Apartment plants

Eat smoke Nolina - Beaucarnea recurvata - Beucarnea recurvata

Eat smoke Nolina - Beaucarnea recurvata - Beucarnea recurvata

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Beaucarnea recurvata is commonly called nolina, or smoke-eating plant, in fact the botanical name now more accredited is beaucarnea recurvata, since all the plants of the genus nolina have been traced back to the genus beaucarnea; it is an evergreen succulent plant, native to Mexico, other species of beaucarnea they are widespread in Central America. The succulence of this plant is found in the semi-woody stem, which takes on the typical caudex shape: a sort of natural bottle, with the part close to the ground well swollen and rich in water. The trunk in the specimens widespread in nature can reach 12-15 meters in height over the years, remaining poorly branched, at the apex of each branch there is a thick tuft of long, ribbon-shaped, thin leaves that fall downwards , and often also tend to curl slightly.
In Italy it is cultivated almost exclusively as a houseplant, and as noline are very slow-growing plants, we will hardly see specimens larger than two meters in height; in nature the noline, in spring, produce long panicles of cream or white flowers, of different shapes on different plants, as the quinoline It is a dioecious plant, that is, the male flowers and the female flowers bloom on different plants.

Other features of Beaucarnea

Beaucarnea is a plant of tropical and equatorial origin which has spread in the last decades as a houseplant. It is appreciated for the beautiful trunk swollen at the base, which makes it resemble a baobab, and the thick tuft of leaves present at the apex. It is also known as "Nolina" (from the name of the French horticulturist who introduced it and spread it in Europe in the eighteenth century) or, more popularly, as "elephant foot" and "smoke eater". It is in fact attributed the ability to retain impurities in the air and make the home more livable.
This tree can also be cultivated by the less experienced: it adapts well to the climatic conditions of our homes and, thanks to its particular shapes, is able to give the settings an exotic touch.



Late winter, when the roots come out of the pot
Stem cutting summer
Sowing spring
Basal shoot removal Spring Summer
Clean-pruning When necessary
Composting From April to October, once a month
Vegetative rest From November to March, not necessary
Moving outside From April to October

Description and origins of Beaucarnea

The genus Beaucarnea belongs to the Aspargaceae family. All species (about 20) are endemic to Central America: in cultivation they rarely exceed one meter in height while, in their spontaneous state, they are able to become quite large trees. In Mexico, where this essence is protected, it is possible to see some that exceed 15 meters and whose base, enlarged, has a circumference of almost 14. However, these are very rare due to the extremely slow growth and the reduction of the population due to the deforestation.
On top of the trunk there is a thick tuft of dark green ribbon-like leaves with a soft consistency. The flowers are white, gathered in bunches that we produce only in exceptional cases. Being dioecious plants there are individuals that will only bear male and other only female flowers.
Unlike other tropical essences, some varieties of Beaucarnea can boast a fair rusticity: the most widespread, the recurvata, can withstand even -5 ° C. This makes it suitable for cultivation in open ground in almost all coastal areas of our peninsula.

How to cultivate nolina (beaucarnea recurvata)

These plants are fairly easy to cultivate, also because they tend to withstand not ideal conditions, without being affected by excessively dry or slightly cold climates, even for months.
The plants of Beaucarnea recurvata are cultivated in very bright positions, even with a few hours of sunshine a day, but away from cold drafts, and from direct sources of heat, such as fireplaces, stoves, radiators, air conditioners.
The specimens of smoke eating do not like the excesses of watering, and during the winter they come water only sporadically, while during the rest of the year they are watered only when the soil is fairly dry, or every 2-3 days in August, every week or every ten days in April. From March to September, fertilizer for succulent plants is added to the water to be watered, poor in nitrogen and rich in potassium and microelements.
It seems that at home the noline have a better development if during the winter they can enter a period of vegetative rest; to do this it is advisable to place the plant in a little heated area of ​​the house, with temperatures no higher than 10_12 ° C, but not even below eight ° C; a perfect place could be a stairwell, but only if the air currents coming from the front door do not reach the plant directly.
It often happens that the foliage of the nolina dries up, only at the tip or completely; the zoning of the dryness can be removed with a scissor; the leaves, however, completely dried can be removed directly from the base of the head.
These plants, although they come from areas with an arid climate, seem to like it periodic hair sprayings during the driest periods of the year, and particularly during the winter; so from October to February, instead of watering the plant, let's remember to spray the hair every week with demineralized water.

