Nolina – or to give its botanical name, Beaucarnea recurvata – is also known as ‘elephant’s foot’ or the ‘ponytail palm’. While it is not a true palm, the term ‘elephant’s foot’ comes from the large caudex at its base that stores water, which makes it look like the foot of an elephant.
Nolina has thin, arching leaves which sprout from a long or fat woody stem. Its bulbous face looks scaly and resembles the skin of an elephant foot, giving the plant one of its names. Unlike other plants in the Agave family, nolinas have decorative spikes of small white flowers, sometimes tinged with purple or pink.
Nolina originally comes from Mexico and is also found in Guatemala and the southern states of the USA.
Propagation happens through seeding or by taking offsets from the parent plant, usually in spring. They can only be grown directly in the ground if the climate is frost free and they will benefit from shelter. Most nolinas are grown indoors and are relatively slow growing. When purchased as fully grown plants, they will usually be at least two years old and in 20 cm plant pots, or eight years old and in 30cm plant pots. Their root networks aren’t extensive, meaning that they don’t need re-potting often.
The plant comes from the Agavaceae (Agave) family.
It enjoys sunny and bright positions with plenty of fresh air, making it ideal for patios and balconies, or well-lit areas indoors, close to a window. Nolina can benefit from a spell outdoors in summer as long as it’s not left in direct sunlight. In its active growth period it will prefer high temperatures and need a minimum temperature of 10°C in winter.
It needs plenty of water from spring to mid autumn, but less so in winter. It’s very important that it is not left to sit in water, or it will rot. It can thrive in rooms with central heating, as it doesn’t require humidity, or indeed much attention.
Did You Know?
Due to its enlarged base used for water storage, the nolina can survive periods of drought that would kill other plants and flowers.