Family: Arecaceae Origin: Endemic to Cape Melville, Northern Queensland
Foxtail palms are now prolific not just in Brisbane but all over the world in tropical and sub-tropical climates. That’s quite remarkable, considering they were unknown to the world just over thirty years ago. They were brought to botanists attention in 1978, growing in Cape Melville in Northern Queensland. Due to their original rarity nurseries weren’t given access to Foxtails until 1992.
The genus are named for Wodyeti, an Aboriginal man who had a great knowledge of the region. ‘Bifurcata’ (twice divided) refers to the distinctive plumlose leaflet arrangement, from which its common name is also derived. It’s a monotypic genus (only having one species), at least so far.
In their native environment Foxtail palms reportedly grow to 15 metres. Under cultivation they rarely reach 10 metres. They have largely displaced taller species such as Alexander palms, their comparative shortness often considered an advantage since at height palms have a ‘telegraph pole’ aesthetic to many observers.
They have a sturdy, grey trunk with some light signs of leaf scars.
Seed pods open to reveal infloresenscences on a stalk connected to the palm tree at the base of the crown shaft.
Palm fronds 2-3 metres long with plumose fronds. Foxtail palms are self-cleaning, meaning the expired fronds fall from the tree naturally.
Foxtails are easily propogated in cultivation in warm climates. Only mature fruits should be selected and they should be dried if being stored. They remain viable for several months but fresh seeds should be used in following years. In temperate climates seed trays should be heated to 32 degrees Celsius.
Foxtail’s natural environment is on rocky ledges among granite boulders. In cultivation they expect the same excellent drainage. They are reasonably shade and salt tolerant, making them one of the most hardy palms available.
They may be fertilised with slow-release palm or general fertilisers. If they aren’t fertilised look out for potassium deficiency. It is identified by necrosis in the ends of leaflets on older fronds and black spotting in the midsections. They may also suffer from Manganese deficiency which leads to leaflet necrosis starting at the base of the leaflet rather than the tips and with black stripes instead of spots.
Potassium deficiency in Foxtails can also be compounded by the application of fertilisers high in Nitrogen (lawn fertilisers, for example) close to the tree. The nitrogen is used in substitution for potassium leading to an effective deficiency.
Brisbane’s climate is great for Foxtail palms. With monthly watering and annual fertilising with palm fertiliser they should thrive, given good drainage.