Yes, the ponytail palm is succulent. Despite its name, it is not a palm tree. It actually belongs to the Asparagaceae family of succulents, along with agaves, asparagus, and yucca plants.
It is called a palm because it has a thick central trunk and its leaves grow from the top and cascade downwards, which makes it resemble a mini palm tree.
Native to Mexico, this subtropical tree is typically found on cliffs and in mountainous areas where the soil is quite rocky.
It is one of the hardiest and most tolerant houseplants in the world, and because it is a slow grower, there is little to do for it in terms of maintenance.
In this article, we will learn more about the ponytail palm and its proper cultural care. So, if you want to learn more about this fascinating plant, just keep reading.
About the ponytail palm
The ponytail palm, or Beaucarnea recurvata, is flexible enough to be an indoor or outdoor plant.
When it is allowed to grow in an outdoor garden with plenty of space, it can become as big as a full-sized tree. When grown indoors in a pot, it will have a stout stem from which the leaves will grow, and it might even look as if the leaves are growing directly from the ground.
In ideal growing conditions, the plant can reach heights of up to six feet.
Because it is a slow grower, it can take more than five years for a foot-tall ponytail palm to grow another foot in height.
It does not do well in cold temperatures; it is only hardy to zones 10 to 11, so make sure you take it indoors when the seasons start to change.
Is the ponytail palm succulent?
Yes, the ponytail palm is a succulent that belongs to the Asparagaceae family, which also includes other popular succulents like agaves and yuccas. Like most succulents, it has the ability to store water in its large trunk for use in the event of drought. This makes it able to grow in some of the driest conditions on earth, as it does not need that much water to survive.
Ponytail palm care
The ponytail palm is quite flexible when it comes to the light conditions it can tolerate. You can choose to plant it under full sunlight, partial shade or bright, indirect light.
As with most succulents, the ponytail palm will actually grow a little slower when it gets lots of sunlight. This is not necessarily bad for the plant, but if you want it to grow faster, then partial shade is probably best.
If you live in a place where the sun shines intensely, the plant’s leaves can suffer sun damage, so look out for signs of too much light, including browning leaf tips and wilting.
If you think your plant is getting too much sunlight, transfer it immediately to a shadier spot, such as under a large tree or near the side of a building where it can get a few hours in the shade each day.
The ponytail palm will probably do fine indoors with low light conditions, but this is not ideal in the long term. Its leaves will eventually become pale since the plant will no longer be able to photosynthesize effectively. This is why lots of sunlight is always better.
If you think your indoor plant is not getting enough light, transfer it to a sunnier spot such as right next to a window.
If you live in a place where natural sunlight may be scarce for a few months of the year, you might need to use a grow light to help keep the plant happy. Alternatively, you could just choose to grow succulents that actually like to live in low light conditions.
A cactus or succulent potting mix should be sufficient for the ponytail palm, as it likes its potting mix to be well-draining. It grows in rocky soil in its natural habitat, so it is best to simulate that in your home setup.
Make sure that both your potting mix and your pot have good drainage so that the soil does not end up perpetually wet or soggy; the plant hates this. You can actually add coarse sand and perlite to the succulent or cactus mix to make it even more well-draining.
The pot needs to have sufficient holes at the bottom so that any excess water in the soil can easily flow out.
The ponytail palm is a succulent that does not like to be watered too often, but that does not mean you can just neglect to water it whenever you feel like it. It is still a plant and it requires water to stay hydrated, as well as to transfer nutrients and minerals from the soil.
The water in the soil acts as a vessel for the roots to effectively absorb nutrients and minerals. So, when you underwater a plant, not only are you depriving it of moisture; you are also depriving it of the substances it needs to function properly.
If you think your plant is underwatered, water it immediately. Soak all of the soil in the pot with water until you can see the excess water dripping from the holes at the bottom of the pot.
Another common mistake made by ponytail palm owners is overwatering their plant. Overwatering can come about from giving the plant too much water every time you water it, watering it more often than you should, leaving it out in the rain for days on end, using potting mix or pots that have poor drainage, or not adjusting your watering habits to changes in the weather, season or climate.
You will know your ponytail palm is overwatered if the leaves are yellow and droopy; they may also feel soft and mushy to the touch.
A serious consequence of overwatering is root rot. This is a condition caused by prolonged exposure of the plant’s roots to waterlogged soil so that they cannot dry out in between waterings.
Because the roots are unable to dry out, they will drown and die. The dead roots will begin to rot and will become vulnerable to opportunistic pathogens such as fungi and bacteria. These pathogens will make the rot more aggressive and it will spread quickly to the rest of the plant, possibly even killing it.
If you think your ponytail palm is overwatered, stop watering it immediately and place it in a sunny spot so that the soil dries out faster.
If you want to check for root rot, you will have to remove the plant from its pot. Wash off as much soil as you can from the roots, and be gentle about it, because the roots could be fragile and easily damaged.
