Yucca Filifera: St. Peter’s Palm or St. Peter’s Yucca, sometimes also known as palma china, is native to Mexico and grows wild in North America as far north as the Carolinas. Or, to put it another way, it grows well from USDA zone 10 through zone 7.
Why would yucca filifera, which is an Agavaceae, not a palm tree (palms are classified as Arecaceae) be called St. Peter’s palm? Perhaps for the same sort of reason that it cousin, yucca brevifolia, is called Joshua Tree.
As European settlers moved across the North American continent, they sought to make sense of the unfamiliar vegetation by naming it in meaningful ways. The Mormons, as they journeyed toward Utah, thought that the Joshua Tree, with its odd, crooked branches and spiky leaf tufts, looked like someone lifting his hands to the sky in supplication.
St. Peter, who in some traditions is said to guard the gates of heaven, is supposed to have requested that he be crucified upside down so as to not be identified with Christ. It is traditional on April 29th, St. Peter’s feast day in the Catholic tradition, to give out blessed palms. Yucca filifera is an evergreen plant that has an appearance that is similar to a palm tree, especially when it is young. Moreover, each of its slender leaves has a sharp point that will certainly get your attention, so perhaps someone thought that those sharp-leaved yucca plants could be guarding the gates to somewhere.
Regardless of its origin, yucca filifera is a charming, easy to grow plant with few problems. Like all types of agave, it likes a well-drained soil. Unlike the century plant, that classic agave that blooms once in its lifetime, once a year yucca filifera puts up a tall bloom stalk that is covered with waxy, white blossoms. These blooms are attractive to all sorts of pollinator birds and insects. After it blooms, the stalk will have fleshy seed pods that will later on be filled with dark seeds.
As the tree grows, the narrow, needle sharp leaves with dry out and droop down. These leaves can be judiciously pruned for appearance, but out of doors, the leaves are part of the plant’s protection for itself. Or to put it another way, they need not be pruned at all.
Although the yucca filifera is an easy to grow plant with few pests, when kept as a house plant, there are a few things that can happen to it.
Over-watering, or having the yucca plant in a pot that does not drain well, can cause root rot. The solution is simple. Always make sure that there is good outflow from the drainage holes in the pot. Wait to water until the top two inches of soil in the pot are dry before adding more water. During the winter months, when the plant will take a sort of seasonal nap, reduce watering to about once per month.
Red spiders, also known as spider mites, can give yucca filifera some trouble. Fortunately, they can be destroyed by using neem oil or an insecticidal soap on your plants. An infestation of spider mites could be one good reason to do a little pruning to allow good air flow and light.
You need to use caution when treating your yucca filifera for spider mites. Getting too much moisture in the crown of the plant can cause it to rot. A solution for this is to moisten a cloth and gently wipe each of its leaves with the insecticidal solution. This has the pleasing side