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Beaucarnea recurvata (bow-KAR-nee-a re-kur-VAT-a) syn.
Nolina recurvata, N. tuberculata
Ponytail palm, bottle palm, elephant foot tree
Beaucarnea, a member of the Agavaceae family, is a slow-growing
plant that doesn’t require constant care, so it’s ideal for
those who want a long-lasting houseplant, even in the absence of
a green thumb. Commonly known as ponytail palm, Beaucarnea bears
narrow, gray-green or dark green foliage that arches out from a
large bulblike trunk, causing it to somewhat resemble a palm. In
addition, the leaves emanate from a central point like a
ponytail, thus the name. Although it may take years to do so,
this plant could grow to as tall as 8 feet indoors.
With proper care, individual plants can live for many years.
Beaucarnea plants are available year-round.
IN-STORE AND CONSUMER CARE
LIGHT Bright light,
especially from spring through fall, is required.
WATER From spring through
fall, water moderately and allow the potting medium to dry
between each watering. Throughout the winter months, the plant
requires very little water and should be kept almost dry from
November to March.
TEMPERATUE Average room
temperatures—between 65 F and 75 F—are ideal. Beaucarnea is
chill sensitive, so it should never be exposed to temperatures
below 50 F.
HUMIDITY A dry environment
is best for Beaucarnea, and misting is not necessary.
FERTILIZER During spring and
summer only, established plants can be treated to monthly
feedings with a balanced houseplant fertilizer. Plant food
should not be applied in fall and winter.
PROPOGATION Beaucarneas are
propagated from seed. Offsets, which may occasionally appear
near the plant’s base, could be potted, but getting new plants
to grow from these is difficult, at best.
PRUNING Under low-light
conditions, brown leaf tips are common. These should be snipped
off with sharp scissors. Otherwise, no pruning is required.
REPOTTING When the base of
the trunk has grown to within two inches of the pot’s
circumference, repotting is recommended using an easily draining
medium such as potting soil for cacti. Ideally, repotting should
be done in the spring.
PESTS AND PROBLEMS Aphids
and spider mites may occasionally infest Beaucarnea. If this
occurs, the plant should be isolated and its leaves cleaned with
a cloth and soapy water. Regular cleaning will help prevent
further infestations. However, this plant’s modest water
requirements pose the greatest challenge to its care.
Overwatering, especially in winter, is the most common cause of
poor plant performance.
LEAF CONCERNS Brown leaf
tips typically signal improper watering and/or insufficient
sunlight. If this occurs, the brown tips should be removed with
scissors, and excessive watering should be avoided.
SHRIVELED BASE If
Beaucarnea’s bulbous base becomes darkened and shriveled, even
partially, stem rot or bacterial soft rot is the likely cause.
It is unlikely the plant will recover from the damage, which is,
at least partially, related to overwatering.
WHAT'S IN A NAME The name
“palm,” as in the plant’s common names of ponytail and bottle,
are misnomers. This plant is not a palm at all; instead, it is a
succulent. The names are derived from the arching appearance of
the palmlike foliage that sprays from the plant’s base.
FAMILY Beaucarnea plants are
members of the Agavaceae (Agave) family. Close relatives include
Sansevieria (snake plant and mother-in-law’s tongue), Cordyline
(ti), Dracaena, Yucca and tuberose.
HOME SWEET HOME The plant is
native to Mexico’s desert regions, where it grows like a shrub
or tree and can reach heights of 30 feet. In its natural
environment, it may survive for hundreds of years.
Some information provided by:
Botanica, by R.G. Turner Jr. and Ernie Wasson
Chain of Life Network®,
The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual, by Barbara Pleasant
Hermann Engelmann Greenhouses, Inc.,
The Houseplant Encyclopedia, by Ingrid Jantra and Ursula Krüger
The House Plant Expert, by Dr. D.G. Hessayon
You may reach Foliage Plant of the Month writer
Shelley Urban by phone at (800)
Super Floral Retailing • Copyright 2008
Florists' Review Enterprises, Inc.