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Beaucarnea recurvata, B. stricta: Elephant’s foot

You may have a plant much like this one on your windowsill at home. When young, they are attractive houseplants that don’t require much care. Their trunks are rounded at the base, taper toward the top, and bear an elegant tuft of hanging leaves. These long, dangling leaves are responsible for one of its popular names, the ponytail palm, though it’s not a true member of the palm family. As it matures, the base of the trunk gets thicker. Some think this trunk looks like an elephant’s foot, which is another of this tree’s many nicknames. The thick trunk stores water, an adaptation to the arid environment in which these plants are found in nature.

Its scientific name, Beaucarnea recurvata, honors Belgian horticulturist Jean-Baptiste Beaucarne, who was the first to collect flowers of this plant in the 19th century. The species name recurvata means “bent-back”, and refers to its long, curved leaves. They are made of tough, stringy fibers and were once used to make baskets and mats.

Beaucarnea recurvata is native to Mexico, which is also home to the very similar Beaucarnea stricta. If you walk a few steps farther along, you can see a tree-shaped example of this succulent in the same bed.



Audio file download
Beaucarnea recurvata, B. stricta: Elephant’s foot (MP3, 586 KB)

Audio production and copyright: Soundgarden Audioguidance GmbH
Text: Ehrentraud Bayer, Botanischer Garten München-Nymphenburg