The Ponytail Palm, is also referred to as the “bottle palm” or “elephant foot tree” because of the bulbous base the plant develops. This unique houseplant however isn’t a palm at all. In fact, contrary to it’s appearance it is actually a succulent. It’s an excellent choice for anyone that wants to add the beauty of houseplants to their home without needing to spend a lot of time caring for them. It’s also a very popular choice for growing as a Bonsai. ( Growing and Caring for the Bonsai )
The plants base has a bulging appearance with a more narrow trunk topped with a fountain of long slender leaves resembling blades of grass. The foliage generally curves downward and can be as much as two feet long and just an inch wide. Because the foliage does reach fairly long lengths, it does require a generous amount of space. Although this houseplant can become fairly tall and wide, pruning isn’t an option. Restrict any trimming to removing side shoots that will form as the plant begins to develop new branches.
As a young plant, the Ponytail Palm barely has a noticeable trunk at all. Instead, it resembles a onion plant. As the plant matures, the trunk begins to widen and thicken and becomes more pronounced. Eventually, the trunk will develop a brownish gray colored bark with a texture that very closely resembles an elephants foot. The base will continue to grow in size giving the plant a bottle shape.
While the Ponytail Palm is extremely slow growing, when grown outside in warm climates it can reach heights of 20 feet or more. Although, when grown as a houseplant, it will generally only reach around three feet in height. And, while it rarely flowers indoors, when grown outdoors it will also produce flower stalks that can reach 16 feet or more in height. The stalks produce clusters of small yellowish or beige colored flowers that open during the summer months.
Because the Ponytail Palm originates from desert areas, their root system is very similar to that of a cactus. The plants roots push deep into the soil to store water through dry spells and water is also stored in its wide base. These plants only need to be watered every one to two weeks, but can go as long as four weeks before watering. Before watering make sure that the soil is dry at least one inch into the soil. The soil should be thoroughly soaked and any excess water should be allowed to drain.
Native to sunny desert regions, this houseplant flourishes with lots of bright light. However, it can tolerate some periods of shade. A good quality potting soil will work fine, but you can help prevent root rot by using a mixture of half sand and half soil. The plant should be fertilized at least once each month year round. But, increase fertilization to twice monthly when you start to see new growth appearing during the spring.
Although pest infestations are rare on the Ponytail Palm they can occur. The plant should be inspected for mites or bugs several times each week. If you do notice any problems you can spray the plant with soapy water or an insecticide. Never spray the plant when the soil is dry and rinse the plant well the next day.
Ponytail Palm Growing Tips
If the plants lower leaves become yellow or start to turn brown, it’s a good sign that the plant isn’t receiving enough water.
The Ponytail Palm prefers to be slightly root bound and only needs repotting about every 3 or 4 years.
While this plant definitely loves warm sunny locations, it prefers cooler temperatures of around 50 degrees during the winter months.
When you repot the plant water the soil thoroughly but don’t apply any fertilizer for at least four weeks. The loose soil in a newly repotted plant allows too much fertilizer to reach the roots causing them to burn.
Written by Connie Corder, Copyright 2010 HousePlantsForYou.com