Why Is My Ponytail Palm Turning White? [Causes & Fixes]

Ponytail palms are highly resistant plants that thrive in warm and arid climates. One of the most common mistakes inexperienced plant parents make when caring for ponytail palms is overwatering them, which can result in stem and root rot. So what if your ponytail palm turns white?

Your ponytail palm is turning white because it is stressed. This could be because it is receiving insufficient sunlight, or you are dealing with a pest infestation (most likely mealybugs). 

It is quite unusual for a ponytail palm to turn white, but the good news is that it’s easy to pinpoint the cause. In this article, I will address each of these reasons, giving you practical tips that will help you revive your plant and reverse the white color change.

Ponytail Palms: An Overview

Despite what its name implies, the ponytail palm is not a palm but a succulent. In other words, a ponytail palm shares more similarities with a cactus than with a palm tree.

The ponytail palm, or Beaucarnea recurvata, is a perennial consisting of a thick caudex or stem and thin, curly leaves. It is native to Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize and often grows on nutrient-deficient rocky soils.

Ponytail palms are not that different from cacti in that their large, swollen stems also serve as a water reservoir. This is why they are able to withstand long periods of drought.

In its native habitat, the ponytail palm often produces tiny white flowers; houseplants, however, rarely produce any flowers. 

Being remarkably adaptable, a ponytail palm can grow pretty much anywhere, as long as it is not exposed to freezing cold temperatures. Ponytail palms do exceptionally well in arid and semi-arid climates, and they make excellent houseplants if you live in a particularly dry state like Nevada or Arizona.

With that being said, ponytail palms can also grow in humid climates, so you may still decide to get one if you live in a state with high rainfall, such as Louisiana or Mississippi.

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Reasons Your Ponytail Palm Is Turning White

When a ponytail palm changes color, it is usually due to stress. Ponytail palms can become stressed due to the following reasons:

  • Insufficient sunlight
  • Pest infestation
  • Overwatering
  • Underwatering

I’ll explore these reasons in more detail below:

Insufficient Sunlight

In their natural environment, ponytail palms are used to receiving plenty of sunlight – both direct and indirect. When grown indoors, they fare particularly well in dry and sunny environments.

It is always advisable to protect them from freezing temperatures – which is not to say that you cannot have one if you live in a colder climate.

When the weather is warm, keep your plant close to a window where it can enjoy the warmth and light coming from the outside. If you have an outdoor space like a garden, balcony, or terrace, consider placing your ponytail palm outside when the weather is warm and sunny.

When the weather gets cold, move your ponytail palm to a more suitable location. If you have been keeping your plant outside, it may be wiser to move it inside the house during the coldest months. When the temperatures start rising again, you can consider putting it outside again.

Do not worry too much about your plant responding negatively to changing environments because ponytail palms are very adaptable.

However, if you keep your ponytail palm in the shade for too long, it may react by turning white. Thankfully, ponytail palms do not simply turn white all of a sudden.

When deprived of sunlight for too long, their color starts fading slowly and gradually. At first, you may notice a few light green leaves; then, the entire foliage will gradually change color until your ponytail palm looks completely different.

You may think that something like this can only happen in winter, but this is not the case. Even if you move your plant to a dark corner in the middle of summer (perhaps because you want to protect it from excessive direct sunlight), it may very well respond by going pale.

Pest Infestation (Mealybugs)

Ponytail palms are quite susceptible to pest infestations, so it’s a good idea to inspect your plant’s leaves and stems on a regular basis. If you see a white, cotton-like substance on your ponytail palm’s leaves, then it is probably infested with mealybugs.

When dealing with a mealybug infestation, speed is of the essence. Mealybug infestations spread very fast, so you will need to contain and address the problem as promptly and effectively as possible.

There’s no need to worry, though! Unless the infestation has already spread to the roots, you will most likely be able to save your plant.

What Are Mealybugs?

Mealybugs are tiny white insects that thrive in warm climates. The white substance you see on your plant is either the insects themselves or the white residue (egg sacs and honeydew) that they leave behind as they move around your plant.

Mealybugs are extremely prolific bugs: once they target a plant, they feed on its flesh and multiply very quickly – hence the importance of acting fast. Unfortunately, it can take a while to detect a mealybug infestation.

This is because mealybugs are extremely tiny creatures, almost invisible to the human eye. As they suck into your plant’s sap, its leaves will gradually turn yellow – a clear sign that your plant is suffering.

Furthermore, the white substance they excrete makes it very easy for mold to form. By the time you notice these signs, mealybugs will already be all over your plant.

How To Address a Mealybug Infestation

To address a mealybug infestation in your ponytail palm, you first need to isolate it before these vicious bugs get to the surrounding plants. Before you start pruning, wash your plant’s leaves with soapy water and gently remove the aforementioned fuzzy substance with a cloth. Then, prune any yellow leaves.

At this point, you can either use pesticides or alcohol. There are several pesticides, some more aggressive than others, that are meant specifically to kill mealybugs.

Most of these pesticides contain pyrethrin, which is actually a natural active ingredient. When exposed to this substance, mealybugs, as well as other pests, die almost instantly.

As for alcohol, you have two options. You can either soak a cotton swab/cotton disk in isopropyl alcohol and gently rub it all over your plant or create your own pesticide using one part tap water and one part isopropyl alcohol.

If you decide to go for the second option, simply spray the solution all over your plant and repeat the process for several days until you get good results. You may also add a little bit of dish soap to the solution to make it more lethal.

Whatever option you choose, make sure that you remove your plant from the sun before treating it. For optimal results, do not treat your plant during the hottest part of the day, as this may cause additional stress.


Although ponytail palms are typically hardwearing plants that don’t require a lot of upkeep, if their basic needs aren’t met, they can quickly deteriorate.

When overwatered, a ponytail palm’s leaves often turn yellow and droopy, and their roots start rotting very quickly.

If you think that you have been overwatering your ponytail palm, take action as soon as possible by following these steps:

  1. Gently remove your ponytail palm from its container and soil, and gently brush the wet soil off the roots.
  2. Leave your ponytail palm in a warm and dry place to eliminate the root saturation. Leaving it for 24 hours is normally the best way.
  3. Report your ponytail palm in new, dry soil.
  4. Give it two to three days before watering your ponytail palm as normal.


Ponytail palms thrive in warm and dry climates, but they do require a little watering, or they can become dehydrated and stressed. When they are underwatered, their leaves can turn brown and dry, and their stems can shrink.

If you leave a dehydrated ponytail palm for too long, it may be too late to revive it. However, if you caught the issue in time, you can follow these steps to rectify it:

  1. Place your ponytail palm in a shady area, and remove it from the pot and soil. 
  2. Remove any dead leaves or any other parts that have shriveled up.
  3. Gently mist the leaves with water from a spray bottle and submerge the roots in water for an hour.
  4. Replant the ponytail palm in new soil and water it as you normally would.

Final Thoughts

There are two likely reasons why your ponytail palm is turning white:

  • Your plant is not getting enough light, in which case its leaves will get increasingly pale
  • Your plant is infested (probably with mealybugs)

Under or overwatering your ponytail palm can also cause the leaves to become discolored. The good news is that if you spot the problem soon enough, you may be able to revive your plant in a relatively short time. Just follow the tips listed in the article to determine what kind of issue you are dealing with, and act accordingly.

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