Beaucarnea recurvata, also known as Nolina recurvata, elephant’s foot or most commonly as the ponytail palm, is a rather odd-looking houseplant. Juvenile plants look somewhat like onions with a round underside and grass-like leaves on top, while adult specimens have a thick, brown stem from which the leaves sprout like a ponytail.
Ponytail palms are suitable for beginners and can be found on the list of easiest succulents. Keep reading for everything you need to know about ponytail palm care!
|Name(s) (common, scientific)||Ponytail palm, elephant’s foot, Nolina, Beaucarnea recurvata, sometimes Nolina recurvata|
|Recommended lighting||Direct sunlight|
Ponytail palm natural habitat
As with all houseplants, the best way to figure out how to care for ponytail palm is to keep in mind the way it naturally grows. Despite the name, this plant is not actually a palm like something like a cat palm is – it’s more closely related to Yuccas.
Ponytail palms naturally grow in dry areas in Mexico and use their thick trunks to store water. According to a 1963 study, they are found in truly inhospitable areas with rocky soil, like slopes and cliffs. Here, the plants can reach hundreds of years of age. All this gives us some good care guidelines that are described below!
Did you know? Unfortunately, according to the IUCN Red List of species, they are considered critically endangered in the wild. They’re only found in the state of Veracruz now and their population continues to decline.IUCN
Ponytail palm light & temperature
Because the ponytail palm naturally occurs in very sunny areas, it will appreciate being placed in a bright spot with plenty of direct light. It will also survive in less bright conditions, but growth will be slower and the plant won’t thrive as much as it will with direct light.
If you’re worried your home is on the dark side, you can still grow a ponytail palm. Just provide some extra light using fluorescent tubes or LEDs!
Alternatively, you can try moving the plant outside during the warm summer months. It’ll really benefit from being able to soak up the sun for a few months out of the year. You’ll still be able to enjoy the plant indoors during the winter months, when it needs to overwinter in most climates.
Temperature-wise, the ponytail palm is not too demanding. It can handle much lower temperatures than many other popular houseplants. Anything up to just above freezing level should be just fine as long as you adjust your watering schedule accordingly by avoiding to water (almost) entirely until things heat up again.
As can be concluded from the previous, you don’t have to worry too much about low temperatures indoors. Your ponytail palm should do fine in the colder areas of your home, even those drafty windows that get too chilly for the tropical plants in your collection.
Planting ponytail palm
As mentioned earlier, this plant naturally occurs in dry areas and stores water in its trunk.
Like cacti, ponytail palms need well-draining soil. If the soil stays wet for too long after watering root rot can become a problem. A cactus mix is a great option, or you can mix regular potting soil with plenty of gritty material to make your own. Try perlite, crushed volcano rock, orchid bark or pumice to provide that airy texture your ponytail palm needs.
Be sure to also always use a pot with a drainage hole for your ponytail palm instead of a closed pot to help improve drainage. Unglazed clay pots are a good option for any succulent, as they allow moisture to escape though their porous walls.
The ponytail palm is a very slow grower, which means that even with proper light and watering, it doesn’t have to be repotted often. If your watering schedule or the lighting is incorrect, there will be almost no growth at all.
A healthy, growing plant can be repotted once every two years or when it outgrows its current container. Over the years, this plant can become quite large!
Watering ponytail palm
Establishing a good watering schedule for your ponytail palm can be a bit tricky. The succulent watering guide contains more information, but it basically comes down to the following:
- Watering frequency is similar to cacti and succulents.
- It’s important to let the soil fully dry out between waterings to prevent any rot. How long this takes depends on the time of year.
- During Summer, watering every week is usually necessary. During Winter, only watering once a month or so is usually fine.
- Humidity is not a huge deal for ponytail palms, but the air shouldn’t be overly dry.
Feeding ponytail palm
Ponytail palms don’t require much fertilizer and may do well without any at all. In fact, feeding too much is not a good idea and can lead to damage. Feeding a few times during Spring and Summer is all this plant needs.
A regular fertilizer should work fine for your Beaucarnea.
Buying ponytail palm
It shouldn’t be too difficult to find this plant in most larger garden/plant stores. If you live in a warmer area, you may find it in the garden area. When buying a ponytail palm, be sure to keep in mind the very slow growth. If you prefer the look of the adult plant, it’s best to pay a little more for an older specimen or you may end up waiting a very long time for it to grow.
You can also buy ponytail palms online!
Is ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) toxic to cats and dogs?
The ASPCA and other sources list Beaucarnea recurvata as non-toxic to both cats and dogs. Yay!
If you have any more questions about ponytail palm care or want to share your own experiences with this rather curious houseplant, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.