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.
Scientific name: Beaucarnea recurvata
Pronunciation: boe-KAR-nee-uh reck-er-VAY-tuh
Common name(s): ponytail palm
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
Height: 12 to 18 feet
Spread: 10 to 15 feet
Crown uniformity: irregular
Crown shape: palm, upright/erect
Crown density: open
Growth rate: slow
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
Flower color: creamy yellow
Flower characteristics: very showy; emerges in clusters on 3' long panicles
Flowering: spring and summer
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
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
Current year twig color: gray
Current year twig thickness: very thick
Wood specific gravity: unknown
Light requirement: full sun to partial shade
Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; alkaline; acidic; well-drained
Drought tolerance: high
Aerosol salt tolerance: moderate
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.
Chewing insects may disfigure the leaves.
Root rots can kill plants grown on wet soils.
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.