Wodyetia bifurcata, the foxtail palm, is a species of palm in the family Arecaceae, native to Queensland, Australia. The genus is so named in honor of ”Wodyeti” an Australian aborigine who was the last man of his tribe to have knowledge of the flora and fauna of its region. The epithet bifurcata is Latin for ”twice divided” in reference to its leaves. Foxtail palms have received popular attention in the nursery and landscape industries because of their extraordinary beauty, fast growth and adaptability.
This variety of palm has solitary growth habit, with trunks that are slender, gray, swollen at the base and ringed with leaf scars. It has a pale green crowshaft and a crown of 8-10 leaves that range in length from 8-10 feet. The leaves are pinnately compound (feather-leaved), with several hundred fishtail leaflets attached along the rachis or leaf rib, giving them a foxtail-like appearance. The leaflets are deep green with a silvery underside and are about 6 inches and 2 inches wide.
Foxtail palms reach maturity at around 12 years of age, at which time they are able to produce inflorescences. The inflorescence, which arises at the base of the crown-shaft, bears white flowers. Both male and female flowers are borne on this palm, thus this plant is classified as monoecious, capable of self-fertilization. Fertilized female flowers produce large, oval-shaped, green fruits that turn orange-red at maturity. Mature fruits are approximately 1.5 inches wide and 2.5 inches long with a single seed within each fruit.
History: It was discovered in 1978, when an Aboriginal man, whose Aboriginal name being recorded as ‘Wodyeti’, introduced it to botanists and the world’s attention. Thus the genus epithet was honoured after him. Its species epithet ‘bifurcata‘ mean twice forked, in reference to the pinnae and fibres in the fruit. Its common name, ‘foxtail palm’, was conveniently given in reference to the fronds, which are an allusion to the tail of a fox.
Growth Form: Stunning, fast-growing, small or medium-sized, solitary palm that is renowned for its delightful crown of densely plumose (like the plume of a feather), gracefully arching fronds that have taken the liking to the tail of a fox.
Flowering: White flowers stalk that comes from the base of the crownshaft.
Foliage: Variance of greenish colors; deep green to light green colors. Received its more commonly known Australian-English name from the appearance of its foliage, which is in a shape of a fox’s tail.
Fruit: Fruits clustered, ripening from green to orange-red, about 5 cm long, single-seeded; seeds bearing forked fibres.
Trunk: The foxtail palm trunk is smooth, thin, and self-cleaning. It grows a single, double, or triple trunk that is slightly spindle-shaped to columnar reaching heights of about 10 m (30 ft). The trunk also has a closely ringed, dark grey to light gray color which slowly turns more and more white. The crownshaft of the foxtail palm is light to bright green and slightly swollen at the base.
How To Care And Grow Foxtail Palm
Foxtail palms grow best in bright locations that receive full sun, but they can tolerate some light shade. Although these palms handle various soil conditions, planting them in fertile, loamy or sandy soils promotes the most luscious growth. Make sure you plant your foxtail palm in a site that offers good drainage because the roots need ample oxygen in order to remain healthy. Although foxtail palms thrive in warm-weather climates, they can still handle cold weather and light frosts. However, the fronds suffer unsightly damage if temperatures fall below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid planting young palm trees near sidewalks and pathways where the very sharp spines might injure pedestrians.
Light and well-drained soils are imperative for healthy palm tree growth. Sand-based soil, like sandy loam, provides the best earth environment for spreading palm roots because palms do not like compacted soils with few air pockets, such as clay. Heavy soils suffocate roots and contribute to growth stunting and root rot. Using water-retaining soil amendments, like peat moss or humus, mixed into the sandy soil allows the roots to have the best nutrient and water concentrations. However, the soil should not have more than 20 percent of its volume in soil amendments.
Water a newly planted Foxtail palm tree with a soaker hose every day for the first 14 days, and then reduce irrigation to once a week for the rest of its first growing season. Make sure the top 24 inches of soil receive moisture during each watering session. Established foxtail palms have high drought resistance, so water your tree only when the top 2 inches of soil dries out. When water is needed, irrigate the soil long enough to moisten the top 12 inches. Apply a 3-inch layer of organic mulch around the tree’s base to help maintain consistent soil moisture and eliminate weeds that compete with your palm for water and soil nutrients.
Best Watering Practices
Both container palms and soil-grown palms do better with deep watering. This means you allow the water to seep slowly into the soil around the palm’s roots. This isn’t a fast procedure. It may take an hour or even two for the 25 gallons to drip into the soil. A quick spray of the leaves and the soil top may leave most of the soil bone dry. In summer, it’s best to water in the early morning or late afternoon. When winter rolls round, water only in the morning. Morning irrigation means the palm’s soil will be moist during the hot afternoons. If you water when the sun is hot, your palm may end up with burned fronds.
Foxtail palms benefit from regular feeding, which promotes an attractive plant and increases resistance to pests and disease. Use a special palm fertilizer, which contains the correct ratio of nutrients for the tree. For an average size Foxtail palm of 10 to 12 feet, apply about 3 pounds of fertilizer, and slightly less for a smaller tree. Sprinkle the fertilizer evenly on the soil, from near the base of the trunk to below the dripline, which is where water drips from the outermost leaves. Always apply fertilizer to moist soil, and then water deeply immediately after fertilizing. Fertilize the tree four times every year—in spring, midsummer, early fall and late fall. Refer to the fertilizer container for specific instructions.
