Beaucarnea Recurvata - Plant of the Month
Beaucarnea Recurvata, more commonly known as the ponytail palm, is a plant native to Mexico where it is often found living to hundreds of years old. It’s easily recognisable by its bulbous trunk, often likened to an Elephants foot, which is used to store water during periods of drought. As a house plant, this means it won’t need watering very often!
Beaucarnea prefer a spot with bright light, preferably direct. You will find this is a very slow growing plant at the best of times and although it will tolerate a slightly shadier spot, it does need bright light to show visible signs of success.
Because of its natural habitat, the ponytail palm (which isn’t actually a palm at all) can withstand low temperatures if it’s getting enough sunlight – as low as 7 degrees! It doesn’t require too much humidity either, preferring drier, desert like conditions. However when the air is too dry, perhaps when the central heating/air conditioning gets switched on, it can cause the edges and tips of it’s foliage to brown. You can give it a light misting or group with other plants to avoid this.
As mentioned above, Beaucarnea can survive with very little water because of their bulbous trunk, although you don’t want to get into the habit of underwatering! Make sure it’s planted into a pot with plenty of drainage and a free draining compost. It’s also worth regularly poking holes into the soil around the plant (with a skewer or chopstick) to ensure the conditions remain free draining and the compost doesn’t become sodden.
In the warmer months, wait for the top 3 inches of soil to dry out between waterings (every couple of weeks depending on the heat of your space) and feed with a house plant fertiliser roughly once a month to encourage growth. When the temperature drops and your ponytail palm goes into its dormant period, make sure to water it less.
Due to it’s slow growing nature, Beaucarnea don’t need to be re-potted very often. Every few years in spring should do the trick, although we would advise scraping off the top layer of soil every spring and replacing it with fresh compost. When you do re-pot your ponytail palm, make sure to be gentle when loosening the roots as it doesn’t like its roots being damaged.
Propagating a ponytail palm can be very tricky – it would usually be done by separating the offsets and re-planting, but as it’s so slow growing the new shoots rely heavily on the parent plant and won’t establish its own roots very quickly. You could try using a rooting hormone but we suggest enjoying and nurturing your parent plant instead.