Foxtail Palm

Wodyetia bifurcata

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.


Growth form

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.

foxtail palm in algester, brisbaneTrunk

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.


foxtail palm seeds on a palm in algester, brisbaneOrange-red at maturity, Foxtail palm seeds are the only palm fruit known to be poisonous. They are best managed by removal from the crown shaft when still in the seed pod.



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.

25 thoughts on “Foxtail Palm”

  1. Gday,
    Been at my norther Brisbane property 4 years and had a very healthy Foxtail in the backyard. We back into Deception Bay Mangroves and the tree roots are prob in that salt water table. But again was healthy. Went away for 2 months suddenly tree looks very sick. Leaves all dead, young leaf spikes not opened… thoughts?

  2. Hello, You mention that Foxtail Palms have the only palm fruit known to be poisonous. Does that mean that you consider the rest of the 2600+ species to be non-toxic? I was led to believe that palms such as Arenga australasica, Carpentaria acuminata and Caryota mitis (to name a few) are also toxic. You may not be aware of it, but I found this information from your website, posted in a facebook group focused on foraging for wild plants as food. I wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea that some of the other palm fruits were safe to eat. I am writing merely in the hope that I can help to maintain accuracy in published information. Thank you.

  3. I’m thinking of planting 10 foxtail palms along the top of my rock filled clay dam wall (surface size approx. 55 x 25 metres, and approx. 15 metres high on a gentle slope), could you please advise if foxtail palms would be suitable. One has to be careful not to plant trees along dam walls with deep roots as it can damage the structure of the dam wall, so it’s important I don’t plant trees that will create a problem. Although I’ve read that foxtail roots are deeper than other palms, I’m still hopeful foxtails will be suitable.

    1. Don’t do it. We’ve got 8 of them on our property in Townsville and they are now about 8 metres tall and we can no longer reach the seed crowns to remove them. Our garden beds and paths are covered in red berries dropping from the palm every single day. Cleanup got away from my dad and our garden is now covered in decomposing seeds. Choose something else that isn’t as prolific and doesn’t get so tall so you can manage them without having to hire a garden team and a cherry picker to remove the seed crowns every year.

  4. Hello,
    I have four foxtail palms located in raised garden beds in the same proximity. One of them looks healthy enough, but it appears to be not as well rooted as the others – when you push against it, it will lean over. Should I be worried, or do anything to rectify?

  5. Your advice needed please. We have a beautiful foxtail palm in our front garden. It is about 7-8 m tall, and about 30cm diameter at the base. I think it would be about 8-10 yrs old, as that is the age of our house. Unfortunately the previous owners planted it only about half a metre to a metre from our front retaining wall (plastered block wall) which is about a metre high.

    Since purchase of our house about 5 years ago, my husband has threatened to chop down and remove the tree as he says that it will cause our retaining wall to crack and collapse. I have read that foxtails have deep roots, that the roots don’t grow in diameter like some trees, and that foxtails are single trees that do not clump and spread like some palms. But, I am wondering if the rootball is shallow and could get big enough to demolish our retaining wall or would the roots be deep enough to be below the depth of the retained soil and won’t cause any problems? I really love the tree – it looks great and produces shade for our garden and front yard, and don’t want to have it removed unnecessarily. Can you help?

  6. AFternoon
    I have a foxtail palm tree that is adult in size next to my bathroom drain pipe. I have been having problems with my drain. Could it be that this palms roots have damaged the pipes and causes a blockage? Thanks for your help.

    All the way from South-Africa!

    1. Hi Juanita. The palm roots are quite thin and unlikely to damage the pipe, but if there is any small crack in the pipe they will break it wide open and could cause the blockage.

  7. I have a foxtail palm and have just noticed my new frond is not opening and appears to have died.The tree itself looks healthy.Do we remove this frond?What could be the cause.
    Thank you
    Kath Beckwith

  8. Colleen Stockbridge

    My Foxtail has been replanted when it was around 6 ft tall It has been in the current location (Gold Coast )
    for the past 8 years Lately it has looked sad the leaves that are out are now going brown while the 5 new fronds haven’t opened It has been like that for several months now I must admit I haven’t given it fertilizer other than the occasional Seaweed solution What is the best way to preserve please It is in a slightly raised garden bed and well drained I thank you in advance Regards Colleen

    Also my Ixora”s used to flower very well but often have mealy bugs or some little bug that leaves the leaves sticky I have drenched them with a soap water liquid and the bugs usually go but they are not flowering like they used to How do I best care for these plants (Not sure if this is in your expertise )

    1. Hi Colleen. I suggest having a local consulting (level 5) examine the tree. It could be water stressed being raised if the soil is sandy, it could have nutrient deficiencies, or it could be suffering from a pathogen. Let’s hope it’s not the last one.

