Beaucarnea recurvata, commonly known as Ponytail Palm, is an evergreen caudiciform shrub or small tree native to semi-desert areas of southeastern Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala, where it typically grows up to 30 feet (90 m) tall. Where not winter hardy, it is commonly grown as a houseplant that, over time, will eventually rise to 8 feet (2.4 m) tall.
Notwithstanding its common name, Ponytail Palm is not a true palm. It is noted for having a large, swollen, often flask-shaped caudex from which rises a trunk-like stem with narrow, flat, palm-like, spreading to recurved leaves. They are up to 6 feet (1.8 m) long, up to 1 inch (2.5 cm) wide, and droop fountain-like in clusters from the branch ends. Trunks are usually single with young plants, but several smaller trunks and some sparse branching near the top may develop with age. Old plants may produce tiny creamy white flowers in clusters. The flowers rarely appear on houseplants.
Growing Conditions and General Care
Ponytail Palm is winter hardy to USDA plant hardiness zone 9, where it is best grown in sandy soils with sharp drainage in full sun.
It is a very popular houseplant in more temperate climates. Houseplants should be placed in a sunny window. Plants like bright, warm, dry conditions and overwinter well with furnace heat. Houseplants are best grown in relatively small pots with excellent drainage. They can be moved outdoors after the last spring frost date with gradual adjustment to full sun locations and cooler temperatures. Fading leaves can be peeled off, and brown leaf tips may be clipped off.
Outdoors in summer, plants should be given regular water but allowed to dry out between waterings. Reduce watering for plants brought indoors for winter.
Ponytail palms should never be top-trimmed, and they will respond wonderfully to a consistent feeding program in the growing season. Keep in mind, though, that it is an extremely slow-growing plant, so do not expect your desktop plant to transform into a corner specimen in 1 or 2 growing seasons.
Repot in the spring as needed. If your goal is to grow a large Ponytail Palm, repot every year. If you want to keep it smaller, repot every other year. Ponytail Palm will thrive when slightly underpotted.
The propagation of these plants is by seed. The process is long and likely to prove tedious for the average gardener. Ponytail Palms sometimes have offsets from the base that can be potted up individually. Generally, however, this is difficult 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.
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