23 August 2011

Ponytail Palm- no true palm

Nolina recurvata
Beaucamea recurvata
Ponytail Palm
Bottle Palm Tree
Elephant Foot Palm
but it is not a true palm

A succulent that is often grown as a houseplant. Bottle Palm Trees need to be provided with well-drained soil and, although they will respond to being watered during summer, they should be kept dry during winter. Ponytail palms have an attractive caudex (short, thick stem).  A green rosette of strap-like leaves emerges from the head, cascading to the soil line, like a fountain spurting water from a bocksbeutel or fiasco bottle. Nolina is native to central to southeastern Mexico, in semi-desertic areas and is a curious landscape tree outdoors in freeze free locations.  As a landscape tree bottle palm may get to 15 feet tall and the caudex can slowly grow to 12 feet in diameter. With age, the trunk may develop multiple heads. Older Nolina recurvata survive lower temperatures.

Cutting the "crown"
can induce branching

Nolina recurvata

Ponytail palm makes a handsome "indoor bonsai", does well even in rooms with air conditioning as long as it has bright light. The brighter the light the narrower the foliage. For optimum performance full sun is best.  Keep outdoors in the heat of summer to increase the growth rate.  Bottle Palm Tree tolerates heat very well and does not appreciate frequent watering.  Never allow water to sit in the bottom of a container saucer or for soil to remain soggy as Nolina recurvata stores its water in its base. The bulbous base allows it to survive interior winter heat very well. Bonsai soil generally minimizes the chances of root rot, especially compared to the peaty mixes normally used in most tropicals. Allow the soil to dry well between waterings. With any doubt on whether or not to water the plant, don't! Over-watering is the single most frequent cause of failure. 

a fountain spurting water from a bocksbeutel  bottle.
Bottle Palm Tree

Pony tail palms rarely need to be repotted. The root run is not very extensive so they can be "underpotted" for a considerable time. Root trim and repot in late spring when the "palm" is actively growing. Trim any large, old roots then dust with a root hormone, repot using dry soil. Push the soil into the root ball with a chop stick to eliminate any large air pockets. Do not water for at least a few days. The wounds must callus before watering or else root rot may start. Do not fertilize for a few weeks.

The texture of the trunk looks
and feels scaly like the
foot of an elephant

Elephant Foot Palm

During the growing season, fertilize Ponytail Palms with a water-soluble fertilizer suitable for container plants. Dilute the fertilizer by half for each application to avoid damaging the roots of the tree. Always water any plant thoroughly before applying fertilizer.

In early summer cut off  the "crown" to induce branching, new heads will appear in about a month.

caudex forming
from Mexico

Nolina recurvata are dioecious, that is male and female reproductive parts are on separate plants. Masses of small white flowers are produced in summer, followed by spectacular stems of pinkish, 3-winged seeds on mature female trees. When propagated from seed, the tree forms a more desirable broader base than if propagated from offsets of a parent tree. Bonsai grown from seeds are called Misho bonsai. Soak seeds in warm water for 24 hours. Sow in fresh moist potting soil. Use a mix with good drainage. The seeds grow better with a minimum temperature of 68°F. Keep the soil moderately damp.

Most Ponytail Palms sold here are imported from China.
Chinese Nolina Recurvata Manufacturers

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