Beaucarnea Recurvata, commonly known as the Ponytail Palm is a very popular house plant. It has an exotic yet versatile shape that easily suits any interior décor. Moreover, its luscious green leaves give it a refreshing appearance that catches the eye in any environment.
Despite its name and its palm-like appearance, the Ponytail Palm is not a palm. It is a succulent from the Agave family being closely related to Aloe Vera. Most people know it as the Ponytail Palm, but it goes by many names including Bottle Palm Tree and Elephant Foot Tree. The last name has to do with its thick and harsh bulb root that has a slight resemblance to an elephant’s foot.
About Ponytail Palm
- It takes its scientific name from Jean-Baptiste Beaucarne, a well-known collector of succulents from Belgium. In Latin “recurvata” means curved or bent. The Latin name refers to the plant’s curly, overflowing leaves.
- This perennial plant was discovered by the Europeans at the end of the 19th century, and it slowly gained popularity all over the world.
- The Ponytail Palm is mostly used for ornamental purposes and it has received the Award of Garden Merit from the British Royal Horticultural Society.
- It is not prone to diseases, but overwatering can cause stem rot. As far as pests go, spider mites can sometimes occur. You can deal with spider mites by cleaning the stem with a cloth dipped in soapy water.
- According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Beaucarnea Recurvata is non-toxic to dogs and cats. Neither the leaves, the trunk nor the stems pose any type of risk to pets or children. However, cats might mess with the plant, as they are very curious, and they like to sharpen their claws on rough surfaces, like the Ponytail Palm’s bulb root. To prevent this from happening sprinkle some pepper on the plant or place some lemon peels in the plant’s pot.
- The plant is often advertised as a natural air purifier, which is why in Italy, it is called a “mangiafumo” (smoke eater). However, there are no conclusive studies to support this claim.
- The Ponytail Palm is considered a threatened species in Mexico due to anthropogenic activities that destroyed the plant’s natural habitat.
Ponytail Palm features: An Overview
- The most accurate description of the Beaucarnea recurvata would be that of a small palm sitting on top of a large onion bulb. It features a single stalk-like stem, which overflows at the top with narrow, long, and curly leaves.
- The leaves are narrow, but they are reasonably thick, having a leathery texture, with serrated edges. The edges can sometimes get sharp enough to cut skin, so be careful when handling the plant’s foliage.
- The relation between this palm-like plant and the succulents in its family lies in its water storing properties. However, unlike most succulents that store water in their thick leaves, Beaucarnea recurvata stores water in its bulbous trunk, more specifically known as a globose caudex.
- This plant is native to southeastern Mexico, thriving in deciduous forests and semi-desert areas. The average temperature of its natural habitat is about 20 °C, with a long and consistent dry season of 7-8 months. The water retained in its bulb helps it survive during droughts.
- The Ponytail Palm is an evergreen plant. It grows very slowly, but with patience and proper care, it can grow quite tall. Outdoors, it can reach up to 8-10 meters, and its bulb-like trunk can reach a diameter of up to 3 meters.
- The glossy green leaves are about 2 cm wide, but they can grow up to 1,5 meters.
- In bloom, it features huge large, upright branched panicle inflorescences with small white flowers, which deliver a 1,2 cm capsule fruit. Nonetheless, do not hold your breath waiting for its blooming period, as this only occurs after 10 years.
Growing the Ponytail Palm
This evergreen plant usually grows in rocky soil without many nutrients. If you live in a region with environmental conditions similar to the plant’s natural habitat, you can grow it outdoors as an ornamental garden tree. Indoors, you can plant it in a pot, but you must be very careful with the type of soil that you use and the pot’s drainage.
As far as lighting goes, the plant is very tolerant. If you give it bright light half of the year, it will manage to do well in low light conditions for the rest of the year. If you do not have direct bright light indoors, you can simply move it outside during spring and summer.
During the warm season, the plant prefers an average temperature of 70°F to 80°F (21°C to 27°C). So it’s safe to say that the Ponytail Palm is suitable for most interiors. During the winter, it prefers a colder temperature of 50°F to 55°F (10°C-13°C). However, avoid freezing temperatures at all costs as they can severely damage the plant.
Although the Ponytail Palm can grow in low nutrient soil, it will reward you with rich foliage if you fertilize it 2-3 times per year. However, if you fertilize it more times, you might end up with some unhealthy brown leaves.
If you want to repot the plant, you should do it in the spring or early summer at the latest. Repotting is tricky because these are root-bound plants. This means that they are happiest when their roots form a dense mass with little or no space at all for more growth. You should only move potted plants in pots that are only two inches wider than the previous pot.
The proper pot size will prevent excessive water accumulation in the soil. When you remove the plant from its initial pot, inspect the roots properly. Clip all damaged, rotten, or insect-infested root sections. Older roots can also benefit from a quick trim. A rooting hormone will help the plant deal with the repotting process easier.
If you can’t find a special succulent soil, make your own soil mixture. Use half potting soil and half sand, shredded bark, and perlite. If you want to move an outdoor Ponytail Palm, you will have to dig about 50 cm around the tree’s base until you reach bellow the main root. Use a shovel to sever small roots and lift the main root up.
Watering the Ponytail Palm
As we already mentioned, this plant can do well without water for long periods. However, this also means that it is not very happy in high humidity, nor will it thrive if you water it too much.
Ideally, you should water it every two weeks. If you are not sure how often you should water your Ponytail Palm apply the ‘soak and dry’ technique by waiting until the top two inches of soil dry before watering.
After watering, allow the excess water to drain into a dish placed under the pot. Let the pot sit in the dish for a few minutes. During the winter months, you can stop watering the plant altogether or mist it slightly once a month.
Propagating the Ponytail Palm
Beaucarnea Recurvata is a dioecious plant. This means that the plants are divided into two sexes, and only the females produce seeds. Sometimes, the plant can produce some small offsets on its stem. However, these will only grow into branches, and not new plants. You can cut them off if you want a plant with a single trunk.
When it reaches maturity, the plant propagates itself through side pups which sprout from the mother plant. The small pups can easily be divided from the mother plant, but they need to grow roots before being repotted. Excavate the soil around the main plant to expose the baby plants and use a sharp knife to cut them off. They should be at least 10 cm long and they should have a newly formed root base.
A cactus soil mix will yield the best results for young Ponytail Palms. The soil should be well moistened and placed in a pot with good drainage. After potting the baby plant, cover it with a plastic bag and put it in a warm room. Mist the surface of the soil every few days and cover the plant again with the plastic bag. Do this for a couple of weeks to protect the plant while it grows its new roots.
This plant is very resilient. It can also tolerate conditions different from its natural habitat, so it can be a great choice for beginner gardeners. However, if you buy a small plant, arm yourself with patience, as it grows very slowly. It will take a few years for a small seedling to mature into an eye-catching plant with luscious green, long leaves.
On the other hand, you do not have to worry about repotting any time soon. And if you forget to water it for a few weeks, there’s no need to panic. When the plant matures, treat it like a piece of furniture, because moving it will be quite troublesome due to its big size and weight.