Friday, April 15, 2011

Beaucarnea Recurvata

Beaucarnea recurvata, commonly referred to as the ponytail palm, is truly an oddity with its large swollen base and long, grass-like leaves that cascade from the top like a ‘ponytail’. Native to southeastern Mexico, this slow-growing and intriguing specimen is an excellent choice for indoor gardeners searching for a low maintenance plant. There’s no need for an experienced green thumb with the ‘ponytail palm’, a plant that requires very minimal care and is able to put up with (hopefully temporary) periods of neglect.

This palm-like succulent, which is not a palm at all, is a member of the Agave family and can reach heights of 30 feet in its desert homeland. As an indoor plant, it may reach heights of six to eight feet eventually, but it will take a long time to get there; this is a painfully slow grower. Plants available for sale at garden centers are usually less than two feet tall.

With a thick trunk that stores water, this native of arid regions can withstand extended periods of drought effortlessly and will succumb easily to over-watering. Make sure you are growing the plant in an airy, well-draining potting mix to help avoid rot. Water thoroughly during each application; allow the soil to dry between each subsequent watering session. Over-watering is a guaranteed death sentence for the Beaucarnea recurvata, so be very careful with your watering habits, especially during the winter when the plant prefers to be drier.

Beaucarnea recurvata requires as much light as possible to stay healthy and grow vigorously (or as vigorously as this slow grower can grow). Lower light levels can be tolerated for awhile but the plant must eventually be moved to an area that offers more light. Choose a spot that offers direct sun or very bright filtered light. Average household temperatures are fine and low humidity is not an issue.

One of the most interesting things about Beaucarnea recurvata – or so I’ve read - is that you have the option of deciding just how big you want it to get. Apparently, growth can be manipulated by the pot the plant grows in. In other words, every time you repot your Beaucarnea recurvata into a larger container, the base will expand, which in turn encourages the plant to grow taller. I have not tried this myself, and can’t guarantee that it’s true, but it is interesting enough to try. It’s important to bear in mind, though, that this is a slow grower, so even if this ‘strategy’ is true, it would probably be awhile before there’s any (noticeable) substantial growth.

For an alternative growing style that will eliminate all water worries, switch this prime candidate to hydroculture. Wash the base well when transplanting to remove all traces of soil. The plant will experience some stress during the conversion; expect the loss of some leaves. Water roots appear fairly quickly, within the month.


  1. I like the idea of hydroculture - much easier when it comes to repotting time.

  2. I've been using hydroculture for years and I love it! I'd never go back to growing indoor plants in soil.