Information About Fishtail Palms

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Fishtail Palm Care: Tips For Growing Fishtail Palm Trees Indoors

By Susan Patterson, Master Gardener

Fishtail palms get their name from the close resemblance of their foliage to a fish?s tail. Fishtail palm houseplants are a beautiful and interesting additions to the home. Get more info in this article.

14 things you need to know about speciality palms: buying and care tips

From the Fern palm to the Livistona, Fishtail palm and Lady palm.

Decorative by nature and instantly giving an exotic, tropical feel to any living room or conservatory, the palm family is both diverse and functional.

With exotic houseplants and tropical beauties expected to take over our homes this year, here's all you need to know about the distinct and unique yet eye-catching speciality palms:

Range of speciality palms

1. Rhapis, also known as Lady Palm, is characterised by dark green fan-shaped leaves. The stems of this decorative plant looks like bamboo poles and are covered in brown fibres.

2. Caryota, or the Fishtail Palm, is very eye-catching because of its leaf tips that look like they've been torn, creating a silhouette.

3. Livistona (Chinese Fan Palm or Fountain Palm) features large composite leaves with spiky stems. Because they are largely joined together, they appear to be one large leaf.

4. Cycas (Fern Palm, Sago Palm, Peace Palm) has sturdy feathered dark green leaves which grows on the trunk in a rosette. When the plant is young, the trunk looks like a ball.

Did you know? Cycas is not actually a palm, but a member of one of the oldest plant families, the Cycadaceae. Cycads existed millions of years ago in the Carboniferous and Jurassic period, also known as the era of the dinosaurs.

What to look for when buying speciality palms

5. When buying speciality palms, it's important to look at the number of plants per pot, as this indicates the thickness of the plant. Generally speaking, Cycas, Rhapis and Livistona will contain no more than one to three plants per pot, while Caryota features multiple plants.

6. Look at the plant's pot size, height and leaf length, as together this gives a good indication about its age. As a rule, t he older and larger a speciality palm is, the more expensive it will be.

7. T he plant must be free of pests and disease, in particular mealybug and scale insects.

8. If speciality palms have been kept too dry they can actually suffer from red spider mite, which can be identified by grey discolouration of the leaves. Elsewhere, brown leaf tips are caused by insufficient humility, while yellow leaves indicates soil which is too dry or wet.

9. The plant must be well-rooted, should not wobble in the pot and should not be so top-heavy that it cannot stand on its own.

10. In colder temperatures, wrap up speciality palms carefully when transporting them home because of their sensitivity to cold.

11. All palms are 'easy care', however, every speciality palm requires a different approach because at the end of the day, plants grow differently and originate from different regions.

12. The plant may require more or less water, depending on the position, size and thickness of the leaves. As a general rule, for thicker and more rugged leaves (Cycas and Rhapis) give less water, and for thinner and more fragile leaves (Livistona and Caryota) give more water. The latter two also like being sprayed from time to time, especially in the winter when the heating is on indoors which can cause the air to be dry. Similary, when it's spring and summer, a light rain shower is welcomed as it'll prevent browning of the leaf edges and tips.

13. Plant food once every four weeks is usually enough to keep these speciality palms healthy and beautiful for a long time.

14. Palms generally prefer a moderately light position, but not in bright sunlight. The only exception to this is the Cycas: In the summer months it can stand outside in the sun after slowly acclimatising to it. When Cycas produces a new leaf rosette in a light, sunny spot outdoors, the leaves are nice and compact. Indoors in a living room, the leaves will be more stretched.

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Thanks for the tips - I'll definitely do some research on Caryota mitis!

I'm actually not concerned about the eventual removal. 20 years' use of a stunningly beautiful tree would be worth the trouble to me.

As for the irritant concern, maybe I'll just go to a nursery and feel for myself (with cortizone cream nearby just in case). My kids & I don't have super-sensitive skin, so as long as it's not "irresponsible" to put this tree near a playhouse, my temptation is to proceed. If someone has a caution though, please speak up!

Any other thoughts on planting it now vs in the Fall?


I would plant now. It would be more prepared in the event that this coming winter is cold, and it usually doesnt start to grow fast until its second year so it could spend this year establishing itself so next year when your yard is more complete, it will be ready to grow nicely.


First of all, it is only the fruits that are skin irritant, and only if you step on them with bare feet, or pick them up and mash them in your hands.. otherwise, no problems (fruit has tons of oxylates in it, so it is also quite toxic to eat- will make your throat swell up and puke your guts out).

As for types of Fishtails, there are several main looks. Caryota urens-like fishtails are tall, very fast growing and thin in overall profile. A well grown C urens is a beauty, though and will amaze everyone in your neighborhood. Caryota maxima and ochlandra look pretty similar. C ochlandra is slower.

Caryota gigas is a massive tree and holds it leaves out laterally, rather than arching them down closer to the trunk. You need tons of room to grow this palm. Young ones are impressive palms, but older ones in windy areas of So Cal are pretty sad looking trees. If you live far from the coast or at least in a valley or protected area in San Diego or Orange county, you might be fine.. .but north of that, or near the coast, this palm rarely looks that great once it gets up into the windy weather. Caryota no looks similar (but much harder to grow in So Cal).

Caryota mitis is a shrimpy suckering version that in So Cal is almost always a sad looking plant. better in the tropics.

A note about Caryotas in dry, windy climates (So Cal)- these things blow over all the time and can literally crush a house. So careful! Also, once they die, they are a royal pain to get rid of. probably one of the hardest wood of all the palms- nearly impossible to cut even with a chain saw. so you need to think about that before planting one. Best to put out near the street and be sure your homeowners insurance is up to date.

Below are some Caryota pics. first is of some Caryota urens in San Diego Zoo, with a Caryota gigas seedling to the right of the photo for comparison.

This is of a group of Caryota gigas in Huntington Gardens before they started to get a bit too tall for their own good

This is one getting too tall in a neighborhood in Orange County California

Caryota mitis in Los Angeles arboretum- messy

a 'fourth' type of Caryota is the Caryota rumphiana complex.. more upright leaves but with some of the nice leaf spread of a gigas. sadly these do NOt do well in California. this shot is from some street trees in Singapore

lastly this is good shot of all the Caryota types growing together in a botanical garden in Hawaii (Oahu)

Watch the video: The proper way to water indoor or interior palms u0026 plants

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