Beaucarnea recurvata, is a species of plant in the family Asparagaceae. It is a succulent plant that is mistaken for a palm due to its single leafless trunk and the mass of leaves that emerges from the top of the plant. With long, flowing leaves that somewhat resemble the tail of a horse, and a gray trunk with a wide, fat base that resembles the foot of an elephant, it's no wonder that this tree is sometimes called an elephant foot tree, and other times is referred to as a ponytail palm.
The species was native to numerous states of eastern Mexico but is now confined to the state of Veracruz. In the ground, this plant can grow to 30 feet tall, but in containers remains much shorter. Despite its common name, it is not closely related to the true palms. In fact, it is more closely related to desert plants in the Agave and Yucca genera (such as Joshua trees). In the ground, this plant can grow to 30 feet tall, but in containers remains much shorter.
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1 - 8 feet, up to 30 feet tall when planted outdoors
1 - 5 feet
6.5 - 7.5
Varieties of Ponytail Palm
Even though there are not many verities for ponytail palm, some beaucarnea varieties are available and, in fact, widely popular. It is easier for you to identify the varieties of ponytail palm via their leaf morphology.
Gold Star Ponytail palm: Beaucarnea recurvata 'Gold Star' is an exciting selection that has leaves streaked in chartreuse. It does best in high-light situations. It grows 8 feet tall.
Planting Ponytail Palm
Choosing Soil and a Pot
Use a fast draining soil, such as a cacti and succulent potting mix. If you have potting soil, sand, and perlite already on hand, you can create your own desert soil mixture: Simply mix 1 part potting soil, 1 part perlite, and 1 part sand.
Select a pot that has a hole in the bottom, so that excess water can be drained off. Ponytail palms do not like to sit in moist soil for very long.
Use a clay pot if possible; the porous material will absorb some of the water, drying out the soil more quickly (a good thing for cacti and succulents).
Growing Ponytail Palms
Growing ponytail palms in the home is easy. Technically, a ponytail palm tree needs bright light, but because it is such a forgiving plant, it will be okay if you give it bright light about half the time. In fact, if you keep it in low light conditions half the year and provide bright light conditions the other half the year, it will be perfectly happy. This means that as long as you place it outdoors in the summer, it will tolerate any indoor light conditions you keep it in during the winter.
Since this plant is a succulent, it grows best in semi-dry conditions. When growing ponytail palm as a houseplant, you should let the soil dry out significantly in between waterings.
Ponytail Palm Care
Ponytail palms like full sun or bright indirect light. When grown as an indoor plant, situate it in the brightest location you can find—a window that gets direct sun or plenty of indirect light.
This plant is native to semi-desert areas of Central America, and when planted outdoors it does best in relatively sandy but organically rich soil. As in indoor plant, it does well in a cactus/succulent potting mix augmented with peat to improve its richness.
For potted indoor plants, water a ponytail palm during the growing season every seven to 14 days. The bulbous stem stores water, so be careful not to overwater it. During the winter season, cut back watering to monthly.
A ponytail palm planted in the garden rarely needs to be watered if you get any kind of regular rain. In dry climates or during periods of drought, a modest watering every two weeks is sufficient.
Temperature and Humidity
Ponytail palms prefer warm, arid temperatures, above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. However, they will survive down to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, providing these temps are not prolonged.
Feed weekly with liquid fertilizer during the growing season, or use a slow-release pellet fertilizer in the spring. Reduce feeding during the winter.
Repotting a Ponytail Palm
Ponytail palms will remain small if kept in a small pot. They can go for many years before needing to be repotted. Repotting every other year at the most is all a ponytail palm needs.
Moving the plant to a larger pot will give it room to grow in both height and girth. However, older plants may become difficult to manage due to their sheer size and weight if not kept on the smaller size.
When selecting a new pot, pick one large enough to leave about an inch or so of space between the ponytail palm’s trunk and the rim of the pot.
Note: Use caution when handling a ponytail palm, as its leaves have tiny serrated edges.
Propagating Ponytail Palms
Ponytail palms sometimes develop offsets ("pups") from the base, which can be removed and potted up individually. Generally, however, this is a difficult task to master because of a lack of roots on the offsets. If you want to try, use a rooting hormone to stimulate new root growth on the offset. A ponytail palm rarely (if ever) flowers indoors to produce viable seeds.
Pruning a Ponytail Palm
Damaged leaves should have the tips trimmed off back to healthy tissue. If the offsets ("pups") send up secondary shoots, you can prune these away to maintain a central trunk and classic tree-like appearance. However, a multi-stemmed tree is often desirable, and many people welcome these secondary shoots.
Overwatering can result in stem rot. If you withhold watering, the plant may be able to internally remedy the problem. Signs of stem rot include yellowing leaves and a caudex (the plant’s base and stem) that is soft or squishy.
Spider mites occur on the leaves, but can be dealt with by rubbing a cloth of dish soap and water on the stems. Spider mites are evidenced by the presence of spider-like webbing on the plant.
Brown tips on leaves can be a sign of overfertilizing or underwatering, so adjust your husbandry practices appropriately. They can also be a sign that the plant is getting too much direct sunlight and too little water.
Benefits of Ponytail Palm
Ponytail palms are one of the best indoor trees you can grow. Not only are they uniquely beautiful and super easy to grow, they also can lead to some pretty incredible health benefits for you.
Just having a ponytail palm indoors can be a mood booster since they brighten up interior spaces. Watching your virtually indestructible palm grow and thrive will give you a sense of accomplishment which will release endorphins in your brain.
NASA found the ponytail palm to be one of the best air-purifying plants to keep indoors. It absorbs common toxic gasses through its leaves and converts them into fresh oxygen. Otherwise, the plant's primary use is purely aesthetic. The ponytail palm's unique foliage and inflated trunk make it stand out in most homes and gardens.
You won’t need that extra boost to your brain to determine that ponytail palms are an awesome plant to grow indoors.
Landscape Uses for Ponytail Palm
corner accent for the house
entryway plant in the ground or in a pot
placed on one or both sides of a gate or walkway
anchoring a small garden bed
as a smaller accent plant at or near the base of taller palms
single specimen for a small yard or area
to add interest along a blank wall or between windows
container plant for pool cage or patio