What you're learning
Some plants are named after their appearance and ponytail palm is one of them. Its strappy leaves which are attached to a hardy trunk look like the tail of a pony. Although, botanically speaking, this plant is not a true palm but rather resembles the characteristics of a succulent.
Ponytail palms grow as much as 30 feet high if planted outside. However, they can be brought at the comforts of your home and they’ll grow to about 4 feet, like a small tree. The bonus part is that the care and maintenance of this plant are rather easy.
|Scientific Name||Beaucarnea recurvata|
|AKA||Bottle Palm, Elephant Foot Tree, Ponytail Plant, Pony Tail Plant|
|Native to||Belize, Guatemala, and southeastern Mexico (Oaxaca, Puebla, San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas, Veracruz)|
|Shape||Tree-like with curly leaves on top like that of a ponytail|
|Maximum size||4 to 6 feet tall but can slowly reach up to 30 feet tall or more when planted outside|
|Light requirements||Bright, indirect light or full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)|
|Preferred humidity||Low to Moderate|
|Preferred temperature||60 to 80 F (15 to 27 C)|
|Soil or Medium||desert soil mixture; well-drained|
|Fertilizer||Fertilize with liquid fertilizer monthly during summer|
|Propagation method||Cutting of offsets (pups); Seeds|
|Toxicity||Non-toxic to cats and dogs|
|Vulnerable to||Scale and mealybugs|
Ponytail Palm Plant Overview
Ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) originates from Belize, Guatemala, and Southeastern Mexico. It belongs to the Asparagaceae family. Other common names include Bottle Palm and Elephant Foot Tree because the trunk resembles a bottle or an elephant foot.
This enlarged portion of the trunk serves a purpose by storing water needed by the plant. Aside from looking like a ponytail, the leaves that cascade at the top also seem like a water fountain. Thus, ponytail makes an attractive indoor plant.
The ponytail palm has a succulent characteristic in a way that it has a big water reservoir. Because of that, this houseplant is tolerant of drought. Watering the ponytail once a week or every two weeks should suffice.
To prevent overwatering, you should wait until the soil is dry up to 2 inches below before you give water again. During winter, you can reduce water applications only once a month. Always make sure that water drains well from the pot to prevent waterlogging.
The light condition that ponytail needs range from bright, indirect light to full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day). In short, it needs a lot of light to thrive. You have to place this plant in a spot where the light shines the brightest to make it happy.
Moving the ponytail plant outdoors from time to time is also beneficial. This will help the plant absorb enough sunlight especially if your light condition at home is not that good. If you notice that the leaves of your ponytail palm are yellowing, it probably is not receiving enough light.
Humidity & Temperature Preferences
The normal humidity at your home is enough for your ponytail palm. It can even tolerate dry conditions without the need to receive regular misting, unlike other houseplants. Thanks to its huge water storage.
Ponytail palm can tolerate a temperature ranging from 60 to 80oF (15 to 27oC). It’s not frost-tolerant so better watch out for cold seasons. Make sure to provide insulation during winter for protection.
Plant Food and Soil
You can use any cacti or succulent mix for your ponytail. What’s important is that it is fast draining. If you choose to create your own medium, you have to mix 1 part potting soil, 1 part perlite, and 1 part sand.
To supply food to your plant, you can provide liquid fertilizer on a monthly period during summer. No need to supply fertilizer during winter when plants are in a dormant condition.
Pruning isn’t much of a requirement for a ponytail plant. The maintenance you have to do is the removal of the aged leaves or the ones infected with pests if there’s any. This is to maintain the plant’s good appearance.
Offsets (pups) that also appear at the base of the plant should also be pruned. You can set it aside for propagation later in time.
Repotting depends on how large or small you want your ponytail palm to be. Once a year repotting will favor growth in the size of the plant. Choose a container that’s one size larger than the previous one.
To maintain the small size of your ponytail palm, repot the plant every two to three years. Use a cactus/succulent mix making sure that it has a well-draining capacity.
There are two ways to propagate a ponytail plant, one is sexual (seeds) and the other is vegetative (offsets/pups). Propagation through seeds is a less popular option because it takes time for the ponytail plant to grow. The best option there is to use the pups for vegetative propagation.
When pups start showing at the base, wait until it’s 4 inches tall at least. This size is capable enough to develop new roots. Cut the pup with a sharp knife and pot in a moist cactus/succulent mix.
After potting, set it aside a place with moderate light and cover them with clear plastic. Mist the soil whenever it gets dry. When the baby ponytail palm is already established, gradually transition the plant to a more well-lit area to encourage growth.
Pests & Diseases
Ponytail palm is generally pest-free but they can be attacked by scales and mealybugs which are the common enemies of houseplants. When they’re few, you can control them by manually picking them out of the leaves. You may also cut off infested leaves if needed.
Less harmful chemical control such as DIY solutions is also recommended rather than using pesticides. Most pests are manageable without the need to use potentially dangerous chemicals.
Being pet-friendly is another good characteristic of a ponytail plant. It’s non-toxic to cats and dogs (APSCA, 2020). If you own these pets at home, adding in a pot or two of this ornamental is safe.
Typical Questions for caring a Ponytail Palm Plant
Does Ponytail Palm Produce Flowers?
If you’re expecting your ponytail palm to flower when its indoors, you’d probably need to give that hope up. It would take a really long time for ponytail palm to produce flowers. If they do, they have to grow big and tall first.
That’s why the only ponytail palms that flower are those planted outdoors. They produce clusters of creamy yellow flowers that are attached to their panicles. These flowers look like a crown on top of the ponytail foliage.
Why Is My Ponytail Palm Leaves Yellowing?
Yellowing is often an indication of overwatering. We know that ponytail palm doesn’t like so much water. If you happen to give water in excess, the roots will find trouble transporting water and nutrients to the leaves.
The lack of nutrients and water in the upper portion of the plant leads the cells to die. Thus, you’ll see the leaves turning yellow. Soon, they’ll start dropping from the plant itself.
In this case, you have to withdraw water for some time until the plant recovers. If the yellowing persists, uproot the plant and check the roots. Overwatering also causes root rot and there are times when repotting might be necessary.
Is It Okay to Place My Ponytail Palm In a Partly Shaded Area?
Although ponytail palm loves sunlight, it’s safe for them to be placed in a partly shaded location. The light that comes from a south facing window will be enough for this plant to survive. However, the relatively less amount of light it receives will cause slow growth.
If you have limited windows in your home, make sure to provide extra source of light inside. Artificial light will help augment the lack of natural sunlight. Place your ponytail plant somewhere near this source.
Adding ponytail palm in your indoor houseplant collection is definitely a wise decision. Its growing requirements are pretty much alike with cactus and succulents. They require less maintenance and therefore, won’t give you a headache.
On top of that, its unique appearance will surely make a dull room standout. Those cascading curly leaves are as beautiful as it is. With proper care, they can last a long time.