      You have more success adding a couple of dessertspoonsful of vegetable oil to your soap spray.

  9. Dear David, I’ve planted a foxtail palm approximate 1 metre from the pool, believing that should ok. Every expert I speak to has a different opinion as to whether it will damage the pool when it grows, what should I do? is it ok to leave it there. Please reply

  10. Hi David,

    I would really like to plant a Foxtail palm in the triangle front “patch” of my house along the driveway and foot path. It is raised and sided by cement on two sides. The place I will put the tree measures only 1.7 meters X 2.5 metres before hitting cement. Is this too small for the root ball? Oh also; I live in Melbourne near the bayside. So my region is a little colder than Queensland. Do you think the climate is a problem?

  11. Hi David,

    I would really like to plant a Foxtail palm in the triangle front “patch” of my house along the driveway and foot path. It is raised and sided by cement on two sides. The place I will put the tree measures only 1.7 meters X 2.5 metres before hitting cement. Is this too small for the root ball?

  12. Hi David,
    My beautiful foxtail palm (aged approx 5yrs) snapped at its base during this afternoon’s storm and has fallen over. It was a very healthy looking and vivacious palm but on closer inspection it looks like the base and root system were weak and diseased. Can I replant it with any success of it surviving? I have three other fox tails and now I am worried they will go the same way – can you suggest what I should do to prevent the same issue in those? Regards Dom

  13. Hi,
    I would like to plant foxtail palms around my pool area but don’t want them to lift any of the paving. Is that likely?

  14. Hi David I have planted 4 fax tail palms at the back of my house about 7 yrs ago they have and the are Hugh now the crown on up to the 2nd story of the house will they get much bigger ? And do I need to be worried about the root system damaging the house

  15. I’m looking at planting a foxtail palm around near our pool. How much room does the root system need?? Width n depth? Is it suitable for around a pool? Thanks

  16. This tree has been planted nextdoor and they only have a narrow strip and so they have spaced as far from their house and right against the boarder fence. So one is over my washing line and the other over my pond and two or three others against rendered block work and painted section of the fence at the top. This neighbour swears top landscaper recommended she uses. But she has not used in way landscaper would lay out, So these plants feed over my side as her side is all house and paving with very little garden area at all. So the other planting is a lime treee in the corner that has killed two peach trees in middle of back yard and she also has a lilly pilly hedge right against the fence. So all these plants vigorous and difficult as the foxtail palms are growing larger than the height they believe as this is the deal across the Sunshine Coast. They are becominng huge and not well understood tree here and so the fronds are lethal and big problem when they fall not to mention the poisonous berries. Just their proximity will have them pushing the fence over. The teacher and her developer partner know better but they are playing hardball as they dont want to pay for 50% of the fence as they should and should have a long time ago. What to do? I get you can take them through a legal process and it is indisputable but it should be there is a way of explaining it to them? Can you help? It is a lime tree right in the corner that will reassert itself and have cut the roots and it has taken 2 x 4 hours of work and years of telling them. The lilly pilly is very vigorous and they only sort if THEY are entertaining and then these palms are just so stupid to have been planted there. So you really get upset with people who build all house and have no yard and then plant these vigorous plants that have great vigour in this part of the world ie the Sunshine Coast just north of Brisbane.
    Help someone succinct and gets plant science and garden practice that could persuade a teacher they are WRONG. I like teachers but there are the occasional ones who you cant get through to as they have to be the authority on everything because they spoke to someone who was an authority but authority has to be in context. Good tree takes room and right against the fence it has another half of its room to spread out and push or go over or undermind the fence.

    1. Hi Fi

      I understand your distress. It can be quite upsetting when a neighbour incringes on your space with their trees. You are right about foxtail palm fronds, too. They do need a safe dropzone in which to land.

      As you say, you do have legal remedy which you can obtain through QCAT. I’d be happy to talk to your neighbour for you to try to resolve the matter peacefully. Just give me a call with their details.

      Kind regards, David.

      1. Thank you. It is just that it is all too stupid for words and there are people who have been flooded or suffered damage in storms but to bring up this matter that is so obviously wrong in every respect is just a waste of space and everyones time and well being. Thank you. I will call you Monday. If there is a best time please let me know.
        Best wishes, Fi

      2. Anytime you like is fine, Fi. Foxtail palms are beautiful; this is a lesson that even beautiful trees in the wrong place are weeds.

      3. Yes, that is the definition of a weed.

        They are a beautiful tree and I remember seeing them for the first time up at Townsville and up there the people have really embraced them as an emblem.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *