Sharp Gardening

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Sharp Gardening

Categories: Blog, Garden Guru

Yuccas and Cacti are two spiny succulent groups of plants that act as evergreen shrubs in the winter landscape. Their striking form and texture provide great variety to the shrub or perennial border. Their colors hold true despite severe cold so they are always a welcome sight on a winter’s day.

Golden Sword Yucca (Yucca filamentosa) is a yellow variegated selection of a yucca native southeast of Missouri & Kansas. It is still very hardy and tolerant of our humidity and regular garden soil so is a colorful standby for winter gardens in Greater Kansas City. A glowing sunset back lighting the foliage can be stunning!
Bright Edge Yucca is another yellow variegated cultivar of yucca but with the yellow bands down the leaf edges. This cultivar is a bit more refined and almost appears to be aglow with an inner warmth.

Hairy Yucca (Yucca filamentosa ‘Hairy’) is a difficult to find cultivar (see but is unique with its inordinate amout of the leaf-edge filaments that give this species its name. A delightful detail in strong contrast to its stiffly spikey leaves.
Next June our yuccas will be crowned by sturdy 4-6 foot candelabras of white, bell-like flowers. If Mrs. yucca moth is around she will individually pollinate flowers and lay an egg. The young caterpillar will eat the developing seeds but never damages them all. Yuccas cannot be pollinated by anything else but a skilled gardener! If pollinated, the flower stalk will become woody and adorned with beautiful upfacing pods — adding additional interest to the following winter’s landscape. Our yuccas depicted can all be seen in the Fountain Garden so are just 2 seasons old. We expect them to have their first blooms this summer.
Bigroot Prickly-Pear (Opuntia macrorhiza) is a native cactus you can see growing wild along our Byron Shutz Nature Trail’s highest points. We have taken some “pads” of these wild plants and transplanted them to the Island Garden where they spill over the top of the wall (see depiction). Their evergreen pads are heavily adorned with double spines – one of which is always much larger than its twin. This cactus is on the Missouri Endangered Species List. Note the purplish-red fruits which are great winter wildlife food.

Eastern Prickly-Pear (Opuntia humifusa) is another Missouri native cactus but is much more widespread and found throughout Eastern North America. Its pads are less spiney and singly spined.
Both our native prickly-pears become beautifully weathered as they dehydrate themselves to survive the winter. They are beautifully displayed on the Island Garden where they spill over the living wall — forced to be confined between shady shrubs above and the wall below. Come back to see them around the summer solstice when they will be in full bloom with gorgeous, large yellow blossoms. The flowers are very pollen and nectar rich and attract a plethora of beneficial pollinators. We highly recommend them as garden plants but BEWARE where you put them! The spines are sharp and smaller, hair-like spines can be a real nuisance where only rubber cement can remove them from your skin.
All photos taken by Alan Branhagen at Powell Gardens on January 9, 2008.