshua tree is a striking, low-maintenance desert plant, reaching 30 feet tall.
A famous icon in the Southwestern deserts, Joshua Tree is, in fact, a yucca species. This Dr. Seuss-style tree is mystical and diverse in its growth habit. It is the largest member of the genus, sometimes reaching 30 feet tall and spreading 15-30 feet wide. The multi-branched trunks are topped with unique pom poms of foliage that bloom clusters of greenish-white flowers after spring rains.
This low-maintenance desert plant provides a lot of aesthetic appeal for very little effort. Although it is slow-growing (1-3 inches per year), Joshua Tree enthusiasts can contribute to preserving a species that grows for 150 years or more! You don’t need to do anything to maintain this species. It is specifically useful to let old leaves hang in place to preserve moisture and cover the trunk and stems as they do naturally.
For bird lovers, Joshua Tree is an essential drought-tolerant garden plant, as over 25 species of birds use this giant yucca as a nesting site. The yucca moth pollinates the flowers in the summer, supporting a millennia-old symbiosis between the two species. A native to Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and California, Joshua Tree tolerates zones 6-10 and doesn’t mind cold desert nights.
Palm Yucca (Y. decipiens)
This species can reach 20 feet and thrives in zones 8-11 with sunlight and well-drained soil.
Palm yuccas are close relatives of Joshua Trees. This is another branching tree-like variety that grows up to 20 feet tall. It is hardy in zones 8 through 11 and doesn’t require any special conditions aside from amply drained soil, full sunshine, and warmth.
Giant White (Y. faxoniana)
A Mexican native, this yucca grows into a 15-foot single-trunk tree, adapting to various climates.
This Mexican native variety typically grows as a single-trunked tree and is sometimes referred to as Giant White Spanish Dagger or Faxon yucca. Reaching about 15 feet tall and 6 feet wide at maturity, Y. faxoniana becomes enlarged at the base as it matures.
On top of the attractive trunk is a symmetrical and distinctive rosette with sword-shaped leaves. Its snow-resistant foliage can grow as far north as zone 5. The plant especially thrives in super hot areas but appreciates supplemental irrigation in the driest summers. It is popularly planted along roadsides or in large containers with gravelly soil.
Creeping Dwarf Yucca (Y. endlicheriana)
This endangered Chihuahuan desert native forms spreading clusters under 3 feet tall with blue-green leaves.
Classified as an endangered species, this Chihuahuan desert native is very rare and unique. It is not technically a creeping groundcover, but it does form nice spreading clusters.
The plants stay under 3 feet tall and grow blue-green leaves that stand straight and upright like a Dracaena. Sandy or rocky soils are ideal. Grow this species in zones 8 through 11.
Coahuila Soapwort (Y. coahuilensis)
Native to south Texas and northern Mexico, Coahuila yucca is blue-silver, deer-resistant, and cold-tolerant.
Native to the grasslands of south Texas and northern Mexico, the Coahuila yucca is beautifully blue or silver-hued and looks similar to its agave cousins. The concave leaves grow into a 3-foot wide rosette that makes a perfect border for keeping deer out of your garden.
The white hairs along the leaf edges add a pretty, mysterious look. The bell-shaped, white flowers are beloved by hummingbirds. It tolerates weather as cold as zone 8.
Buckley’s Yucca (Y. constricta)
This species has stiff, narrow leaves with curly fibers.
The wild-looking Buckley’s yucca grows wild in rocky limestone areas of Texas. The stiff leaves average about 2 feet long and ¾ inch wide, with curly white fibers clustered around the ends and soil surface. Buckley’s yucca is extremely drought-tolerant but very fragile to transplanting. It is best to grow this species from seed or keep them in a container.
Carrii (Y. carrii)
This recently-discovered yucca species grows near the Gulf of Texas and tolerates moist, salty conditions.
This newly identified species is native to the Gulf of Texas near brackish or salt water. It is probably the most moisture-tolerant variety, best for soils with less drainage and more rainfall. Plants form little clustered colonies that send up extra tall flower spikes along the Galveston coast. It may be difficult to find outside of its local region.
Cape Region Yucca (Y. capensis)
Endangered in Baja California, this species is now popular in Southwestern gardens.
This final species is highly endangered due to habitat destruction. It is native to Baja California but is a popular ornamental in Southwestern gardens in zones 9 through 11. Plants reach up to 15 feet tall and produce extra large and dense flower clusters. They have intriguing trunks because the dead leaves add pretty straw-like coverage.
From giant, centuries-old Joshua Trees to little dwarf soapworts, Yucca is a widely varying genus with options for nearly every drought-tolerant garden. The key thing all these plants have in common is their love of well-drained soil.
Thoroughly amend with sand or gravel before planting, and choose a species that can withstand your coldest winters. Be sure to keep the spikiest specimens away from heavily trafficked areas and instead opt for soft-leaf or spineless varieties.