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

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 the thin trunk and some call it a “bottle palm“.

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

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

When plant and displayed in a bonsai pot it’s 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, makes the “Pony tail 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 waterings. Never allow the plant to sit 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 a cactus mix or sandy potting mix 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 on whether or not to water the plant, skip it until the next week.


Signs of under watering 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

Light requirements 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 full sun. 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.

Pony Tail Insect Free

Generally, you’ll find the ponytail palm an insect free plant, but on occasion, 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 pest don’t bother the ponytail palm much we do have one recommended natural product for controlling these pests.

For getting rid of spider mites, we like to spray all-natural Neem Oil for plants which also controls mealybugs and scale on ponytail – it’s available online from Amazon.

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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 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 and 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 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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