Flowering Ponytail Plants: Does Ponytail Palm Flower
By: Teo Spengler
Don’t invest too much in this plant’s name. The ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) is neither a real palm nor does it have ponytails. Its swollen base looks like a palm and the long, thin leaves curve outward, then hang down like ponytails. But does the ponytail palm flower? If you are hoping for flowers and fruit from this plant, there is good news and bad news. While you can get flowering on a ponytail palm, you may have to wait up to 30 years to see it.
Does Ponytail Palm Flower?
You can grow ponytail palm in the ground or in very large pots. In either case, given sufficient patience, you may be lucky enough to see it flower. Flowering on a ponytail palm does not occur the first year you purchase the small plant nor is it likely to during the next decade.
Before the plant flowers, it increases significantly in size and girth. The plant’s palm-like trunk sometimes grows to 18 feet (5.5 m.) high and widens to 6 feet (2 m.) in diameter. But size alone does not trigger first flowering on a ponytail palm. Experts believe that a combination of factors, including weather, can be instrumental in causing initial ponytail palm flowering. Once the plant blooms, it will flower every summer.
Ponytail Palm Flower Spike
You will know that ponytail palm flowering is near when the ponytail palm flower spike appears. The spike looks like a feather plume and it will produce myriad small branches holding hundreds of tiny flowers.
The ponytail palm is dioecious. This means that it produces male flowers on some plants and female flowers on others. You can tell whether your flowering ponytail plants are male or female by the flower colors. Females have pink flowers; male flowers are ivory. Bees and other insects flock to the blooms.
Flowering on a Ponytail Palm
If your flowering ponytail plants are female, they may bear fruit after flowering. However, they will only do so if there are male flowering ponytail plants nearby. The seed capsules on the ponytail palm flower spike are papery capsules. They contain tan seeds the size and shape of peppercorns.
Once flowering and fruiting is completed, each ponytail palm flower spike dries up and withers. Cut it off at this point to enhance the beauty of the plant.
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If you’re looking to bring a bit of tropical flair into your home or office, the Beaucarnea recurvata, or ponytail palm, is a great option. And while the name says otherwise, the ponytail palm isn’t actually a palm tree, but is instead a broadleaf evergreen.
A native of eastern Mexico, this succulent’s graceful hanging leaves can be deceptive. The ponytail palm is actually very tough and is able to withstand a variety of conditions, including infrequent waterings. Here are some other characteristics of ponytail palms:
- Can be grown indoors or outdoors in winter hardiness zones 10-11
- Prefer a sunny location
- Able to survive in near-drought conditions
About Ponytail Palm
- It takes its scientific name from Jean-Baptiste Beaucarne, a well-known collector of succulents from Belgium. In Latin “recurvata” means curved or bent. The Latin name refers to the plant’s curly, overflowing leaves.
- This perennial plant was discovered by the Europeans at the end of the 19th century, and it slowly gained popularity all over the world.
- The Ponytail Palm is mostly used for ornamental purposes and it has received the Award of Garden Merit from the British Royal Horticultural Society.
- It is not prone to diseases, but overwatering can cause stem rot. As far as pests go, spider mites can sometimes occur. You can deal with spider mites by cleaning the stem with a cloth dipped in soapy water.
- According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Beaucarnea Recurvata is non-toxic to dogs and cats. Neither the leaves, the trunk nor the stems pose any type of risk to pets or children. However, cats might mess with the plant, as they are very curious, and they like to sharpen their claws on rough surfaces, like the Ponytail Palm’s bulb root. To prevent this from happening sprinkle some pepper on the plant or place some lemon peels in the plant’s pot.
- The plant is often advertised as a natural air purifier, which is why in Italy, it is called a “mangiafumo” (smoke eater). However, there are no conclusive studies to support this claim.
- The Ponytail Palm is considered a threatened species in Mexico due to anthropogenic activities that destroyed the plant’s natural habitat.
Beaucarnea recurvata: Ponytail palm
Common name: Ponytail palm, Elephant’s foot, Bottle palm tree, Nolina
Beautiful plants that are rugged and masculine towards the lower half, pretty and feminine towards the upper half, Ponytail palms quite unique. They are technically not palm plants but are succulents that store water in their enlarged stem called caudex.
These enlarged stems are a striking feature of Ponytail palms, making them look like the plants are growing from a large rock. Though their purpose is to store water, these stems look dry, cracked, and fissured.
The stem tapers towards the top, where it produces a cascading fountain of long, thin, strap-like leaves that look like a ponytail. The plant grows to a height of 4-6 meters in the wild, with leaves as long as 2-3 meters. But home-grown plants only grow to about 2 meters tall.
The caudex can become as long as 3-4 meters with a diameter of 50 cms towards the base. Since these plants are essentially succulents, overwatering them can be dangerous leading to root rot and rot in the caudex too.
Ponytail palms are sun-lovers, that thrive in full bright sunlight, but they are also capable of growing well in partial shade. They can be grown as indoor plants but should be placed outdoors for a few days every week.
Ponytail palms are ideal for amateur gardeners since they don’t need regular watering or fertilization. Watering is only required once a week, and fertilization is needed only a couple of times a year. They are very slow-growing, and hence need repotting only once in 2-3 years. What more can an amateur gardener ask for?!
They make brilliant indoor plants, desktop plants, bonsai, and centerpieces for your gardens. These beautiful ornamental plants can live for many decades, bringing a majestic touch to your garden. After many years, they produce panicles for small white flowers that are quite inconspicuous. Flowering is not very common in houseplants.
Ponytail palms don’t need trimming or pruning since they grow into wonderful shapes if left to themselves. They thrive on neglect. So place them in a sunny spot and forget about them, until your visitors start complimenting you on the look of your plant.
Well-drained soil is very important for Ponytail palms to prevent root rot. They are susceptible to mealy bugs and spider mites, which can be controlled with some neem oil and soap mixture.
Propagation is through seeds, but flowering happens very rarely. Parents plants sometimes produce offsets called pups, which can be cut from the parent plant using a sharp knife and replanted.
Planting and Care
South Florida gardeners can plant ponytail palm in full or part sun in well-drained soil it's hardy only in zones 10A to 11. If you are moving a plant that has been growing inside to the outdoors, be sure you transition it slowly. Plants need to be gradually exposed to the different temperature and sun exposure that the outdoors have to offer.
For a neater appearance, seed heads can be gently pulled away from the plant, if you can reach them safely.
The plant easily establishes and is quite drought tolerant throughout the year. However, supplemental irrigation in the dry season produces darker green leaves and less tendency for leaf fall. This is mostly a pest-free plant, although rot of the caudex and tips of branches have been reported.
A newly flowering ponytail palm. ©Stephen Brown, UF/IFAS Extension Lee County.