Foxtail Palm

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Foxtail Palm, Wodyetia bifurcata

Family: Areceae 

Sub Family Arecoideae

This is a pleasingly unique and simply delightful looking, mid-sized palm.  Its origin is that of the Cape Melville National Park area in Queensland, situated in Northeastern Australia.   It first came to the attention of “Westerners” in 1978 with the earliest formal description of this species published in 1983.

It is named after Wodyeti, an elderly Aboriginal bushman – said to be the last of his family line – hence, properly perpetuating his name.  It was he who shared with botanists a veritable treasure trove of arcane knowledge regarding this palm in its natural habitat.  The epithet bifurcata is Latin for “twice divided,” and pertains to its leaf tips.

It is the only species within the Wodyetia genus.  It has a solitary trunk, as opposed to some species of palms with clustering trunks.   Its petioles (the stem of the palm leaf between the trunk and where the leaflets commence) are unarmed.  A self-cleaning palm (fronds fall off when dead), it loves fertilization and is tolerant of salt, wind and coolness.  A word of caution – its seeds (though colorful) are said to be poisonous if ingested.

Its more common name is derived from the visual appearance of its leaflets which are in a lovely, bushy appearing, circular arrangement which looks quite similar to – well duh – a fox’s tail!  With its attractive, smooth grayish tan trunk, if well taken care of, in maturity it may exceed thirty feet (9.15 meters) in height.   (Each morning at Casa Ola Brisa, from our second story master bedroom, we look under drooping, gently swaying Foxtail Palm fronds out into the Santiago Bay.)

A strong grower, in several ways it resembles those massive beauties of the Roystonea family (Royal Palms from Cuba) . . . but without their columnesque trunks.  It can live in moderate light but seems to prefer full sun, even when young.  Here, in the proverbial New World, it grows in the southern portion and west coast of the United States.  Mature trees can survive temperatures as low as 26 degrees Fahrenheit (-3.33 centigrade) . . . . which is to say, much better than us these days

Its attractive, robust, trunk is slender and swollen at the base, ringed with circumscribing leaf scars, and gradually tapers to a smooth, olive green crownshaft.  Its beautiful canopy consists of eight to twelve arching, but full, fronds which are then made up of hundreds of leaflets attached to the trunk at several levels.  (In case you’ve not recognized it by now, I think it to be a very pretty palm!)

Each Foxtail Palm has eight to ten, full-bodied and plume-like fronds that are eight to ten feet (2.44 – 3.5 meters) long and short-stalked.  The leaflets on them are six inches (15.24 cm) long and nearly two inches (5.08 cm) wide.  These grow from all angles of the rachis (the primary stem of a compound leaf) with the widest point being mid-leaflet.  They have raggedy, fishtail looking tips – as opposed to being sharp and pointed like many pinnate palm leaflets. 

The whitish green, petiole is six inches (15.24 cm) to a foot (30.48 cm) in length with brown scales.  In turn, the crownshaft (the tight, surrounding envelope formed by the tubular, leafed frond bases sheathing each other around the stem of the top of the trunk) is narrow and green with waxy, white colored scales.

The green inflorescence appears below the crownshaft and sports both male and female, creamy-green blooms on the same branch.  (This means, obviously, that – unlike the Date Palm – it is self-pollinating.)  The flowers are white and the clustering 1 ¼” to 2 ¼” (3.18 – 5.72 cm) orange/red fruits are quite attractive.

This fast grower adapts to a wide range of well-drained (important phrase those two words!) soil conditions.  It thrives in both sub-tropical and tropical environs.  It is not drought tolerant, enjoying soil kept reasonably moist through regular watering.  But, be careful, do not overwater.  We somewhat deeply water ours once a week during the non-rainy season. 

Some growers advise to mulch around the base to keep other plants from competing for nutrients.  Complementing the trunk by both form and color, we’ve Lacy Leaf Philodendron beneath ours. 

This magnificent tree is moderately salt tolerant.  Though pest free, it is susceptible to leaf spot fungi if regularly watered from overhead – exempting rain, of course!  Its seeds sprout and grow fast – in two to three months – and it is easily transplantable.

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The clustering 1 ¼” to 2 ¼” orange/red fruits are beautiful
but not edible.

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This picture was taken a year ago. We now look under these fronds out into the Santiago Bay from our second story master bedroom.

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The bushy appearing, circular arrangement of the frond leaflets do, indeed, look quite similar to a fox’s tail!