Inspect the roots for sections that have turned brown or black. These are rotten and will have to be removed. Use a sterile pair of scissors to do this until only the healthy, white roots remain.
Lay the plant on a dry surface to let the roots air-dry for a few hours, and fill a new pot two-thirds of the way with fresh potting mix. Place the plant in the middle of the pot and cover the roots with more soil.
Water the soil until it is moist but not soggy, and place the plant where it can get bright, indirect light.
The best way to avoid both underwatering and overwatering is by developing good watering habits. You should always check the moisture in the soil before watering the plant. If the top two inches of soil are dry, water the plant, but if the soil is still a little damp, wait one or two days before checking again.
The ponytail palm is not that particular when it comes to temperature, especially if it is grown indoors. As long as the temperature in your house is at a comfortable level, the ponytail palm can adapt to it.
The temperature range that is ideal for the plant is between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you keep the plant outdoors and the temperature drops below 45 degrees, you will need to bring it into the house. It does not do well if exposed to these temperatures for extended periods of time.
The plant will also go dormant over winter, and in this state, it is best kept in temperatures between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
The natural habitat of the ponytail palm is not humid, so the same goes for its preferred humidity levels when growing in your home.
It can grow in any spot in your house as long as there is ample light, even if the air in that room is quite dry.
Do not place it in the most humid parts of your house, such as the bathroom or the kitchen, because the humidity maybe a little too high for it there.
If you want to fertilize your ponytail palm to make it start blooming, then know that you do not need to do this.
The plant typically gets all the nutrients and minerals it needs from the soil in its pot.
Also, flowering in ponytail palms is quite rare, especially compared with other flowering succulents. If the plant does produce flowers, they will appear on yellow bracts that will grow from the top of the plant.
If you do want to help the plant reach its full potential, it is okay to fertilize it; just make sure the fertilizer is at half-strength so that it is not too concentrated.
Fertilize the plant once a month, only during its growing season.
Ponytail palm growth
Another name for this plant is the elephant tree, apparently because of the slow rate at which it grows. The size of your ponytail palm will depend on when it was planted and where it is growing.
A ponytail palm that is allowed to grow in the ground outdoors can grow to over 15 feet high, while an indoor potted ponytail palm will only reach a maximum height of around three feet.
So, if you want to keep the plant at a manageable size that can be transferred from room to room, you are better off planting it in a pot.
An indoor plant may not have as long a lifespan as one that is grown outdoors, but it still has quite a long life. Outdoor ponytail palms have been known to survive for hundreds of years.
How to propagate a ponytail palm
Propagating the ponytail palm through pup division is the easiest method, but you can only do this if your parent plant already has shoots that you can dig out from around its base.
Using a sterile knife, cut between the pups and the parent plant to separate them. The pups will most likely be around a few inches long.
Prepare new pots by filling them with fresh potting mix and placing the individual pups into the soil.
Water each new plant thoroughly and then place a plastic bag over each pot to trap the humidity around the pup.
Keep the growing pups in a warm room and misteach pup every few days, just enough to keep the soil moist but not soggy.
The pot you use for the pups should also have drainage holes at the bottom so that the excess water can flow out and your plants have less chance of being overwatered.
After a few weeks, you should see roots growing close to the surface of the soil and you can then transfer the new plants into larger pots if you would like to.
The ponytail palm is one of those plants that are not susceptible to pests, but that does not mean they are completely pest-resistant.
The most commonly observed pests on ponytail palms are scale insects, mealybugs, and spider mites.
You can typically see these pests and the damage they inflict on the leaves of the plant. You will see black or white spots, while spider mites will also leave webbing on the leaves.
If the infestation is not that extensive, you can get rid of the pests by knocking them off the plant with a steady stream of water from a garden hose.
You can also use insecticide, but if you do not want to use chemicals on your plant or around your house, you can spray rubbing alcohol on the affected areas on the plant.
Alternatively, you can wipe the affected areas with neem oil on a cotton swab.
Repeat your chosen method every three days until you are sure that all of the pests have been eradicated.
Before you perform any pest control treatment, take the infested plant away from your other healthy plants so that the infestation does not spread. Keep the plant in quarantine for several weeks until you are sure that no new pests have appeared, after which it is safe to take it back to where your other plants are.
Yes, the ponytail palm, or Beaucarnea recurvata, is succulent. It belongs to the Asparagaceae family of succulents. This plant grows in dry conditions and in rocky soil in its natural habitat, and it stores water in its trunk for use in the event of drought.
Only water this plant when the top two inches of soil in the pot are dry to the touch. It should be kept in a spot where it can get at least bright, indirect light for most of the day.
You do not need to fertilize the plant, but you can if you want to; just do so at half-strength.
The ponytail palm does not like humidity and should be kept in temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you just provide this plant with its most basic needs, it will be a happy part of your home for decades to come.
Image: istockphoto.com / RenataKa