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in Tucson, Phoenix,
Arizona and California

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Growing Yucca baccata: Banana Yucca

Botanical Overview

A member of the Agave and Yucca subfamily (Agavoideae) in the Asparagus family (Asparagaceae), the Yucca genus has 49 species. Yucca baccata has been most likely used as a food plant for many thousands of years.

Description

Form: A succulent shrub.
Lifespan: Perennial.
Leaf retention: Evergreen.
Growth rate: Slow to establish, then moderate.
Mature Size: 4' high and 6' wide. Flower stalk to 6' high.
Flowers: Bell-shaped, yellow-white flowers, from red and green buds, in dense clusters, to 5" long, edible. The flowers grow from a flower stalk that, when newly forming, vaguely resembles an asparagus stalk and is edible.
Bloom: Late winter to early summer. This plant may not bloom every year because the roots will not have not built up enough carbohydrate reserves after the previous year's heavy fruit crop and/or low rainfall. In the wild, blooming might be expected in three to five year cycles. If yearly blooms rather than fruit are desired, cut off all newly forming fruit when they are still very small and water every two weeks during the warm season.
Self-fruitful: No. This plant requires cross pollination by one of several yucca moth species, or by hand, from a second plant to produce fruit. If there is a second banana yucca within a reasonable distance, with a resident yucca moth, and it can smell your plant blooming, the moth may visit.
Years before fruiting: When this plant is grown from seed, flowers appear by the fifth year with sufficient rainfall or irrigation.
Fruit: The fruit resembles a large, green to purple, sweet potato. It is divided into three vertical sections, each having a double row of seeds. The fruit are ripe and edible when they yield to gentle pressure. Ripeness is not indicated by color.
Months for fruit to ripen: 4-5.
Storage after harvest: Fruit should be processed within a few days when harvested fully ripe.
Leaves: Green, stiff, concave, narrow, 2-3' long, with a spine at the tip. Small threads hang on leaf margins. The leaves are thickened at the base and provide water storage for the plant.
Stems: A very short central stem supports a dense cluster of leaves.
Roots: This plant forms a network of fleshy rhizomes below ground from which offsets (clone plants) are produced. These roots survive low intensity wildfires.
Wildlife: The flowers attract insects and are pollinated by the female of one of several species of yucca moths. When a yucca moth is not present, the flowers must be cross pollinated by hand if fruit and seeds are to be produced. The larva of the yucca moth develop in the fruit and eat a few of the seeds. This plant is browsed by mammals.
Toxic / Danger: Sharp leaf tips and edges. The roots are poisonous. Edible parts of the plant should be boiled or roasted to avoid an upset stomach.
Origin: Southwestern United States and Mexico.

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Cultivation and Uses

USDA hardiness zones: 5-11.
Chill hours: None.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Drought tolerant: Yes.
Sun: Full sun is best. It can withstand partial shade.
Planting: Locate the banana yucca, in full sun, in well draining soil. Rocky slopes are good locations. If fruit are desired, plant at least two, ideally spaced 6' apart to avoid overlap. One plant will produce good looking and edible flowers, possibly every year. Keep these plants away from areas where people normally walk to avoid injuries. This plant can be grown in a container.
Soil: Well drained, dry, pH 6.6-8.7 (neutral to alkaline). This plant adapts to a variety of well-draining soil types, especially rocky slopes.
Fertilize: Compost may be used once a year in mid-winter to encourage flowering.
Water once established: The water needs of this plant are extremely low. Water no more than once a month when not fruiting. Water no more than once a week during flowering and fruiting because this plant is intolerant of waterlogged soil. Only water when the soil is completely dry. Brown or purple leaf tips are a sign of overwatering.
Mulch: Keep the vicinity of this plant mulch free. It needs rapidly drying soil.
Prune: If yearly blooms rather than fruit are desired, remove small fruit before they grow larger, cut off each flower stalk after it has finished blooming, and water the plant every two weeks during the warm season. Otherwise, remove spent stalks after fruit have been harvested. Remove dead or damaged leaves as necessary. Wear protective clothing to avoid cuts.
Litter: Low.
Propagation: Offsets, leaf cuttings, rhizomes, and seed. Seed should be kept at 60-70°F during germination, which may take 7-30 days. Offsets, leaf cuttings and rhizomes should be allowed to root in a pot before being transplanted.
Uses: Ornamental, xeric garden, barrier plant, culinary.
The flowers are cooked in a variety of ways using recipes found on the internet. In some Mexican villages the flowers are a popular delicacy and, as with the flowers of several common species of yucca, are consumed every year.
The fruit can be roasted, the seeds removed, and the sweet pulp pounded into flat cakes and then sun dried. The sweet roasted fruit can also be pureed and made into a dish similar to applesauce. The seeds can be roasted and ground, then boiled.
The young flower stalk, before the flower buds expand, can be roasted or boiled and the inner core eaten. The central part of the leaves can be boiled and mixed with other foods.
Fibers in the leaves are used to make strong cordage and baskets. While the roots can be used to make soap, roots of another plant, Soaptree Yucca, are preferred. Every part of this plant has a use.

Comments


This plant is widespread throughout the North American Southwest and was a standard food source of Native Americans. Yucca plants should not be confused with Yuca, the root of the Cassava plant, a member of the Spurge family (Euphorbiaceae).



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Latest update: July, 2021.


Yucca baccata: Banana Yucca - flower stem

Yucca baccata: Banana Yucca - flowers

Yucca baccata: Banana Yucca - fruit

Yucca baccata: Banana Yucca