Yucca aloifolia

Spanish bayonet


Yucca aloifolia

L. 1753

pronounced: YUK-uh al-oh-ih-FOH-lee-uh

(Asparagaceae — the asparagus family)


common names: Spanish bayonet, dagger plant

Yucca is the Latinized form of yuca, the Carib vernacular name for Manihot esculenta, the cassava. For some reason Linnaeus used the name for this unrelated genus. Goodness knows why, as he also named Manihot; aloifolia is from the Arabic word alloeh, ‘shining bitter substance’, and the Latin folium, a leaf – aloe-like leaves.

Spanish Bayonet is native to coastal areas, including sand dunes, shell mounds and shorelines, from North Carolina in the USA to Mexico, and in the West Indies. It is widely cultivated and naturalized throughout much of southern USA. It is also widely cultivated in parts of Queensland and NSW, occasionally persistent around old habitations, but possibly not fully naturalized.

This is a shrubby plant with stem to about 1.5 m high, often freely branched.

The leaves are fleshy, linear to narrow-lanceolate, 70 – 100 cm long, 3 – 5 cm wide, the apex acute with a terminal spine 1 – 2 cm long, the margins finely toothed.

The scape is 1 – 3 m high, the panicle many-flowered and 1 – 2 m high, with the pedicels 2 – 4 cm long. The flowers are campanulate, about 5 cm long, and whitish; the tepals are free, about 3 cm long; the stamens about 3 cm long. An oblong capsule is produced, 6   – 8 cm long, indehiscent, purplish, with black seeds.

After flowering, the trunk stops growing, but one or more lateral buds are soon formed, and the uppermost becomes a new terminal shoot. Any other buds become branches, but these are usually few, and the plant has an open, airy habit. Buds, or offshoots, are also produced near the base of the trunk, forming a thicket.

There are several cultivars available, including ‘Marginata’ with yellow-margined leaves, and a variety, var. draconis, with a branching trunk and wider, recurved leaves.

dangerous 2It’s not called Spanish Bayonet for nothing: the tips of the leaves are pointed and sharp! This yucca should not be planted near walkways, patios, or in areas frequented by children and pets, as painful puncture wounds can be inflicted even through heavy clothing. It could, in fact, be a useful security plant, beneath windows and other entry points of a house, where its leaves should prevent passage of all interlopers, human or otherwise.

Photographs taken at Arcadia 2013
Page last updated 27th April 2019