fishtail palm

How to Grow and Care for Fishtail Palm Trees

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If you want to learn how to grow and care for fishtail palms, look no further than this ultimate guide.

Fishtail Palms are tropical palm trees indigenous to parts of Southeast Asia. Most palm trees possess pinnately-compound leaves, meaning their leaves cluster around a singular main vein. 

However, Fishtail Palm plants are unique because their leaves form bipinnately. This means their leaflets arrange themselves around a second vein. This special characteristic is responsible for the attractive, fishtail-shaped foliage that makes these palms so beautiful. 

Besides their unique shape, Fishtail Palms boast lush color gradients of greens, blues, and grays which look great indoors or outdoors. Their versatility is another reason why these palm trees have become so popular. 

So if you are looking to bring a more tropical flair to your indoor spaces, or for a larger, attractive plant to decorate your poolside oasis in the backyard, keep on reading. Below you will learn everything you need to know to grow Caryota mitis successfully. 

Plant Facts

Scientific nameCaryota mitis
Common namesFishtail Palm, Clustering Fishtail Palm
FamilyArecaceae
Plant TypePalm tree 
Height and WidthIf grown indoors, it can grow to be 6’ tall, and 3’ feet wide
OriginSoutheast Asia, countries like Myanmar, Malaysia, and the Philippines
Flower colorsGreen, orange, and pink
Foliage colorLight and dark greens, with blue-ish grays
Sun ExposureBright, indirect sunlight or partial sun
Soil Type & pHMoist, rich well-draining soil with a Ph. level of 6 to 7.5
Special featuresGrow on tall stalks, toxic berries

How to Grow Fishtail Palm Tree

When it comes to growing C. mitis, it’s all about doing your best to mimic the natural growing conditions they receive in nature. With that being said, fishtail palms do great growing outside in warm, tropical-like conditions. 

Due to their size, when grown outdoors, fishtail palms are popular as accent plants, and privacy trees. Over time, and due to their good looks, these plants have grown in popularity and are now commonly grown as houseplants.

Indoors, C. mitis can be grown in containers. It should be noted that growing these palms indoors can be a little tricky. Getting the soil moisture humidity right, along with having a space large enough to accommodate them may take time. 

Propagation

Fishtail palm tree cannot be propagated from cuttings like other types of houseplants. They must be propagated from seed. 

C. mitis seeds germinate the best when they are covered lightly with moist and fresh potting growing medium. If you want to boost the efficiency of your seeds, you may consider keeping them on a heating mat, which maintains a stray 70-degree temperature. 

Once the seedlings begin to develop, you can separate them into individual containers and care for them like normal. For young fishtail palms, we recommend feeding them once a year at the beginning of summer with palm-specific fertilizer. 

Soil

For growing C. mitis indoors, any peat-based potting mix will be your best option. The mixture should include ingredients like perlite, coir, and pine bark in order to improve drainage and provide organic substance. 

The ideal pH level for C. mitis is somewhere between 6.0 and 7.5. However, most palms can tolerate a pH range of 5.0 to 8. 

Pruning

Very little pruning is necessary for general maintenance. If you want to control the palm size and height, remove old fronds, or get rid of too-tall trunks, you can cut the palm at or near ground level. Because it’s a clustering palm, this will not hurt the plant.  

Over time, you may also want to remove yellowing or dying leaves. Similarly, if you suspect your palm to be sick with a plant disease, you will want to prune the affected foliage to prevent the disease from spreading.  

Repotting and Transplanting

Repotting may be necessary for your plant as it grows. If you begin to notice roots growing out of the drainage holes of its container, or approaching the topsoil, then it may be root bound and require repotting or transplanting. 

Similarly, if you buy a mature fishtail palm tree from a nursery, it’s best to check the condition of the roots, as many palms will be sold in smaller containers, and maybe even come root-bound. 

How to Care for Fishtail Palm Plants

Caring for C. mitis can be slightly finicky, but not impossible! When it comes to successfully growing Fishtail palms as house plants, it’s best to focus on getting your watering routine dialed in, and making sure the plant gets enough humidity. 

Below you’ll find our recommendations for the most important aspects related to caring for fishtail palms.   

Water

These houseplants require an average amount of water. This normally means watering once a week during the hotter, growing months of the year. If your summertime temperatures get really hot, you may need to up the ante to twice a week. 

On the other hand, during the winter months, C. mitis consume less water. This means that you may be able to get away with watering a couple of times a month. 

In general, just monitor the soil of your plants periodically. A little bit of dryness here and there is okay, these plants do not need to be oversaturated all the time. But avoid letting the plant’s soil get completely dry.

Sunlight

C. mitis loves bright, indirect sunlight. They prefer to be located in areas that receive full sun, or 6 to 8 hours of sunlight every day.  Southeast- or west-facing windows are perfect for this sort of sunlight requirement. The more light fishtail palms receive, the better because they will grow faster, and last longer. 

If you are growing C. mitis inside, especially in areas that only receive partial sun, you may consider bringing them outside every once and a while for them to get the sun exposure they need. 

Temperature and Humidity

C. mitis is native to warm and humid environments. Generally speaking, the ideal temperature spectrum for fishtail palms is somewhere between 55 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. During the winter months, it’s really important to not let your palm be exposed to temperatures below 45 degrees, as it will not survive. 

