Beaucarnea recurvata (Elephant Foot Plant)

Last updated on September 18th, 2022 at 03:32 am

Beaucarnea recurvata, also known as the elephant foot plant or ponytail palm plant, has beautiful sword-shaped foliage with yellow markings, making it an attractive specimen plant in the home or garden. It’s also easy to grow in all but the coldest areas.

The elephant foot plant offers many ornamental qualities and can thrive in bright light conditions indoors. The plant features fleshy, yellow-green leaves that branch out from its base like the toes of an elephant’s foot, which gives it its name.

But there are some other interesting characteristics you may not know about this interesting houseplant.

Here are more details about how to grow the beaucarnea recurvata at home and care for it properly so that it will thrive and provide years of enjoyment as part of your indoor decor.

Origin and distribution

Native to Mexico and Guatemala, Beaucarnea recurvata, commonly known as the elephant foot plant, belongs to the family Asparagaceae and is a long-lived succulent.

Like its desert-dwelling relatives, it stores water in its thick stems for use during dry periods. Elephant foot plants are native to tropical regions of Central America but have become popular houseplants in temperate regions.

They can grow up to 3 meters tall, though they stay much smaller when kept indoors.

For those who prefer shorter plants, ponytail palms offer similar benefits with a height of just over one meter.

Beaucarnea recurvata propagation

Beaucarnea recurvata

To propagate a plant like Beaucarnea recurvata, start by removing some offsets of your plant. These offsets can be propagated into new plants using a rooting hormone and using porous material like perlite or sand to cover them.

It is recommended that you keep these new plants in indirect sunlight at first and slowly introduce them to direct sunlight once they have started growing. Once all danger of frost has passed, you can transplant your plants into their permanent location.

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There are also many other ways to propagate an elephant’s foot such as division, layering, and air layering.

In the winter it is best to keep your Beaucarnea recurvata indoors because it prefers warmer temperatures; however, they should not be placed in cold drafts.

The leaves will dry out quickly if the plant stays outside during this time of year so make sure that you water it regularly!

Beaucarnea recurvata care information

Beaucarnea recurvata

Beaucarnea recurvata is not very complicated to care for. It does require well-drained soil, which should be watered sparingly. Let it dry between watering sessions and never overwater, as that can cause root rot.

Fertilize at half strength every two weeks from March through October, or until new growth starts. Fertilize again in December and January once new growth has started to develop. Remove any dead leaves regularly.

Light requirement

Beaucarnea recurvata prefers bright light to full sun, depending on how much sun your area gets. We do not recommend direct sunlight in your living room, for example! The new leaves will likely be burned by it. Find a location that you don’t mind getting some leaf burn and put it there.

Keep in mind, it can take quite a bit of light to bring out the red pigment in elephant foot plants. If your plant never turns red, try moving it to a brighter spot for awhile and see if that helps.

Soil/potting mix

Elephant foot plants, like many other succulents, need porous soil that drains well. The soil should also contain organic material, such as compost or peat moss.

Sandy loam is one of the best choices to support drainage and aeration while allowing good water retention.

Make sure the container has enough room for its roots to grow, and be sure not to overwater it.

A good potting mix can help your plant live long and happy!

Watering

Beaucarnea recurvata like to be well watered, but not waterlogged. Water them evenly and deeply, letting their soil dry out between watering. Keep an eye on your plant; it will let you know how it prefers to be watered by drooping leaves.

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They’re susceptible to root rot, so if you notice these telltale signs of root rot, immediately repot into fresh soil and water with an anti-fungal agent as a preventative measure.

Fertilizer

Elephant foot plants are slow-growing, so they can be fertilized less frequently than other types of indoor plants. However, elephant foot plants do not like their roots to dry out completely, so it’s a good idea to give them moderate amounts of fertilizer every month or two.

Depending on when you last fertilized your plant, you may need to top off its water for a week or two before re-fertilizing.

Temperature

Beaucarnea recurvata loves heat, but it can’t handle the heat and direct sunlight together. Keep away from windows or place it in a room with lots of light but not too much sun, like a south-facing window where it won’t get blasted.

