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Publication #ENH252

Beaucarnea recurvata: Ponytail Palm1

Edward F. Gilman, Dennis G. Watson, Ryan W. Klein, Andrew K. Koeser, Deborah R. Hilbert and Drew C. McLean2

Introduction

This upright, fine-textured evergreen tree grows very slowly up to 30 feet in height but rarely exceeds 10 feet. A distinctive plant, ponytail palm has a greatly swollen trunk base (sometimes to seven feet across) that narrowly tapers and eventually branches in older specimens. The dark green leaves, up to five feet long and 3/4 of an inch wide, are produced in tufts clustered at the tips of branches. The cascading nature of the leaves gives much the appearance of a pony's tail. Creamy yellow flowers are quite showy as they are held above the foliage in spring or summer for several weeks. The tree will occasionally flower two or even three times a year. This plant makes a great conversation piece, whether grown as a specimen, a container plant, near patios, or placed in rock gardens. It can also be used as a houseplant.

Figure 1. 

Full Form - Beaucarnea recurvata: ponytail palm


Credit:

UF/IFAS


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

General Information

Scientific name: Beaucarnea recurvata

Pronunciation: boe-KAR-nee-uh reck-er-VAY-tuh

Common name(s): ponytail palm

Family: Asparagacea

USDA hardiness zones: 10A through 11 (Figure 2)

Origin: native to Belize, Guatemala, and southeastern Mexico

UF/IFAS Invasive Assessment Status: not assessed/incomplete assessment

Uses: indoors; specimen; container or planter; deck or patio

Figure 2. 

Range


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Description

Height: 12 to 18 feet

Spread: 10 to 15 feet

Crown uniformity: irregular

Crown shape: palm, upright/erect

Crown density: open

Growth rate: slow

Texture: fine

Foliage

Leaf arrangement: whorled

Leaf type: simple

Leaf margin: serrate

Leaf shape: linear

Leaf venation: parallel

Leaf type and persistence: evergreen

Leaf blade length: 1 ½ to 5 feet

Leaf color: dark green

Fall color: no color change

Fall characteristic: not showy

Figure 3. 

Leaf - Beaucarnea recurvata: ponytail palm


Credit:

UF/IFAS


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Flower

Flower color: creamy yellow

Flower characteristics: very showy; emerges in clusters on 3’ long panicles

Flowering: spring and summer

Figure 4. 

Flower - Beaucarnea recurvata: ponytail palm


Credit:

UF/IFAS


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Fruit

Fruit shape: elongated

Fruit length: ½ inch

Fruit covering: dry or hard; 3-winged capsule

Fruit color: reddish-tinged

Fruit characteristics: does not attract wildlife; not showy; fruit/leaves not a litter problem

Figure 5. 

Fruit - Beaucarnea recurvata: ponytail palm


Credit:

UF/IFAS


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/branches: branches don't droop; showy; typically multi-trunked; no thorns

Bark: brown, smooth, with previous years’ leaf scars along the trunk, and an extremely swollen or buttressed base that fissures with age

Pruning requirement: little required

Breakage: resistant

Current year twig color: gray

Current year twig thickness: very thick

Wood specific gravity: unknown

Figure 6. 

Bark - Beaucarnea recurvata: ponytail palm


Credit:

Gitta Hasing, UF/IFAS


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Culture

Light requirement: full sun to partial shade

Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; alkaline; acidic; well-drained

Drought tolerance: high

Aerosol salt tolerance: moderate

Other

Roots: not a problem

Winter interest: no

Outstanding tree: no

Ozone sensitivity: unknown

Verticillium wilt susceptibility: unknown

Pest resistance: free of serious pests and diseases

Use and Management

Ponytail palm grows in full sun or partial shade on a wide range of soils. Soil must have good drainage as plants have a tendency to develop root rot on poorly drained soils. Plants moved from indoors to permanent outside locations should be gradually exposed to the increase in light and temperature change.

Propagation is by seed, which usually must be imported from Mexico.

Pests

Chewing insects may disfigure the leaves.

Diseases

Root rots can kill plants grown on wet soils.

References

Koeser, A. K., Hasing, G., Friedman, M. H., and Irving, R. B. 2015. Trees: North & Central Florida. University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Koeser, A.K., Friedman, M.H., Hasing, G., Finley, H., Schelb, J. 2017. Trees: South Florida and the Keys. University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Footnotes

1.

This document is ENH252, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 1993. Revised December 2018. Visit the EDIS website at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu for the currently supported version of this publication.

2.

Edward F. Gilman, professor emeritus, Environmental Horticulture Department; Dennis G. Watson, former associate professor, Agricultural Engineering Department; Ryan W. Klein, graduate assistant, Environmental Horticulture Department, Gainesville, FL 32611; Andrew K. Koeser, assistant professor, Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center (GCREC), Wimauma, FL 33598; Deborah R. Hilbert, graduate assistant, Environmental Horticulture Department, GCREC; and Drew C. McLean, biological scientist, Environmental Horticulture Department, GCREC; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.