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Elephant’s foot

  • Indoor Plants
Beaucarnea recurvata
Photo: iStock Photo
Nolina recurvata



Origin and description

Elephant’s foot is a tree-like plant that grows close to 10 metres high in the wild in its native dry regions of Mexico. It adapts well to indoor growing conditions in a bright room. Its main appeal is its ‘elephant foot’ or corky, fissured swollen base, topped by a rosette of long slender leaves. Beaucarnea recurvata is a slow-growing plant that rarely grows to more than 2 metres indoors.

Species, cultivars and related plants

Beaucarnea gracilis has a very swollen base not unlike the shape of a bottle. The long, slender leaves are grey-green in colour. Beaucarnea longifolia has long leathery leaves that can be more than 1.20 metres long. Beaucarnea stricta is a species similar to Beaucarnea recurvata, but with stiffer leaves that are very rough on the edges.

Common name

Elephant’s foot / Elephant foot tree / Beaucarnea / Nolina / Ponytail palm

Latin name (genus)

Beaucarnea recurvata (syn. Nolina recurvata)

English common name

French common name

Botanical family

  • Asparagaceae

Growing conditions

Elephant’s foot tolerates moderate, even low light conditions, but to grow well it needs bright light or direct sunlight, in a spot near a south-facing window, for example. In summer, it likes a sunny, hot site, with temperatures around 19 to 21ºC. You can move it outdoors into full sun after an acclimatization period. Do not place a saucer under the pot. In winter, place the plant in a cool spot (12 or 13ºC). The minimum temperature Beaucarnea recurvata can tolerate is 10ºC. This plant is well adapted to dry air.

Easy to grow?

Elephant’s foot is easy to grow if given bright light and proper watering. It grows slowly and flowers only very rarely.

Watering and fertilizer

Too little water is better for elephant’s foot than too much. To prevent trunk rot, water sparingly in summer, leaving the soil to dry out almost completely between waterings. Never leave any standing water in the saucer. In winter, if the temperature dips below 15ºC, reduce the watering frequency and water sparingly. Fertilize every three months during the growing period, in spring and summer, with a balanced indoor plant food or an all-purpose fertilizer like 20-20-20 at half strength.

Pruning and maintenance

Remove dried leaves. Be careful though because the leaves can be sharp.


Elephant’s foot is a very slow-growing plant. You can leave the plant in the same pot for several years until it becomes potbound. Repot in spring with a well-aerated, well-draining potting mix. You can prepare your own mix by combining equal parts potting soil, perlite and coarse sand, or a commercial cactus and succulent potting mix blended with perlite.

See also

Pests and diseases
Physiological disorders

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