Don’t worry about bringing your plant outside for part of the day. It can handle temperatures between 40 and 90 degrees but don’t move it to a very hot area immediately from cold storage or vice versa.

Humidity

One of the most crucial elements to a Beaucarnea recurvata growth is humidity. They thrive in warm and humid environments, preferably around 70-80% relative humidity.

If you are finding your plant is dry, whether due to lower than desired indoor humidity or exposure to outside air, be sure to mist your elephant foot plant every day until the leaves look like they have returned to their normal state.

Pruning

If your Beaucarnea recurvata is potted, you can easily trim and shape it by pruning. This will allow you to give it a variety of shapes and keep it looking its best. When pruning, look for new growth at your plant’s center point and pinch or cut back to encourage growth on other parts of its body.

Pinching will also encourage side-shoots on long stalks that are great for creating new plants. And if you need to start over with a new root system, make sure the surface around the base of the trunk is exposed before burying it in the soil again.

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When to repot

Elephant foot plants are notoriously slow growers, and won’t need repotting until they reach 3 to 4 feet in height. This can take anywhere from 2 to 5 years, depending on growing conditions.

Once your plant reaches its maximum height, you should repot every two years or so, or whenever it starts to feel rootbound. The best time to repot is in the spring when the leaves are still actively growing.

Scoop out any old potting soil that surrounds the roots of the plant. Place fresh potting soil around them and give them a gentle shake. Then water generously with tepid water, just enough to saturate the new potting soil without spilling over onto your table or flooring surfaces.

Dormancy/Winter rest

If your Beaucarnea recurvata is not kept at a temperature of about 5 degrees centigrade for four months, it will go into dormancy. The plant should then be allowed to dry out and new roots will form, enabling growth in spring.

However, if you bring it back into cultivation without letting it rest for a period of time it will revert to being a juvenile plant. You can avoid this by resting the plant in a frost-free location during winter with ample water but no fertilizer or potting mix.

Alternatively, use an opaque plastic bag with holes punched in the sides to allow air circulation while keeping the soil moist but not wet. Once it begins growing again, re-pot into fresh compost.

Beaucarnea recurvata flowers & fragrance

While you can enjoy them year-round, Beaucarnea recurvata produce clusters of fragrant white flowers in fall. The plant will continue to flower into early winter, but at that point, you may find it difficult to view these blooms since they are so far above ground level.

It is usually around late February or early March when its bloom period is at its peak. Because it’s pollinated by hummingbirds and other insects, you may want to cover your plant during colder months to ensure pollination takes place.

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Growth rate

Beaucarnea recurvata

Beaucarnea recurvata is a slow grower, with an average growth rate of 10–20 cm a year. It can take several years to bloom, but when it does it’ll last up to 6 months. It may even flower twice in one year!

They do not like being transplanted once they are larger than 5-10 cm. After transplanting into new soil, they will need a lot of water and should be left alone for 2-3 weeks before being watered again.

Is ponytail palm toxic to cats, dogs, and humans?

It is generally considered to be a non-toxic plant and has been found to have very low levels of oxalates in one study. Even if ingested by mistake, it is not likely to cause serious health problems for most people, though some mild gastrointestinal symptoms may occur.

USDA hardiness zones

Beaucarnea recurvata thrives in USDA hardiness zones 10 and 11. However, it does not tolerate freezing temperatures, so be sure to keep this plant indoors during the winter.

The plant is a slow grower, with a maximum height of about two feet. It can be propagated by cuttings taken from the tips of the stems, though it should only be propagated by gardeners who are already familiar with handling plants.

Pests and diseases

The elephant foot plant is generally disease and pest free, but it can be affected by mites, mealybugs, and scale. Mealybugs are tiny insects that attach themselves to plant stems with a waxy substance that can clog pores and prevent water from reaching leaves.

The best way to prevent mealybug infestations is to use an organic insecticide. To control scale insects, spray them directly with an organic pesticide on a regular basis until they are gone. Mites live on the undersides of leaves and cause yellow spots.

An easy way to tell if you have a problem with mealybugs or scale is to check for sticky substances called honeydew on the leaves or trunk of your plant. If there’s no honeydew, then you don’t have any pests.