Dear Hunter: Ponytail Palm Pain

Aunty Hunter is back! In this response to a concerned ponytail palm owner, she gets rather hot and flustered.

Dear Hunter,

I have had Willie since he was 2 feet tall. He’s outgrowing the house! Can I chop off his tallest limb? Will he survive? I have had him for 42+ years. Hate to lose him. Thanks for your input.

From a concerned ponytail parent
(North West Arkansas, USA)

Hello Dear,

Wow, a letter all the way from Arkansas! How delightful. How’s Dorothy and Toto? Oh sorry, yes, Kansas not Arkansas. Dear me.

Anyway, let’s get onto Willie. He’s an enthusiastic fellow isn’t he? And 42 and still living at home! What a kind and generous parent you are.

The short answer to your question is yes. But let’s meander for a while… much more interesting, don’t you think?

Do you like asparagus, Willie’s mum? I certainly do, but I must confess I have trouble biting into it’s tall, fleshy, erect spears in public without a small blush arising from my bosom and creeping up to my cheeks (even at this late age!).

Sometimes on lonely spring evenings I sauté up a handful of fresh spears in a little butter, salt and pepper. I turn the wireless up a little higher than usual, loosen the buttons of my shirt and allow myself to get carried away by the earthy aromas, the sweet tastes, and the primal rhythm of the music…

It’s a bit naughty I know, but an old bird like me has got to get her kicks somehow. Keep this to yourself, dear.

You would be forgiven for assuming a certain disintegration of the author’s mind at this point – skipping from pruning a ponytail palm to evening encounters with asparagus – but there’s a connection I’m attempting to make, however camouflaged. Here it is: Willie is in the same plant family as asparagus! Fabulous, no?! Who would have thought? Asparagaceae, what a wonderful collection of green, erect beings.

Willie and his ponytail friends come from Mexico. Their trunk swells with age (hot flushes for me again) and can become rather bulbous over time (bulbous is a great word, don’t you think?).

Clearly you know how to look after boys like Willie as he’s now very old, but for the novices who may be reading this, I’d like to offer a few tips:

Treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen. Don’t be afraid of neglecting your pony-tailed man. Water him when you remember and always err on the side of brutality. Don’t water in winter as his trunk may become flaccid and start rotting. No one likes a flaccid trunk.

Willie and his pals rather like light. They’ll do well in part shade too, but don’t put them entirely in the dark. Also, as you can attest, they don’t mind growing indoors. In fact, they make a rather wonderful indoor plant as they’re rather hard to kill. In cool climates indoor living is a must as they don’t like the cold. Things start shrivelling, if you know what I mean.

Should you chop off Willie’s arm? That’s really what we’re here to discuss, isn’t it? Yes dear lady, if you must, chop it! Although I have to say, I do love Willie’s exuberance. But you’re the one who has to live with him, and if he’s getting a bit much, just give him the chop. Do it right back at the junction with the smaller arm.

Golly gee, well I think I’ve just about run out of steam dear. All that talk of asparagus has exhausted me.

Best of luck with Willie, I do hope he survives his castration, and please do inform me of his progress.

Yours in plants,

Aunty Ivy Hunter

P.S. If you have a burning plant question you’d like Aunty Hunter to answer please email her at We’ll pass it on and cross our fingers for a response.