Native to the forests of Belize, Guatemala, and southeastern Mexico, the Ponytail Palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) can be grown indoors or outdoors in most parts of the world. It is also known as Elephant Foot Tree for its swollen caudex (stem base) that resembles an elephant’s foot. It gets the name Ponytail Palm from the crown of strappy, long green leaves cascading down like a water fountain. The leaves are so long, in fact, that they can often droop down to the ground, giving the plant a ponytail-like appearance. In addition, their serrated edges can cut the skin if touched without gloves.
It can grow to the ultimate height of 6 feet when provided with ideal conditions indoors. The thick trunk stores water and nutrients in its bulbous base (caudex). Although commonly referred to as “Palm,” it is not a genuine palm but a member of the Asparagaceae family.
Ponytail Palm Main Characteristics
|Common Name||Ponytail Palm, Bottle Palm, Elephant foot Tree, Pony Tail Plant|
|Botanical Name||Beaucarnea recurvata|
|Synonyms||Beaucarnea inermisBeaucarnea tuberculataDasylirion inermeDasylirion inermisDasylirion recurvatumNolina recurvataPincenectitia tuberculata|
|Native Range||Belize, Guatemala, Southeastern Mexico|
|USDA Hardiness Zones||10 to 11|
|Mature Size||Height: 6-8 feet; Spread: 3-5 feet|
|Propagation methods||by seeds, by offsets|
Ponytail Palm Care
The Ponytail Palm makes for an excellent ornamental accent in any location because of its interesting form and striking appearance. It can grow to be quite large outdoors, up to 30 feet, but it doesn’t reach higher than 6 feet indoors. As these plants are exceptionally slow growers, gardeners are unlikely to see the plant reach its ultimate height within a few years. Although considered relatively low maintenance, there are a few things to keep in mind when caring for one.
Light and Location
It prefers full sun but also does well in bright, indirect light. When grown in containers, place it on the sunniest windowsill you can find. Find someplace nice and bright, and you’ll be golden.
Given its swollen trunk that stores water, it would seem that the plant would need little water to survive. But that simply isn’t the case. Beaucarnea recurvata wants to be watered thoroughly but infrequently. Its natural habitat is accustomed to summer rainfalls and dry winters; it needs more of the same when grown in containers. Remember to allow the water to drain completely and the top layer of soil to dry out before watering again. In the growing season, the gap between two watering sessions can be anywhere between a few days to two weeks. Avoid overwatering at all costs; it is the leading cause of many potential health problems.
The Ponytail Palm can be grown in a variety of climates as long as it has plenty of sunlight. It thrives in hot and dry environments and loves temperatures around 60 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. But anything below 50 degrees Fahrenheit is a health risk.
Beaucarnea recurvata are drought-tolerant plants that can survive long periods without moisture. In fact, they grow best in somewhat arid conditions. So don’t worry about humidity with this one.
Use a diluted liquid or a slow-release fertilizer. Maintain a balance of 10-10-10 and follow the instructions on the package carefully. Feed the plant at least once or twice from spring to autumn.
The recommended propagation method for Beaucarnea recurvata is by seeds.
- The seeds should be planted in sandy soil and kept moist until germination.
- The seeds germinate in 14 to 21 days.
- The soil should be kept moist with temperatures around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Note: Indoor plants rarely produce seeds.
Offsets are naturally produced smaller versions of the mother plant that develop at the base of the trunk. In the case of Beaucarnea recurvata, these offsets form into a second trunk if left to develop naturally. However, these offsets don’t have a root system, and propagation with this method is quite tricky. Therefore, the recommended strategy remains propagation by seeds.
It is essential to use a well-draining potting mix when potting or repotting a Ponytail Palm. The plant does best in sandy soil but can also tolerate clay or loamy soils as well as poor soil as long as they have decent drainage.
Ponytail Palms are slow-growing plants, so they don’t need to be repotted very often. They only need to be repotted every 3-5 years in most cases. However, when it comes time to repot, make sure to use a pot with a drainage hole because the plant doesn’t tolerate soggy conditions. Also, don’t forget to take it slow and handle it with care because these plants are sensitive.
No matter how you decide to repot your palm, make sure that the roots are properly pruned beforehand. It’s best to remove any blackened or decaying roots during this process; otherwise, they may eventually contaminate the rest of the plant and kill it. Also, when pruning, be extra careful because it is possible to damage its roots if you aren’t careful.
The Ponytail Palm is Non-Toxic. It is a great choice for a houseplant as not only is it easy to care for, but it’s also completely safe. Pet owners need not be wary.
The Ponytail Palm is susceptible to a few pests, including mealybugs, scale insects, and spider mites. Consider using horticultural oils to control an infestation as they don’t damage the plant in the process. Also, check regularly for any warning signs so you can catch any problems early.
Why is my Ponytail Palm Turning Brown?
Browning leaves are a characteristic sign of underwatering. Increase the watering frequency slightly but maintain good drainage. If the leaves turn yellow instead of brown, you have a case of overwatering on your hands. Reduce watering, and your plant will recover.
How to grow and take care of a Ponytail Palm (Video)
How often to water Ponytail Palm?
Water the plant moderately in the growing season. Wait for the top layer of soil to dry out before watering again. Lessen the frequency in winter.
How big does a Ponytail Palm get indoors?
Ponytail palms are not true palms. In fact, they are more closely related to desert plants in the Agave and Yucca genera. They are native to arid regions of Mexico and can grow to over 20 feet in height. When grown indoors, however, they are much smaller, typically reaching only 4 feet in height.
How to grow multiple trunks on a Ponytail Palm?
Beaucarnea recurvata naturally produce offsets or “pups.” These pups grow from the base and form a secondary trunk if left to their own devices. So if you want a plant with multiple trunks, all you have to do is wait for one of these offsets to naturally emerge and watch it grow into a second or even third trunk.