Its got a coarser trunk and caudex. I am pained to describe it better, but the bark was deeply incised, much like many common tree species in the mid latitudes. And the bark was dark brown. Its in a 3 gallon pot, stands about 18 inches tall, with an exposed caudex about 6" in diameter. The trunk was about 12" long from the soil.
Is there a relative to B recurvata that meets this description?
I found it today while in my local HD, while searching for strays.
Yes---there are a number of Nolina (the genus Beaucarnea is now included in Nolina) relatives that are possibilities. There is also a Chuihuahuan desert plant called Calabanus hookeri that is similar although it generally has several leaf/stem bundles erupting from its caudex---not just a single one as many Nolina's do.
Is it single headed or several? Are the leaves stiff or similar to N. recurvata?
beaucarnea stricta? Hookeri looks like an incised rock with long stemmed grass (maybe 6"-10") growing in clumps out of it. Your description doesn't sound like hookeri. Stricta stems are real long, almost like some yuccas or even longer. In a big plant 3' or more. I think the common name is mexican grass tree. Looks a lot different in a pot than in the landscape.
stricta is real, real slow growing. I have had one outside in the landscaping for six years and although it gets bigger (the leaves/blades get longer) it has yet to show a trunk above ground. It just sits there with no visable above ground stem. The grass like foliage is at least four feet long now and very pretty but I am impatient for it to start looking like a tree.