Why Is My Ponytail Palm Turning Purple? [Causes & How to Protect]

Ponytail palms have big, bulbous trunks, making them hardy and resilient plants. They require very little upkeep and will grow even in the aridest of conditions. So, if your ponytail palm suddenly develops a purple hue on its leaves, you may wonder why this is happening.

Ponytail palms turn purple when subjected to excessive UVB radiation, extreme temperatures, or water deprivation. When they are stressed, their leaves accumulate anthocyanins (blue and purple pigments) to protect themselves from overexposure and reduce the possibility of irreversible damage.

In this article, I’ll explain why the leaves of your ponytail palm have become purple and help you return them to good health. I’ll also show you how to best care for your plant friend and prevent this from happening again.

Implications of Ponytail Palm Leaves Turning Purple

Although the ponytail palm is a low-maintenance plant, it is not immune to environmental conditions. Changing leaf color indicates that there may be something wrong with your plant’s health or the care you are giving it.

When exposed to significant amounts of stress, the first layer of chloroplasts in the leaves of a ponytail palm convert green pigment (chlorophyll) into blue or purple pigment (anthocyanin). That is, leaves turning purple are a defense mechanism the plant has evolved to help protect it from overexposure to a stressful environment.

The most common causes for this change in coloration are under-watering extreme environmental temperatures or prolonged exposure to harsh sunlight.

Note that changes in coloration do not necessarily mean that your ponytail palm is severely damaged. Its lower layers of chloroplast still contain chlorophyll and continue to carry out photosynthesis without problems, so your plant is very much alive. Some people even equate the effect to getting a sun tan.

However, if your plant’s leaves are turning purplish, you owe your plant a little TLC and may want to look into its care routine.

Returning Your Ponytail Palm to Good Health

As explained earlier, your ponytail palm can turn purple due to:

  • Under watering
  • Excessive exposure to UVB radiation
  • Exposure to extreme temperatures

To return your plant to good health, you must first determine the cause of its deterioration. Depending on environmental factors, you will need to take specific action to improve your plant’s health.

Mitigating the Effects of Under-Watering

By consistently following a few straightforward steps, you can reverse the effects of prolonged underwatering.

  • Avoid using cold water to water the plant.
  • Only water the plant when its soil completely dries out.
  • Be sure the plant has good drainage.
  • Make an early note if you come across a shrunken plant (this is the other prominent sign your plant may be starved of water).

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Protecting Your Plant From Overexposure to UVB Radiation

Your ponytail palm’s leaves may turn purple due to overexposure to UVB radiation present in sunlight. Addressing this issue will depend on whether the plant is kept indoors or outdoors.

If you want to keep your plant in a bright room indoors, begin by placing it in the shade and gradually increase its exposure to sunlight, moving it a little every few days.  This will give the plant time to slowly get accustomed to the new light conditions.

Protecting an outdoor plant can be more challenging. They usually only flourish in warmer climates. So unless you live somewhere in Arizona, coastal southern California, or southern Florida, it may not be possible.

If the outdoor environment supports ponytail palms, there are a few simple steps you can take to help protect them from overexposure to sunlight. These include:

  • Creating shade with a tarp to reduce glare during the sunniest part of the day
  • Growing larger plants in front of the ponytail palm to shade it more naturally
  • Relocating your plant by replanting it in a less exposed position

Correcting For Extreme Temperatures

Ponytail palms grow best in cool, dry environments. They like dry conditions with moderate daily fluctuations and temperatures in the range of 65-75 °F (18-24 °C).

If environmental conditions are appropriate and your ponytail palm still has purple leaves, remove any radiators, stoves, or air conditioners in the vicinity. If this is not possible, consider placing them at a distance or running your devices at more favorable temperatures.

Even after zeroing in on the problem and taking care of it, it will take some time for your ponytail palm to return to its gorgeous green color. Don’t despair, and continue to give your plant the care it needs. Eventually, new leaves will replace the purple ones.

Caring for a Ponytail Palm

Ponytail palms are native to arid regions of Mexico. They get their name from drooping leaves that can grow up to 5 feet (1.5 m). Despite the name, a ponytail palm isn’t a palm at all; it’s a succulent of the Agave family.

Mature plants can grow to heights of 4 feet (1.2 meters) in pots indoors and 12 to 18 feet (3.6 m to 5.4 m) when conditions are ideal outdoors.

Providing Adequate Light

Ponytail palms plants are hardy and can make do with modest amounts of light. However, they will still need periodic exposure to sunlight and should not be kept in permanent shade.

The ideal location for your ponytail palm is a couple of meters from any window that is not north-facing.

Watering Your Plant

The amount of water a ponytail palm needs will depend on how much light it receives. You will need to water your plant more often if it is right in front of a window – where it gets plenty of sunshine than if you keep it several feet deeper in the room.

As a rule of thumb, you can water your plant once every two or three weeks in warmer weather and just once a month when it is colder months.

Ponytail palms retain water in their trunks. So, only water them when the soil in a pot is completely dry. A high moisture level can quickly damage its roots and cause them to rot, and it may even kill the plant if not corrected.

Signs of excessive watering include:

  • Leaves turning yellow
  • Leaves changing color
  • Tips of leaves turning brown

If the roots have started to rot, the plant will also develop black spots on its leaves. At this stage, it is essential to remove the plant from its pot, extract the rotten roots, and repot it in fresh soil.

At the same time, a lack of water can also damage your ponytail palm. Signs of insufficient watering include:

  • Drying leaves 
  • Leaves crumble on touch and appear light brown
  • Drooping older/lower leaves

Preparing the Soil

Ideal soil mixes for ponytail palms combine equal parts potting soil with perlite and sand. Be sure to plant your palm in a pot that drains well, as it won’t tolerate water stagnation. Another step to prevent the plant from rotting is to ensure its trunk is visible above the soil.

Repotting Tips

Do not repot it if you have just brought your ponytail palm home. A plant will not need to be repotted for at least a year. Instead, place it in a well-lit place and let it adapt to its surroundings.

When repotting, it is best to wait until early spring.

If the pot your plant is currently in has become too small, you should repot it into a container that is only one size larger than before.

It is also essential that the new pot has drainage holes so that all excess water drains out of the soil. As I’ve said before, the plant’s roots need the soil to dry between waterings, and if the pot does not have drainage holes, the excess water will remain at the bottom and damage its roots.

Growth Rates

Ponytail palms grow slower than most plants – about 12 inches (30.5 cm) per year – and have a long life span. This is why they are quite expensive: the bigger the plant, the older it is.

When potted, they will grow leaves and side stems from which the leaves grow, but the trunk will stay roughly the same size. For the plant to be leafier, occasionally remove old leaves by tearing them off while turning and pulling them down.

When growing outside, the trunk of a ponytail palm will continue to grow over the plant’s lifespan, as long as conditions are adequate. However, it can take more than five years for a one-foot ponytail palm to double in size.

Toxicity Levels

Ponytail palms are non-toxic and improve the air quality in their immediate surroundings. They are generally safe to keep around animals. Just make sure your cat doesn’t get in the habit of snacking on your palm’s leaves, or you’ll be left with more bulbs than your palm.


Seeing a purple hue on your ponytail palm can be distressing. Even though it signals something is wrong with the plant, don’t despair; it’s just a sign that you need to change something in its environment.

If you adhere to the upkeep and cultivation tips in the article, your ponytail palm will thrive and return to its natural green. If you treat it right, it will be a loyal companion throughout your life and possibly the lives of your children and grandchildren too.

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