Common name Smoke, Nolina, elephant foot
Botanical classification Aspargaceae, gen. Beaucarnea, about 20 species
Type of plant Tree
leaves Persistent, ribbon-like, dark green
Height Up to 1 meter (in cultivation); up to 15 meters (in nature)
Growth slow
Cultivation easy
irrigations Frequently
Substrate From citrus fruits; field land + peat + sand
substrate pH subacido
Exposure Very bright, even full sun
Environmental humidity Medium-high
Minimum temperature 10 ° C (in the apartment), -5 ° C (outside)
Ideal temperature From 18 to 30 ° C
Vegetative rest From November to March, optional
Pests and diseases Rottenness, cochineal
Propagation Cutting, basal bud removal, seeding
use Vase, external (coasts and South Italy)

The cultivation of Beaucarnea is very simple, especially if treated as a houseplant. We need only pay attention to excessive cold and irrigation, as it can be subject to rotting.

Environmental temperatures and requirements

Beaucarnea is perfectly suited to growth in our homes. The ideal is to maintain it, depending on the season between 10 ° C and 30 ° C. The plant is actually able to withstand a harsher climate, stopping its growth, which is normally very slow.
We can keep the pots in the inhabited rooms in all seasons, with minimum temperatures of around 16 ° C; alternatively, during the winter, we can move them into a slightly colder room, adjusting lighting and irrigation accordingly.
These saplings need a good passage of air, especially during the summer, but at the same time, cold air currents must be avoided. We keep this need in mind in spring and autumn, avoiding changing the air in the rooms during the coldest hours of the day.

The choice of the vase

The specimens of smoke eats to settle in quite small pots, as they seem not to like the possibility of spreading at will when they are grown in a container; they do not even like transplants, but producing a fairly contained root system, in general it is not necessary to repot a beaucarnea often, it is sufficient to move the plant in a slightly larger pot than the previous one, every 3-4 years; we often see noline in perfect health, cultivated in vases a few millimeters wider than the base of the caudex. A very well drained soil is used, completely devoid of water stagnation, to prevent the roots from being attacked by rot, which can lead to the drying out of the entire plant.
A ideal soil It consists of universal soil, rich and full-bodied, lightened with little sand or pumice stone, to increase its permeability.
It is not easy to choose the vase for the nolina, as it is good to find a vase that is not too deep, but large enough to be able to exceed in width the base of the enlarged stem; in addition to this, since the nolines tend to develop more in height than in width, it is good to find a fairly heavy vase, so that it does not overturn due to the weight of the tuft of leaves that is found at the apex of the stems.
In general, therefore, one chooses large plastic bowls, which are more manageable than terracotta pots, but on the bottom there is a layer of pebbles, so as to provide the vase with the right weight to be able to bear the weight of the plant without spilling over.


Beaucarnea comes from areas characterized by warm climates and high environmental humidity. Even in home cultivation it is important to satisfy this need. Especially from June to September, when temperatures exceed 23 ° C, it is important to spray the foliage often and, if we have brought the vase outside, to wet the surrounding floor. At home an excellent help can also derive from the use of saucers full of expanded clay that we will remember to keep always moist (without however the roots coming into contact with water).


In every season it is necessary to provide it with very intense lighting. If we keep it at home we choose a location near large windows facing South or West. Let's not worry about direct sun in this case: a well-hydrated plant with good environmental humidity will certainly not be damaged.
In the summer we can move it outside, even in this case in full sun.
During the winter period, if with the lowering of the temperatures we induce the vegetative rest, we can reduce the lighting a bit (although usually it is not necessary to do anything since in those months the photoperiod is shorter and the sun is not particularly intense).

Pests and diseases

It is one of the most resistant houseplants ever. It is only necessary to pay attention not to exceed in the irrigations in order not to cause rot to the root apparatus and to the collar: the first symptoms are the yellowing of the leaves and the very dark color of the base. We remedy by repotting and treating with special products.
The specimens in poor condition can be attacked by the cochineal: in addition to restoring the plant, we can use a systemic insecticide mixed with mineral oil (in the right proportions depending on the season).
The noline are succulent plants, and as such suffer from the classic pests that attack all succulent plants; the cultivation in a very dry and dry climate, with scarce watering and lack of ventilation, favors the settling on the leaves of the cochineal, which unfortunately lurks at the base of the foliage, where the head is dense and narrow, and where it is difficult to eradicate the insects using an appropriate anticoccidial; for this reason, it often happens that if the cochineal is detected too late, the best cure consists in removing the leaves that present the insects nestled at the base, with consequent impoverishment of the head of leaves. Often one is also forced to cut the whole tuft at the base; the smoke-eating plant, which is thus free of organs for photosynthesis, will tend to rapidly produce a new large shoot, from which a new head of long ribbon-shaped leaves will develop; It is however fundamental, inca like this, to avoid recreating the conditions for the development of the cochineal, periodically vaporizing the foliage of the plant with demineralized water, to increase the environmental humidity.
Another disease that often attacks the beaucarnea is the root or collar rot; root rot is avoided by watering only and exclusively when the soil is dry, and avoiding leaving the plant in excessively cold conditions; It is also important, after repotting, to avoid watering for at least ten days, to ensure that any roots damaged in the change of pot are easy prey to rot.
For the rottenness of the collar, in general it only assails the specimens that are potted with the stem slightly underground: we remember to place the plant in the ground at the correct depth, with the part of the caudex with buried roots, and the part devoid of roots completely at outside the ground.

