Yucca brevifolia is a sculptural desert landscape plant. Its rough texture causes it to blend seamlessly into the cactus garden. Learn how to cultivate Joshua or Mojave yucca trees. Joshua tree photos.
A mature Mojave Yucca (background). Young Y. brevifolia plants (foreground).
Yucca brevifolia plants are commonly called Joshua trees. They were given this name by Mormon settlers because the yucca tree’s branching structure resembles a man lifting his hands in prayer.
The Joshua Tree’s stiff leaves grow to a length of 15 inches by an inch wide. They are shorter than the leaves of most other Yucca trees which is why this species was named brevifolia (Latin for short leaves).
The leaves are like green knife blades with their serrated edges and sharp tips. They cluster at the branch tips.
Twenty inch tall bloom spikes shoot from the leaf clusters in early spring. The 3 inch, nodding flowers open greenish white.
This Yucca tree will slowly form a branching trunk and can ultimately reach 25 by 15 feet.
In the 19th century, ranchers found the Joshua tree’s branches useful for building fences.
Joshua Tree Yucca Care
Light Painting of Joshua Tree under Full Moon, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA
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Yucca brevifolia is native to the deserts of Southern California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. (The Mojave is the desert known for Joshua trees.) It is difficult to cultivate in anything other than an arid climate.
Site it on sandy soil in full sun. It will take summer’s hottest temperatures in its stride.
Don’t let the soil dry completely the first year but be very careful not to overwater it. Once your tree becomes established, water it deeply only during a summer drought and otherwise not at all.
Expect this Yucca species to put on 3 inches of height per year during its first decade of life. This growth will slow as the tree matures.
Hardiness: USDA zones 7-10
Yucca Growing Tips
Joshua Tree and Rock Formation in Joshua Tree National Park
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Y. brevifolia forms an extensive root system and will sometimes send up new plants a considerable distance from the mother. These offsets can be dug up and moved while they are small.
Also, the trunk may not begin to branch until after the Joshua tree begins to flower. Flowering is initiated by winter frost and rain patterns, so the tree may not bloom every year.
After it blooms, large fruits (the size of a man’s hand) will form. Yucca fruit can be eaten or left on the plant to ripen seed for propagation.