The elephant’s foot is a popular houseplant because it is easy to care for. The plant is not very demanding, but it happens that the color of the leaves changes. This is often a sign of caregiving failure or an illness that can cause serious problems. If there is a change in leaf color, the condition of the plant should therefore be checked.

Wrong watering behaviour

Beaucarnea recurvata is originally from tropical but dry regions of Mexico. This means that the plant copes very well with drought, too much water can harm it. The elephant’s foot is a so-called xerophyte, which has such deep roots that it can reach the groundwater and use it to obtain water if necessary. This avoids stress during longer periods of drought.

In the pot, the elephant’s foot has no way of getting to the groundwater, which is why correct watering behavior is all the more important. If watered incorrectly, the tips of the leaves will turn brown in the first step. If the watering behavior is not changed according to the needs of the plant, the entire leaves will turn brown and fall off. Eventually even the entire elephant foot may die off.

The elephant’s foot can deal with drought very well, because its water reservoirs are located in the thickening at the lower end of the trunk, which also gave it its name. It survives several weeks without watering without any problems. The only problem for him is too much water, so it is important to water properly.

Watering tips:

  • water when the substrate is superficially dry
  • pour thoroughly
  • empty excess water in the coaster
  • Absolutely avoid waterlogging
Note: The warmer it is, the more water the elephant’s foot needs. Especially in winter, when the humidity indoors is also low, it usually has to be watered more frequently.

Too little space

Beaucarnea recurvata are among the plants that need a lot of space and, above all, the “foot” must not be too cramped. If he has too little space, he also reacts with brown tips on the leaves. The leaves themselves can reach a length of almost two meters. This is often a problem with the elephant’s foot, because the length of the leaves often exceeds the height of the trunk. As a result, the individual leaves often hit the ground, causing them to turn brown. They also don’t appreciate it when they lean against walls or bend over and react with brown tips. Although the elephant’s foot grows slowly, it should always stand as free as possible and have enough space in the pot.

If the pot is too small, it must be repotted. In the new pot, the elephant’s foot should be at least a hand’s breadth from the edge. This allows it to remain in the pot for several years.

If leaves snap off accidentally, for example when the plant is moved, the damaged leaves should first be observed. It does not necessarily have to be that kinked leaves fall off. This is usually only the case if they have also been damaged. The elephant’s foot does this by itself and there is no need to remove the damaged individual sheets.

Unsuitable substrate

Not only too little space causes problems for Beaucarnea recurvata, but also the wrong substrate. Above all, the elephant foot does not like compacted substrate that does not let much oxygen through. Every few years, therefore, it must be repotted and then the correct substrate used.

A mixture of the following components is suitable as a substrate:

  • 3 parts cactus soil
  • 2 parts humus leaf soil
  • 1-2 parts sand (not calcareous sand)

Discoloration from pruning

In older plants, the individual leaves can reach a considerable length, which sometimes exceeds the dimensions of the available space. Although Beaucarnea recurvata does not require pruning, lack of space may sometimes require individual leaves to be removed. The elephant’s foot usually does not react very well to a pruning, which is shown by a changed color of the remaining leaves.

After a pruning, all the individual leaves often turn brown. However, this is a natural reaction of the plant and indicates that it is entering a regeneration phase. It bundles its forces and then usually drives out again. It can happen that the elephant’s foot sheds a few more leaves when it needs more energy to regenerate. It is therefore important not to remove too many individual leaves at once when pruning.

Tip: If extensive pruning is necessary, this should be done in stages over several months so that the plant has enough time to recover.


Plants from tropical regions, even if there is only occasional rain, are sensitive to deposits on their leaves. Dust on the leaves also causes problems with indoor plants such as Beaucarnea recurvata. Among other things, the leaves serve to exchange air, but they are also there to absorb moisture from the air. If there is too thick a layer of dust on the leaves, they will also discolour.

Wiping the individual sheets is usually very tedious. In summer you can simply put the plants outside when it rains. Alternatively, or in winter, they are simply showered once a month. This also prevents pests such as spider mites, which can cause problems, especially when the humidity is low.

Note: After a downpour or shower, excess water must be drained off completely. The substrate may also be wet, but no moisture should collect in the saucer.

Wrong location

A wrong location not only leads to discoloration, the elephant’s foot reacts by completely shedding the leaves. As a rule, the leaves first become lighter and finally yellow before they fall off. Occasionally it can also happen that the individual leaves become more brittle in the wrong location. If you touch them lightly, they can snap off.

The appropriate location for Beaucarnea recurvata should meet the following requirements:

  • very bright (south-facing window)
  • warm (at least always 8°C)
  • medium humidity
  • Avoid drafts

Incorrect fertilization

Incorrect fertilization can also be a reason why the color of the leaves changes. The leaves usually become lighter and turn from green to yellow. Especially with too few nutrients, the leaves can eventually fall off if there is a long-term undersupply. Beaucarnea recurvata does not require many nutrients, but regularly smaller amounts. Fertilization with a commercially available liquid green plant fertilizer every four weeks is ideal.

pest infestations and diseases

If the leaves are covered with individual dark spots or if the young leaves are already yellowish, then this is an alarm sign for diseases or pests. Two problems in particular are also reflected in a change in the foliage leaves. These include mold and rot as well as spider mites and scale insects.

Symptoms of mold or rot:

  • yellow soft young leaves
  • unpleasant putrid odor of the substrate
  • white to gray coating on the substrate

As a countermeasure, the elephant’s foot must be repotted in any case. The substrate must be completely removed. The roots should be cleaned of substrate residues under slightly warm water. The roots are then checked and rotten or rotten roots are cut off. The elephant foot is then repotted in a fresh substrate. The pot and saucer should be changed or at least cleaned thoroughly with hot water. In the first few weeks you should not water the elephant’s foot, after that you should make sure that you don’t water too much to prevent mold or rot from forming again.

Symptoms of spider mites and scale insects:

  • brown spots
  • malformed leaves
  • white spots (similar to tiny cotton balls)

One cause of pest infestation is improper humidity. In order to drive away the harmful insects, you simply have to increase the humidity. For this purpose, the leaves of Beaucarnea recurvata can be showered regularly. Care should also be taken to ensure that the underside of the leaf is moistened. Scale insects can also be mechanically scraped off with a wooden stick. In order to avoid pest infestation in the future, the elephant’s foot should not be near the heater. If this cannot be avoided, the plants should generally be showered regularly in winter to avoid pest infestation.


Even in evergreen plants, every leaf reaches the end of its life and dies. It is important to distinguish whether a large number of leaves often turn brown and die or whether individual leaves have only occasionally reached the end of their lives.

In a natural cycle and especially with very old plants, it is normal for leaves to occasionally turn brown and then simply fall off. In this case, however, the discoloration does not appear suddenly, but it often takes several weeks until the leaf is completely discolored and is shed by the plant. There is no need for action here either. However, discoloring individual leaves of Beaucarnea recurvata should not be cut off prematurely. This would cause unnecessary stress to the plant.

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