Yucca filifera is one of the largest tree trunk yucca plants. It is found in Northeastern or Central Mexico, and is one of the fastest growing trunk type yuccas. Even at that, it grows slowly, especially when planted in a pot. It has several alternative names including China Palm, Izote, Mexican Tree Yucca, Yucca Australis, or St. Peter’s Palm. It can survive freezing cold winters providing it is in a well-drained location.
American merchant, explorer and naturalist Josiah Gregg “discovered” the yucca filifera May 19, 1847. It was later described for science by J. Benjamin Chabaud. The Mexican Yucca tree, as it is sometimes called, grows naturally in northern Mexico and southern Texas.
As long as the weather is dry, the yucca filifera can withstand temperatures down to negative eight degrees centigrade or around fourteen degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, it prefers not to have any rain at all during the winter. However, it is habituated to spring rain and possibly fall rains. It likes sandy loam soils, but is tolerant to clay and even to salt spray and light amounts of salt in the soil. The main consideration is that during the colder months of the year, it needs to be positioned so that it is well-drained and the roots are relatively dry.
Can Be Grown in a Pot
Young yucca filifera can be grown in a pot. As it grows, it will need successively larger containers. Since it can grow as tall as ten meters or thirty feet, it is likely to challenge any indoor space eventually. Should a potted yucca filifera become too tall for available space, the top can be cut off. This will cause it to branch out and grow from the sides.
Flowering and Reproduction
This evergreen plant will have leaves all year, but in its natural habitat, will bloom in July or August. Instead of growing an upright spike of flowers like most trunked yucca, y. filifera’s bloom spike droops downward almost like a weeping willow. The spike will produce a cloud of waxy white blossoms. The plant is hermaphroditic, having both male and female flowers on the same plant. In the wild, it is pollinated by yucca moths. The moths go from flower to flower, and lay their eggs in the blossoms. Domesticated y. filifera must be pollinated by hand.
Resistance to Pests
Few creatures attempt to feed on yucca filifera. The spiny leaves, although not as harsh as some of the yucca species, tend to keep off animals such as deer and rabbits. In fact, most depredation seems to come from the moths that have a sort of symbiotic relationship with it.
Growing in Areas Other than Natural Habitat
English growers note that although yucca filifera is resistant to cold, a cold, wet winter will encourage root rot, which tends to be fatal to the plant. Most recommend either growing in a pot or placing the plant on a ridge where it is sheltered from cold winds and where it has excellent drainage.
Yucca filifera can easily be grown in Australia, especially in the arid regions. The temperatures, soil and weather in general is sufficiently similar to that found in central and northern Mexico for the plants to grow to their full height.
A word of caution, however. Doctors have seen a rise in gardening accidents associated with yucca plants. Those same spikey leaves that keep off rabbits and deer can easily cause an eye injury or even enter the ear canal, the slender leaves easily piercing the ear drum. Eye and ear protection might be indicated when tending this well-armored plant.
Attention Needed by Yucca Filifera
With that said, yucca filifera is one of those plants that thrives on benign neglect. Very young plants might need watered once per week, but older plants can go much longer without being watered. It grows well in a standard cactus soil mix, and can be fed using the same kinds of fertilizer. If you are growing it indoors, it will benefit from being set out in full sun during the summer or from having a dedicated grow-lamp. As long as its roots are in a well-drained soil mixture, it is fairly tolerant of standard household humidity. As noted, if growing indoors, it might occasionally need to be topped, but this will only cause it to grow out the sides.
Native Use in Mexico
Historically, the native people of Mexico used the tough, spear shaped leaves as roof thatching. They also processed the leaves to extract fibers that can be made into fabric.
According to the website Plants for a Future, parts of the Y. filifera are edible. The fruit and flowers, they say, can be eaten raw or cooked. The flowering stem can be cooked and eaten like asparagus. The roots, however, contain saponin which is toxic to humans unless heat treated. With that said, it was indicated that the roots could be baked like a potato, and that they were then edible. It should be further noted that the website has a disclaimer that they do not take any responsibility for use of any plants. Therefore, this information is provided as being interesting rather than a recommendation.