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Fishtail Palm Tree

Caryota sp.

Fishtail palm trees feature compound leaves that reach staggeringly large sizes, as does the tree itself. The leaflets of these large leaves, each of which features ragged edges that resemble the back end of a fish, lend a tropical feel to the plant and subsequently any room or garden space it is in. Worth noting: Most varieties of clump-forming fishtail palm trees are good outdoor substitutes for the more invasive bamboo (the world’s fastest-growing plant).

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Light:

Part Sun, Sun

Type:

Height:

From 8 to 20 feet or more

Width:

From 10 to 35 feet

Foliage Color:

Problem Solvers:

Special Features:

Zones:

9-11

Propagation

Tropical Plants

Whether you grow this tree indoors as a houseplant or outside on a seasonal basis (or permanently in warmer regions), it creates the sense of a tropical getaway. That's because this plant is one of the few palm trees with bipinnately compound leaves comprised of many leaflets. These grayish-green leaves create a dappled shade environment. 

Check out our guide to growing tropical plants.

Fishtail palm trees bear both male and female blossoms on the same plant, which makes fruit production possible on a single specimen. Each of the small red fruits contains a single seed, which is edible if you completely clean it of the stinging outer flesh that contains oxalic acid crystals. Wear gloves when retrieving the seed or removing fallen fruit to prevent skin irritation. To sprout a seed, keep it warm and moist in a pot for 6-8 months. Once a tree produces fruit, the trunk that produced the flower will die. If it's from a species of tree with only one trunk, the whole tree will die. If the tree comes from a species of tree with multiple trunks (thanks to stems, or suckers, that emerge near the mother trunk's base, these multiple trunks will continue until they, too, flower and die.

Follow our houseplant care guide to keep your plants in tip-top shape.

How to Care For Fishtail Palm Trees

Fishtail palm trees are tricky to grow as houseplants. The biggest limiting factor is the tree's ultimate size. Even smaller species can reach 20 feet tall, so any specimen will likely outgrow its space.

If you decide to give it a go, plant the tree in a pot with enough room to accommodate massive growth. Use a general-purpose potting mix with good drainage, because these trees like it on the drier side. (If you expect your tree to live for years, add pine park, perlite, or other porous drainage material to the soil to make it last longer.) For the most consistent growth, keep your palm tree evenly moist but not wet. Let the soil dry slightly between waterings. Fishtail palm trees also appreciate occasional fertilizing. At a minimum, give your tree a slow-release fertilizer every few months. 

Light is another limiting factor because most indoor lighting cannot equal the bright light these trees need to thrive. These trees are tough and slow-growing, though, so even in less-than-ideal conditions your specimen will survive. It will decline over time, however. 

Read more about the lighting needs of houseplants.

When planting a fishtail palm tree outside, keep its ultimate size in mind. Although slow-growing, it will mature to quite a large size with a wide spread of compound leaves. Plant the tree in well-drained soil and full to part sun.

More Varieties of Fishtail Palm Tree

Clumping fishtail palm

Caryota mitis grows 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide and prefers moist soil. It usually sends up multiple stems or trunks. It is sometimes grown indoors as a large houseplant. Once the plant begins to flower in the landscape, it dies over a two-year period, but seedlings often take the place of the dying stems. Zones 10-11.

Giant fishtail palm

Caryota gigas is the largest of the fishtail palms, growing 70 feet tall. It will withstand temperatures to 28 degrees F and grows best where nights are cool. Giant fishtail palm lives 25-30 years. Zones 10-11. 

Toddy fishtail palm

Caryota urens gets its name from the fact that sap from its flower is sometimes collected to make an alcoholic beverage or toddy. It is a large tree reaching 50 feet tall and forming a gray trunk up to 18 inches in diameter. Zones 10-11.

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