It is known by many names such as bottle tree, bottle palm, Monja, Palma Colona, elephant’s foot tree, and ponytail palm; however it is not actually palm tree at all, even though it resembles the palm in that there is a tall trunk with leaves coming out from the top.
It is a native of Mexico and its botanical name is Beaucarnea recurvata. It is also known as Nolina recurvata and N. Tuberculata. But why does everyone who owns one love their ponytail tree so much? Firstly, it is easy to grow and takes very little maintenance. Then, it lasts for some years in a pot, making it good for growing indoors. Finally, the tree itself is really unusual due to the spreading nature of the trunk’s base and the curved strap-like leaves that hang down from the top.
Sometimes – and particularly after damage – shoots will form from the main trunk and also grow up tall and thin with a tuft of tangled leaves hanging from the tops. This is a normal happening in its native home. These also make the tree look attractive as they provide additional greenery.
But sometimes they get top heavy and can cause the main trunk to sustain damage if they tear away from it. It is quite all right to cut these extra shoots off when they appear, making sure to cut them level with the main trunk. These shoots cannot be repotted to grow as they will simply die.
The ponytail tree can be bought from the nursery or even home depot stores and is usually only tiny – some are 6 inches high. They will grow slowly over the years, with their growth inhibited by the pot they are in. If quick growth is preferred repotting into a larger pot should be done at regular intervals.
Once the base of the trunk starts to swell and grow it will eventually crack the pot in is in, even if it is made of cement. Plastic pots are even more easily cracked. It is best to repot before this happens. Once the tree has grown to the stage where it is heavy, use a dolly under the pot so that it can be moved around as needed. If grown inside it needs to be near a good light source.
Many people like to keep their ponytail tree indoors or on a sheltered patio during winter months as it does not like freezing conditions, though it may survive some degrees of frost. It has been grown in USD zones 8b-9a. Those who live in more temperate regions can plant their Elephant’s Foot tree out into the garden when it gets too big for a pot.
Just remember that the trunk may swell to up to 3 meters (10 feet) across so choose a site where it has lots of space. Plus, brushing against those dangly leaves may inflict a paper cut as the edges are really sharp.
Since the trunk is used to store water, the ponytail palm need not be watered too much. This can cause the trunk to rot. However, much will depend on the climate and humidity. Some people find that a tiny drink twice a day makes their ponytail tree thrive, while others have found that only watering it when the potting mix is dry does a better job.
In a pot watering once a week should be enough. In any case never water the plant until the top inch of soil has dried out.
It takes about ten years for the ponytail tree to flower, but there will be no seeds unless there is both a male and female plant in close proximity. Flowers rise above the leaves and can be white or pink.
Read more: How To Care For Parlor Palm Plant
Choose a pot that is bigger than the one that cracked, but it need not be too big as ponytail plants have a small root system that does not mind being crowded. The soil or potting mix that is used should contain part sand to ensure good drainage. Do not plant the trunk any deeper into the soil than it was before as that can cause rotting.
A ponytail palm can last up to 100 years and grow 20 feet high or even more in ideal conditions. If growing more than one in the garden, they need to be spaced at least 6-8 feet apart.