Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the May 2, 2010 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO

Once again this week I had to make a run into Mérida, the Yucatán's capital city, to deal with visa matters. One of the most eye-catching plants, a 20-ft-tall (6 meters), palm-like tree in full bloom can seen next to a bank on the big boulevard Paseo de Montejo below:


The tree is not a palm, which becomes believable when you see that the leaves are not dissected, palmy fronds but rather long, slender, undivided, drooping blades. It's not a yucca because yucca flowers are much larger then these, which are tiny. A three-ft-long inflorescence of hundreds of tiny flowers is seen below:

Mexican Ponytail, BEAUCARNEA PLIABILIS, inflorescence

An individual flower on the tip of my finger, my finger's prints providing scale, is shown below:

Mexican Ponytail, BEAUCARNEA PLIABILIS, male flower

Often marketed up North as a potted plant called the Mexican Ponytail, this is a member of the genus Beaucarnea, probably BEAUCARNEA PLIABILIS.

Potted plants of this species usually stand about three feet tall and consist of a nearly spherical, kohlrabi-like trunk atop which emerges a single fountain of tough, slender blades with sharp, finely serrated margins. For years I had one that got to about seven feet tall before I gave it away, and it still had only that single stem. However, you can see that older plants definitely develop branches.

This is one plant that's native and endemic to the Yucatan, and much planted worldwide because of its novel and pretty appearance, and ease of cultivation. It's such an unusual plant that taxonomists can't agree on what family to put it in. Often it's placed in the Agave Family, sometimes the Lily, and sometimes the small Switch-Plant Family, the Ruscaceae.