Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 636 Beaucarnea recurvata

Common Names: ponytail palm, bottle palm, nolina, elephant-foot tree Family: Agavaceae (agave Family)

Outdoors the ponytail will grow to huge proportions like this oldtimer at Miami's Fairchild Tropical Garden.


The ponytail is a weird palmlike succulent with a greatly expanded base and a single trunk with a rosette of long, strap-like leaves that arch and droop. With age, the trunk eventually develops a few branches. Ponytail can get up to 30 ft (9.1 m) tall and the base up to 12 ft (3.7 m) across, but houseplants generally remain less than 6-8 ft (1.8-2.4 m) tall. The leaves are thin and flat, up to 6 ft (1.8 m) long and only 1 in (2.5 cm) wide. They are clustered in dense tufts at the ends of the branches and arch upward, then droop downward. The plant looks a little like a palm, and a little like a big onion sitting on the ground with a single stalk growing up and sporting a parasol of drooping, straplike leaves. Flowers are produced only on large specimens. They are creamy white and inconspicuous individually but borne in large showy upright clusters that extend above the leaves.

B. recurvata var. intermedia with shorter leaves, less than 3 ft (0.9 m) long, is the most commonly cultivated variety.


Ponytail, Beaucarnea recurvata, occurs in scrub and semi-desert areas in southeastern Mexico.


Light: Full sun. Moisture: Drought tolerant. Water deeply, but infrequently. Ponytails grown as houseplants are especially vulnerable to overwatering. Allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Hardiness: USDA Zones 9 - 12. Mature plants can tolerate temperatures down to 18ºF (-7.8ºC). Propagation: Offsets (suckers) can be separated and started as new plants in spring.


Ponytail makes a large and handsome houseplant, doing well even in rooms with air conditioning as long as it has bright light. It's a good specimen plant for a rock garden in a dry, warm climate. They do well even in rainy climates like Florida as long as the soil is sandy and extremely well drained.

Small ponytail palms of this size are easy to find at most garden centers - they're excellent for container culture indoors or out.


Ponytail palm is often sold as a potted plant for the interesting appearance of its swollen base, which is in fact an adaptation for storing water during times of drought. It is, of course, not a palm, but related to the yuccas and century plants.

Steve Christman3/13/00; updated 6/13/04

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Beaucarnea species profiled on Floridata:

Beaucarnea recurvata

( ponytail palm, bottle palm, nolina, elephant-foot tree )

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