Having the right humidity is important for fishtail palms. If your growing environment is not already humid enough, we recommend trying a few things to raise the humidity level for your palms.

Periodically spritz your palms with a spray bottle and lukewarm water. You can also utilize a humidifier to provide routine and controlled bursts of humidity. Another option is to fill a shallow tray with water and a layer of pebbles to create a DIY humidifying tray. As the water from the tray evaporates, your palm’s environment will become more humid.

Finally, you might consider positioning your palms around other humidity-loving plants. Together, they can create a more humid microenvironment. 

Fertilizer

C. mitis will occasionally develop deficiencies in manganese, iron, and magnesium. Symptoms of these nutritional deficiencies are normally yellowing leaves. 

For that reason, you may want to fertilize your palm throughout the growing season. Most store-bought fertilizers for household plants will do the trick. It’s a good idea to dilute the mixture to about half strength to avoid fertilizer burn. 

Avoid fertilizing during the winter months of the year, as the palm has gone into a period of dormancy. 

Pests and Diseases

C. mitis is vulnerable to plant pests such as mealy bugs, aphids, scale insects, whiteflies, and red spider mites. 

To get rid of a pest infestation, you can hose down your plant with water. The strength of the water should be enough to remove most of these small pets.  You may also consider spraying the plant with a non-toxic insecticidal oil or soap, such as neem oil. 

The good news is that Fishtail palms are not overly susceptible to plant diseases. However, some fungal spotting, or leaf blight, may occur occasionally.  This sort of fungus presents as wet and brown lesions that run parallel with the veins of the palm’s foliage. 

Leaf spots may also occur to your palm trees. This occurs on the surfaces of the palm’s foliage, and presents as small, watery, light yellow and brown spots. As the spots mature, they turn to dark brown or black in color. With time, the individual spots can combine, and result in complete lead death of the affected leaflet. 

To control for pest infestation, or plant disease, you may want to prune the affected foliage from the plant in order to prevent the fungus from spreading. Avoid overhead watering to avoid spreading the fungus to other parts of the plant. Irrigate the base of the palms in the mornings instead of the evenings.

Also improving the air circulation around the plant can help, as can avoiding transplanting diseased plants. You can also use copper-based or antibiotic pesticides as preventive sprays.

Common Varieties and Cultivars

Here are some of the most commonly grown varieties and cultivars of C. mitis. 

Giant Fishtail Palm (C. obtusa)

The Giant Fish Palm can grow upwards of 65 feet tall! It is also known as the Thai Giant Caryota. 

The Giant Fishtail Palm is one of the largest and most beautiful palm tree varieties. Its iconic shape popularized it all over the world which is how it made its way to places like Beverly Hills, California. Plus, it can stand up to the cold snaps and high winds that come with the Winter season in some parts of North America. 

Maxima Fishtail Palm (C. maxima)

A massive fishtail palm variety that is native to Southern Asia. Outdoors, it can grow up to 100-feet tall, and 16-feet wide. 

Like the tree itself, the flowers, or inferences, of this variety are also huge, sometimes growing upwards of 3 feet in length. The fruits of this tree are also large and can take on pink and purple-ish colors when ripe. 

Clustering Fishtail Palm (C. mitis)

This variety of fishtail palm grows in multi-stemmed clusters of plants. After one trunk, or stem, flowers and dies, the stems in the rest of the cluster survive and continue growing. 

The fruit of this palm tree are coated in with raphides, which are sharp needle-like crystals of calcium oxalate. The raphides are irritants and can cause irritation and damage if consumed or put in contact with the skin. 

Rumphiana Palm (C. rumphiana)

This palm boasts distinctive fishtail-shaped palms, with flowers that develop a mop-like shape. It can grow to be 60 feet tall, and 20 feet wide. 

This palm, like other varieties, is monocarpic, meaning that after it flowers, the entire plant dies off. 

Jaggery Palm (C. urnes)

Of all the fishtail palm varieties, the Jaggery Palm is the fastest maturing. It can reach maturity in just 20 years. It is native to countries like India, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka.

In some countries, the sap of this tree is boiled until it turns thick and black, forming what’s called a kithul treacle, or jaggery. Liquid jaggeries are used as sweeteners in Sri Lankan cuisine. The inflorescence, or flowers of the jaggery palm are processed into sweet snacks. Elephants also love the pulp of these plants!  

Snakeskin Fishtail Palm (C. ophiopellis)

This variety is known for its ornamental foliage, similar to the skin of reptiles like snakes. It’s an evergreen palm tree that enjoys full sun to partial shade. It requires constantly moist soil, so don’t let this variety dry out! 

Zebra Fishtail Palm (C. zebrina)

This variety is also known as the Gecko Palm and Striped Fishtail Palm. This variety tends to be less popular than the others listed above. And more rare, with Florida being the only area in North America where the Zebra Fishtail Palm can grow.

Conclusion

The sheer size and beautiful foliage of C. mitis should be reason enough to consider bringing this plant into your home or around your yard. With enough of them, you can transform any space into a tropical oasis, with island-like vibes. 

Don’t let the finicky nature of these palm trees deter you! By following the recommendations mentioned above in our care guidelines, you can have happy and healthy Fishtail Palms in no time. 

Now get to planting, and get those piña coladas ready. Cheers!

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*image by sweemingyoung/depositphotos

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