Price of the smoke-eating plant

The eater they tend to be expensive and expensive plants and the reason is quickly said: they have a very slow growth and therefore to become of interesting size they need many years of cultivation.
In nurseries and garden centers we usually find both small beucarnea plants that cost a few dozen euros, and larger smoke-eating plants that can even cost a few hundred euros.
If we do not consider, however, the price as an end in itself but we relate it to the beauty of the plant eating smoke we immediately realize how much a plant eater give added value to our apartment.
Its shape is unique and is perhaps the most beautiful and most elegant interior plant, ideal for offices and waiting rooms thanks to its compound and statuary appearance. Smoke-eating can be compared in beauty perhaps only to some ficus benjamin, another plant of great value widely used for the interior.

Soil, pot composition and repotting

The substratum suitable for these plants must be rich enough, but capable of quickly draining the water. Among the mixtures on the market, the one that best fits is certainly the soil for citrus fruits. An even better mix can be obtained by combining field soil and peat in equal proportions and adding a bit of coarse river sand. Even a little perlite can be useful to promote drainage.
Repotting is done occasionally, in early spring, when the roots come out of the drain holes. We choose a container slightly larger than the previous one. On the bottom we place about 3 cm of draining material, the plant and then the soil, compacting well. Let us water abundantly.
The terracotta vases are ideal: they are very stable and allow excellent transpiration.


The Beaucarnea, thanks to the reserve of water present at the base of the stem, bears the drought very well. However, this does not mean that he likes it: his vegetative growth is speeded up by a constant supply of liquids, especially from spring to mid-autumn.
On the other hand, the roots are subject to rot and attention must be paid to water stagnation. In general it is advisable to irrigate abundantly, but only when the substrate is dry in depth.
In winter, if we lower the temperatures, let us remember to simulate a dry season, suspending watering almost totally. The plant, in this period, will take advantage of the accumulated reserves.


They are extremely slow growing plants and do not need a large supply of nutrients. It is useful, however, to administer a liquid fertilizer for green plants monthly, balanced in its elements, diluting it even twice as much as recommended on the package.
In winter we can delay further or even suspend.

Pruning and cleaning

Beaucarnea does not require this type of intervention. If there are old or damaged leaves we can cut them at the base with sharp and disinfected scissors or simply pull them down firmly.

Other care

For the rest it is a very autonomous vegetable; once a week it is recommended to clean the leaves thoroughly from dust and household residues by wiping them with a damp cloth. For this purpose, during the summer, it is also possible to move the pot outside during the rain: in addition to cleaning the leaves, the plant will be deeply rehydrated.


Beaucarnea can be propagated through stem cuttings, basal shoots or seeding. The first two are preferable because they significantly shorten the time and have a greater success rate.
Stem cutting is carried out in the summer: an extremity is taken and, after having dusted the cut with rooting hormones, it is placed in a very draining mix of soil and sand. We place in the shade and always maintain high temperature and humidity.
The basal shoots are taken from late winter to early summer: they are transferred into jars with light compote and kept at about 24 ° C, in the shade, until they begin to vegetate.
Sowing takes place in spring. The seeds are buried very little in a light compost: we keep about 22 ° C with high humidity. The germination takes place even months later and we will have to wait years before the specimens even reach a height of ten cm ...

Eat smoke Nolina - Beaucarnea recurvata: Variety of Beaucarnea

In nature 20 species can be found, but at the ornamental level only the Beucarnea recurvata is widespread. It is characterized by a swollen base and long leaves that are soft to the touch. It is very resistant to drought.
Also interesting is the Beucarnea stricta, with a trunk very similar to the neck of a bottle. The leaves are stiffer and strings.
The Beucarnea gracilis has instead a conical trunk and short and sparse leaves, of a beautiful glaucous green. It is appreciated in tropical gardens.
  • Smoke plant

    I have a plant "of smoke" for about 20 years, it has reached a height of about 1 meter and 50, it remains outside on a terrace

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