Yucca gigantea is typically less than 6 m (20 ft) in height. It may have a thick, single trunk or be multitrunked, growing from a thickened, inflated, trunk-like lower base similar to an elephant's foot.The exceptionally narrow leaves fan out in clumps. They are strap-like, spineless and up to 1.2 m (4 ft) in length. White flowers are produced in the summer. Mature plants produce erect spikes of pendent flowers up to 1 m (3 ft 3 in) in length. Flowers are followed by brown, fleshy fruits which are oval and up to 2.5 cm (1 in) long.
The French botanist Charles Lemaire published the name Yucca gigantea in November 1859. This is the name used by the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families as of January 2014, although other sources use Yucca guatemalensis, published by Baker in 1872.
The species is still most widely known in the horticultural literature as Yucca elephantipes. The first mention of that name was by the German horticulturalist Eduard von Regel in February 1859. He claimed that a different species, Y. aloifolia, was sometimes known as Y. elephantipes when grown in European gardens because of its thickened stem base. However, since he did not intend to offer Y. elephantipes as the actual correct name, this was not a valid publication. In a major article on yuccas and allies in 1902, the American botanist William Trelease also used the name Y. elephantipes, referring to Regel's 1859 publication. This came too late though, as Y. gigantea had by then already been established.Y. elephantipes must therefore be regarded as an illegitimate name, according to the strict rules of the ICN,
Yucca gigantea is found natively in Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the eastern part of Mexico (Quintana Roo, Yucatán, Campeche, Tabasco, Chiapas, Veracruz, eastern Puebla and southern Tamaulipas).
It is also reportedly naturalized in Puerto Rico, the Leeward Islands and Ecuador.