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Plant trunk looks like an Elephant’s Foot – What is it?

ask the expert

This plant sits on a co-workers desk. The trunk looks like an elephant’s foot.  Can you tell me what it is?



  1. Dan,

    The plant is commonly called Ponytail Palm because of the way the leaves come out of the top of the plant and hang down. The trunk texture of the trunk does resemble the hide of an elephant. The Botanical name for this particular plant is Beaucarnea guatemalensis. Another species of this plant is Beaucarnea recurvata, however the trunk is not as long.

  2. Nancy Sandifer says:

    What type of soil do you plant the Ponytail Palm? When I bought them, they were in potting soil, so when I repotted them to a better container I used Miracle Grow potting soil.
    I see this plant in a container with pepples or rocks around it. Which should I use to maintain this plant.

  3. Nanacy,

    Although Miracle Gorw is a well known brand it is not the optimum soil for everything. Ponytail Palms do better in a bark based soil. You can pot the Ponytail in a bark based soil and add a thin layer of rock on top for decorative purposes. What you don’t want is a heavy compacting soil that does not allow for good drainage. Soil that copacts and stays too wet will cause the Palm to rot.

  4. Hi, I just purchased my lovely pony tail 3 short weeks ago and have noticed that the leaves are steadily going brown! I have watered it and it has proper drainage but nothing seems to work and I don’t want to overwater either. I notice that the bottom of the trunk appears raised above the soil level in the pot so that it is very wobbly and you can lift the bottom and see the roots, is that normal? I have been trying to find detailed instructions on how to care for a pony tail, what to look for, to avoid etc and have found nothing! Can anybody point me in the right direction please before it is too late!?!
    Thank you!

  5. Iris,

    It is ok for the trunk to be raised above the soil. However, being wobbly is a problem. Add enough bark based soil to create stability. Keep in mind the damage to the leaves could have happen before you got it. Water damage can take up two or three weeks to show itself. Often by this time the problem has been resolved but it will take another couple of weeks for the plant to overcome the damage. During this time it is important to maintain your watering. I water my pony tail plant once a week by completely saturating the soil. I also watch for new growth. If my new growth looks healthy, I know that I am on the right track. If it doesn’t I adjust my watering or fertilizing issue to address the problem. So my suggestion would be to add a little soil and then throughly saturate it with water — making sure that my pot is properly draining. Then I would watch for new growth and check my soil every three days. Add water when the soil is dry. A good test for this is to stick your finger in the soil up to your first knuckle. If the soil feels moist leave it alone but if it feels dry water it. Hope this helps please keep me posted .

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