Growing Elephant Foot Plants: How To Care For The Ponytail Palm Plant

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The “Ponytail Palm tree” is really not a palm at all. It’s a member of the agave family (Asparagaceae) and is known by several common names.

It earned the name “elephant’s foot plant” due to its bulbous base, throw-in thin trunk, and some call it a “bottle palm or Hottentot bread. “

Blooms on the Ponytail palm (Elephant foot plant)Pin
Ponytail palm blooming in Hawaii | via Forest and Kim Starr | CC2

Native to South Africa and the desert of Mexico along with the Yucca tree, it makes somewhat of a curious landscaping plant outdoors in direct sunlight, on the patio, or as an indoor houseplant.

When planted and displayed in a bonsai pot, its swollen base, like the desert rose bonsai makes for an attractive display in a small pot.

A sturdy plant used as a single specimen, usually in containers 14″ inches or larger, or planted in several 6″ to 10″ inch pots to appear more bushlike. Single specimens range in height from 6′ to 18′ feet tall.

Its large base and head of pendulous, smooth-edged flat leaves make the “Ponytail plant” unique. NO TWO are specimens alike.

Look Native For Ponytail Palm Care – Watering and Lighting

The native habitat of the ponytail palm, a dry Mexican climate, allows it to survive interior winter heat very well.

Watering The Pony Tail Palm

The ponytail palm plant is very drought tolerant and does not like too frequent watering. Never allow the plant to sit in excess water in the bottom of the saucer or pot. An interesting fact is that the succulent Nolina recurvata likes to store water in its base.

A pot with a drainage hole and the good drainage of sandy potting mix for cacti or succulents will generally minimize the probability of root rot, especially compared to the peaty mixes normally used with most tropical indoor house plants.

Specifically, allow the potting soil to dry out well between waterings, and if you have any doubt about whether or not to water the plant, skip it until the next week.

pony-tail-landscapePin

Just remember this plant prefers well-drained soil. You can also mix perlite, sand, and potting soil for your plant to thrive.

Signs of underwatering usually show up with dry, brown foliage, a shriveled stem, or desiccated roots. If overwatering occurs, you might see light new growth, stem rot, or root rot.

Read: Overwatered Ponytail Palm

Ponytail Palm Lighting Conditions and Requirements

Lighting conditions for ponytail palms are pretty easy to remember if you think of where they are native to – the Mexico desert landscape.

Provide bright indirect light to the full sun or partial shade. They are not low-light plants.

Any window space indoors, particularly one facing north, will suit the light requirements of this bright light plant. For optimum performance, however, full sun is best.

Moreover, it thrives in USDA hardiness zones 10a to 11. 

Pony Tail Insect Free

Generally, you’ll find the ponytail palm an insect-free plant, but on occasion, the ponytail does attract masses of mealybugs, attacks of spider mites, and scale bugs indoorsBeaucarnea recurvata – the “Ponytail Palm” is a plant to enjoy.

mealybugs on ponytail plant leavesPin
Mealybugs on Elephant’s foot plant

Although pests don’t bother the ponytail palm much, we do have one recommended natural product for controlling these pests.

To get rid of spider mites, we like to spray all-natural Neem Oil for indoor plants that also control mealybugs and scale on ponytails – it’s available online from Amazon.

Organic Neem OIl Spray for Plants

Neem Oil is our FAVORITE natural organic insecticide. Control aphids, mealybugs, plant scale, Japanese Beetles and more. It can also be used as a soil drench.

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You provide plenty of bright light and water it less frequently than you think necessary, and this plant will add a unique beauty wherever you use it.

I’ve always enjoyed reading how others described the plants many years ago. Below you’ll see…

From The World Book Of House Plants
Elvin McDonald 1963

Description: Beaucarnea recurvata, the Mexican bottle plant, or “ponytail,” is an unusual, desert-dwelling member of the lily family, notable primarily for a large, swollen base in which it can store a year’s supply of water.

With great age, Beaucarnea may attain a height of 30′ feet tall, but small plants (grown from seeds) are ideal as indoor specimens and slow-growing enough to remain a convenient size for many years.

Topping the bulbous base, the bottle plant has a rosette of thin, exceedingly long, tough leaves. In lily fashion, it produces panicles of whitish flowers, small and lightly fragrant.

Culture: Light, sunny to semi-sunny. Temperature, average house, preferably not over 75° degrees Fahrenheit in winter. 

Humidity, average house. Soil, equal parts loam, sand, and peat moss; keep evenly moist. Ponytail palm propagation works by removing offsets.

Ponytail Palms For An Interesting Garden

Many plants are grown for their flowers, and some are grown because of the love of their foliage. However, the ponytail palm flower is not what makes it desirable – it is the trunk, in addition to its foliage. The Ponytail Palm is treasured by many primarily because of its bottle-shaped trunk.

Someone described ponytail palms as a bottle plant. Shaped like a Chianti bottle and topped with a cascade of 18″ inch-blade-like foliage which resembled a long-haired palm.

Another species, Beaucarnea guatemalensis does not have the same bulbous base.

Generally, the elephant foot tree has a flat and fleshy bottle-shaped trunk topped with strappy green leaves. When the plant has almost no trunk at all when it is still young.

At this stage, the trunk looks like an enlarged onion bulb with ribbon-like leaves emerging at its top, curling downward.

As the plant matures, the trunk becomes thicker, and its base gets swollen until it looks more like a bottle or an elephant’s foot plant.

The desert plant can have several branches towards the top as it grows over the years. When Ponytail Palms grow outdoors, they can reach a height of up to 16′ foot tall or more.

They do produce flower stalks, consisting of clusters of small creamy white to beige blossoms when grown outdoors. Here’s a video on Pony Tail.

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