Fishtail palms are famous for their uniquely shaped leaves. The fan-like, rough-edged foliage closely resembles the tail fin of a fish, which is where the name originates. These eye-catching palms can be grown outdoors in USDA hardiness zones 8 to 11, but also make a statement as a large houseplant. Fishtail palms are frequently used in large areas like foyers and atriums, where they are planted in large pots.
Fishtail palms can flower and produce berries, though indoor plants do not typically flower. With the right conditions, they add a tropical touch to any space. However, you should know that when these palm trees are grown indoors, they sometimes struggle with insufficient light and the warm, wet growing conditions they require. All parts of fishtail palms are considered toxic to both people and pets. This plant is considered invasive in Florida.
|Common Name||Fishtail palm|
|Mature Size||6-10 ft. tall (indoors), 40-50 ft. tall (outdoors), 3-6 ft. wide (indoors), 10-30 ft. wide (outdoors)|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Loamy, sandy, moist but well-drained|
|Hardiness Zones||8-11, USA|
|Toxicity||Toxic to pets, toxic to people|
Fishtail Palm Care
In their native climate, fishtail palms receive lots of light, humidity, warm temperatures, and consistent moisture. They can thrive as houseplants as long as space is available and adequate growing conditions are provided. Trees reaching up to 50 feet tall outdoors, are much smaller at 6 to 10 feet tall when grown indoors. They are generally resistant to disease, though fungal spot may affect them. Pests include scale and spider mites.
Because of this palm’s suckering habit, it has spread to the point of becoming invasive in Florida. Be sure to do thorough research and exercise caution if you plan on planting this palm outdoors.
Fishtail palms thrive in bright indirect light. These trees naturally grow among taller palms that filter light and provide protection from direct sun in the heat of the day. Place them near a window that receives morning sun followed by indirect light the rest of the day.
These palms require moist, well-draining soil. Choose a cactus mix or create your own well-draining soil by adding horticultural sand into some potting soil. This supports moisture retention in the soil without making it soggy.
Providing an environment with adequate moisture is key, but avoid overwatering. Ideally, the soil should stay slightly damp, neither dry nor soggy. Water every few days or whenever the soil feels dry to the touch. Timing will vary depending on your humidity levels and indoor temperature. Test the soil with a moisture meter or by poking a finger in about an inch. If damp soil clings to your fingertip, wait for another day then check again.
Temperature and Humidity
A range of 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal for fishtail palms. Keep them away from harsh drafts and air vents. Humidity levels of 50 percent or higher help meet this palm's moisture requirements. You may need to add a humidifier near the plant, mist the leaves, or set the pot on a tray of moist pebbles.
Fishtail palms respond well to fertilizer given each month during their growing season. For best results, use a liquid fertilizer specifically designed for palms. To avoid fertilizer burn, be sure to water the plant before fertilizing.
Types of Fishtail Palms
- 'Caryota mitis': The most common and popular houseplant variety. Also known as the clustering fishtail palm, as it produces suckers.
- 'Caryota obtusa': With a common name of giant fishtail palm, this variety can reach heights of 60-100 feet. Because of their large nature, these palms are not usually kept as indoor plants.
- 'Caryota no': This variety is native to the island of Borneo, and produces one, large, grey-brown trunk.
Fishtail palms do not require regular pruning. The only time you may need to prune is if you want to reduce the size or remove dead foliage. Trim away any dead foliage and snip the tops off of the stalks that have grown too tall. These palms produce new growth at the tops of the stalks, so this will prevent the plant from growing taller.
Propagating Fishtail Palms
If the variety of fishtail palm you have is a suckering variety, it can easily be propagated through divisions. You will need gloves, a pair of snips, a handheld shovel, and a pot for the division. (The pot's size should correspond to the size of the sucker and the length and amount of its roots.) Then follow these instructions:
- Fill the bottom of a new pot with well-draining soil.
- With your gloves, gently pull the palm out of its pot. You may need the handheld shovel for this.
- Once removed shake away excess dirt so you can clearly see the roots.
- There should be a natural division between the mother plant and its suckers. Gently pull and separate the plants. If the roots are too tangled, use the snips to cut through them.
- Plant each division into its own pot and cover the roots with well-draining soil.
- Water each well, allowing the excess water to drain away.
Potting and Repotting Fishtail Palms
Fishtail palms like being a bit root bound, so they do not need to be repotted often. Every couple of years should suffice. They are ready to be repotted once the plant has completely filled the container, roots are coming out of the drainage holes, or the palm’s growth is stunted.
To repot, gently tip the palm on its side and tap the pot to loosen the roots. Slide the palm out, and place it in a container that is just one size larger. This will give it room to grow without too much extra space for water to collect.
Keeping your palm indoors means that there isn’t much you need to do to overwinter it. Simply withhold fertilizer and monitor the soil moisture levels. It may not require as much water during this time. Fishtail palms kept outside during warmer months should be brought inside when temperatures drop to around 65 degrees.
How to Get Fishtail Palms to Bloom
Fishtail palms produce small purple flowers that appear on a large cluster of dangling strings, similar in appearance to a mop. It is a unique blooming plant in that, unlike other palms, it is monocarpic: After blooming, the entire trunk will die. Suckering varieties of fishtail palm continue to produce more suckers, meaning you won’t be without a plant. But some varieties only produce a single trunk, and therefore the whole tree dies after blooming.
However, if you keep your fishtail palm indoors, you need not worry — fishtail palms rarely bloom when kept indoors.
If you wish to encourage your tree to flower, your best bet would be to place it outdoors. Be sure it receives warm temperatures, plenty of sunshine, and ample humidity levels. Give the plant fertilizer monthly during its growing season to ensure it has all the necessary nutrients needed to bloom.
Common Problems With Fishtail Palms
Fishtail palms are generally problem free, though they may present the gardener with some issues occasionally. Here are some common problems you may encounter and how you can fix them.
Yellowing foliage may be a sign of not enough moisture, usually due to low humidity. If you have a humidity gauge, be sure to check the percentage. If it is low, try adding a humidifier near the plant, place the pot on top of a pebble tray, or begin misting the leaves daily.
Soggy or Wilting Foliage
This is a sign of wet soil. Soggy soil can lead to root rot, so it is important to fix this problem quickly. Withhold water until the soil begins to dry. If the soil is very wet, you may need to repot with a better draining mix, such as cactus soil or a mix of soil and sand.
How big will a fishtail palm grow?
This depends on the variety. Most reach up to 60 feet tall, though some can grow taller. When kept indoors fishtail palms can usually be kept around 6 to 10 feet tall.
Do fishtail palms spread?
Some varieties only produce a single trunk, while others, such as Caryota mitis, can spread by producing suckers. This is why this palm tree variety has become an invasive species in some areas, although you don't have to worry about its invasiveness in your area if you grow it in a pot indoors.
Are fishtail palms toxic to dogs?
Fishtail palms contain calcium oxalate crystals, which are toxic to pets and people. It is advised to handle this palm with gloves and exercise caution. Keep this palm away from pets and children.