Caring for elephant’s foot — tips and interesting facts about the robust Beaucarnea recurvata

The elephant’s foot is a decorative and robust houseplant that is finding more and more followers. In addition to the unusual appearance, problem-free culture is a reason for its popularity. The plant owes its German name «elephant’s foot» to the thickening of the bulbous foot, which is quite similar to the feet of a pachyderm. In its homeland of Mexico, the succulent plant has to endure a lot of sun and longer periods of drought, hence the demands on the location, soil and care.

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Botanical name: Beaucarnea recurvata or Nolina recurvata
Other names: elephant’s foot, bottle tree, water palm, pony tail
Use: indoor plant, indoor greenery
Origin: Mexico
Flower: very rare, inconspicuous, white
Special features: the thickened foot of the plant serves as a water reservoir. As a result, the bottle tree can do without watering for a long time and still grow. Very easy to care for and decorative. Improves the indoor climate.

In which location does the bottle tree feel most comfortable?

Beaucarnea prefer a bright and warm spot indoors with at least 5 hours of direct light per day. In summer, the special houseplant can also be in a partially shaded place outdoors. However, it is important that the bottle tree is gradually accustomed to outdoor conditions, since direct sun can quickly lead to unsightly burns. Beaucarnea easily survives high temperatures. Make sure that the outdoor space is protected from rain and wind as much as possible. Drafts should also be avoided in the house. Direct sunlight is possible. A bright and cool hibernation from November to February is ideal. If the winter is warm, additional lighting with a plant lamp is an advantage.

How do I properly care for my elephant foot?

Beaucarnea are absolutely easy to care for, robust and uncomplicated. The decorative houseplant forgives some care mistakes. The right location and sparing watering is important. It is also recommended that the bottle tree experience a kind of resting phase in winter. Similar to succulents, they should be watered sparingly from November to February and only kept at temperatures of 15 degrees Celsius.

Small plants can be showered with lukewarm water once or twice a year. If the plants are too large and unwieldy for this, wiping the leaves with a damp cloth will help. This removes the dust and supports a good development of the plant. An incision is not necessary for Beaucarnea recurvata. If your bottle tree has brown leaves and it is an ugly picture, you can of course remove the affected parts of the plant. If the tips of the leaves are brown, you can cut them back a little at the upper end, but only up to the transition point and not too deeply into the green tissue.

Our gardening tip: Beaucarnea recurvata can be repotted every 3 to 5 years. The houseplant tolerates the same pot for many years.

How do I properly water my elephant foot?

Beaucarnea only need small amounts of water. There is almost never too dry a rarity. Waterlogging is the biggest problem with the exotic plant. Depending on the location and size, it can be watered at intervals of 10 to 14 days. Check with your finger between each watering and feel if the soil is still moist. The water requirement is similarly low as for cacti. The moisture is stored in the trunk and in the thick tuber and is thus available to the plant. Make sure that the soil is kept only slightly moist and that it dries completely before the next watering. The easy-care houseplant tolerates drought better than too much moisture. The problem-free culture is ideal for people who have little time or no green fingers. In winter, you can water every four weeks.

Our gardening tip: The exotic plant also thrives in dry air, but sometimes develops brown tips in sunny locations. To increase the humidity, you can occasionally spray the long leaves with low-lime water. High humidity also reduces infestation by spider mites.

How do I properly fertilize my elephant foot?

Beaucarnea need sufficient nutrients for the formation of new leaves. During the growth phase from April to August, fertilize every two weeks with a liquid houseplant fertilizer such as a cactus fertilizer or a green plant fertilizer. Stop fertilizing in winter. Another option is fertilizing with fertilizer sticks. This practical long-term fertilization is easy to use and the Beaucarnea recurvata are supplied with all the necessary nutrients, minerals and trace elements for 3 to 4 months.

What pests and diseases can the elephant foot get?

Beaucarnea are robust green plants that are rarely attacked by diseases and pests in the optimal location. The following pests can occur:

spider mites

Silvery dots can be found on the upper side of the leaf and webs are visible on the underside of the leaf. It is usually sufficient to spray the plants with water and treat them with plant strengtheners. These bio-active agents contain natural plant extracts that contribute to the vitalization of the plant. With proper care of the elephant’s foot and in a bright location, an infestation is very rare.

scale insects

There are brown, slightly curved knobs, especially in the leaf axils. The scale insects are safely hidden under these protective shields and are therefore difficult to combat. As soon as you discover the infestation on the leaf, you should wipe off the scale insects. The pests can be controlled biologically with oil-based agents. It is important that the application is carried out several times. Note that there may be small brown dots on the underside of the leaf as well. Affected leaves do not need to be cut off.


You can find the white structures in the leaf axils especially in phases with less light. The treatment is analogous to that of scale insects.

FAQ — Frequently asked questions about elephant foot

How tall can Beaucarnea recurvata grow?

The houseplant grows slowly. With good care, the trunk develops over the years and a growth height of 1.5 meters is possible. The very narrow leaves are up to 50 cm long and are overhanging. Attention, the edges of the sheets are sharp!

How does elephant foot reproduce?

The easiest method of propagation is cuttings or offshoots. With these so-called Kindel you will receive new plants within a few months. Cut the cuttings and place them in a pot of potting soil to form new roots. It is important that the soil is not kept too moist and that the temperature is constant at 20 degrees Celsius. There is also the possibility of propagating this special feature via seeds. Since the bottle tree blooms extremely rarely, the seed has to be bought.

Is the bottle tree poisonous?

Due to the saponins contained in all parts of the plant, the popular houseplant is moderately poisonous.