Foxtail palms can suffer from deficiencies in boron, iron, magnesium, manganese, nitrogen and potassium. Boron deficiency symptoms occur on new fronds. They fail to emerge normally, developing a downward hook and accordion leaf. The crown of the tree also bends to one side. Iron deficiency causes chlorosis which causes the fronds to become yellow or pale green. The older fronds usually stay green but, if it is a recurring problem, the entire tree canopy can become pale yellow. Magnesium deficiency causes broad yellow bands on the leaflet edges. Manganese deficiency causes “frizzletop” and chlorosis. Nitrogen deficiency will cause the fronds to become pale green to pale yellow. The tree stops growing if this deficiency is not corrected and the trunk becomes tapered. Potassium deficiency causes yellow edges on the fronds and can cause them to look withered.
Foxtail palms require little maintenance, but removing discolored, rotting or dead fronds, flowers and fruit stalks helps keep your tree looking tidy and healthy. Prune your palm in the spring using sharp loppers. Avoid removing green leaves and fronds pointing out horizontally or upward. Pruning out fronds beyond the horizontal often stunts foliage growth and increases the risk of plant diseases.
Palm tree roots that are planted too shallow may grow above soil level and do not have a stable base to support the weight of the tree. Roots that are planted too deep may suffer from nutritional deficiencies and water stress. This can cause your palm to lose much of its root system, making it unable to support its own weight. Transplanted palms should always be planted so that the root ball is at the same depth as the previous location. The only exception is when the roots of the tree are exposed or you’re transplanting a tree that has toppled over. In these situations, plant your tree so that the top of the root ball is about 1/2 to 1 inch below the surface of the soil.
Also Read: Fast Growing Palm Trees For Landscaping
Propagation And Transplanting
- Collect the Seeds
Gather seeds from this variety of palm in summer after the fruit fully ripens. Wait until the fruit darkens and begins to wrinkle or exude a fine, sugary sap. Collect several fruits to increase the likelihood of finding a viable seed.
- Prepare the Seeds
Tear the fruit in half by hand. Pick out the large, pointed seed. Soak the seed in a bowl of water for 24 hours to soften the flesh. Pick out and discard any seeds that float to the surface because they are probably not viable. Gently scrub and rinse the seeds that sink to the bottom.
- Ready Your Pots
Fill 6-inch-deep pots with sterile medium, such as a mix of half milled peat and half perlite, or half seed-starting compost and half coarse sand. Add water until the medium feels moderately moist in the top 3 inches. Prepare one pot for each seed you want to plant.
- Plant the Seeds In Pots
Place one date palm seed in each container. Press the seed onto the surface of the growing medium so it is halfway buried. Cover the seed with a thin layer of coarse sand. Mist the sand liberally after sowing to help settle it onto the seed.
- Warm and Bright Spot
Place the containers in a bright, sheltered spot with indirect sunlight. Warm the containers with a germination mat set to around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Cover the containers with a propagator or a sheet of plastic wrap.
- Provide Adequate Moisture
Maintain light moisture in the growing medium to prevent mold and bacterial growth while still providing the seed with the necessary moisture. Let the medium become nearly dry just beneath the surface, then water to a 1-inch depth.
- Watch For Sprouts
Watch for the first grass-like sprouts in three to eight weeks. Leave the propagator and germination mat in place until the date palm seedlings reach 2 inches in height, then turn off the germination mat. Remove the propagator two weeks after germination.
- Step Up to Pots
Transplant the foxtail palms into 1-gallon nursery containers filled with sand-based potting soil. Grow them under warm, bright conditions outdoors such as near a lightly shaded south-facing wall. Provide 2 inches of water weekly during their first summer.
- Acclimate the Seedlings
Acclimate the foxtail palm seedlings to direct sun at the end of their first summer by placing them in an increasingly bright position for more hours each day. Grow them in full sun for one full year to ensure their root system is strong and well-developed before out-planting them. Provide supplemental water during the summer and in winter if no rain falls for longer than two weeks.
- Transplant Into the Landscape
Transplant this variety of palms into the landscape or into permanent planters in early summer of their second year. Grow them in full sun in sandy, fast-draining soil. Provide supplemental water for their first few years in the ground to promote fast growth. You can expect fruit from your foxtail palm trees in about six to 10 years from the time they sprouted.
How to Repot a Foxtail Palm
- Choose a new pot that is about 2 to 4 inches larger than what the tree is currently in.
- Mix fresh potting soil with some bone meal or slow-release fertilizer. Do not just place the fertilizer between the soil and the root ball as this can damage the tree’s roots.
- Place wire mesh or screen over the drain holes in the bottom of the new pot and fill with at least four inches of soil. If there are no drain holes in the bottom of the pot, either drill some or place an inch of gravel on the bottom of the pot before filling.
- Work the palm tree out of its container by gently pulling on the bottom of the trunk while tapping the side of the pot. It may be necessary to rock the plant back and forth a bit as you pull it form the pot. If the palm tree is tall, it may be easier to remove it from its pot while it is laying on its side. The key is to be gentle so you do not break the heart at the center of the palm or otherwise damage it.
- Place the palm’s root ball into the center of the new pot and add soil until it reaches the same spot on the tree trunk as the soil in the old pot. Do not bury more of the tree than was under the soil already. Disturb the root ball as little as possible during this process – it is not necessary to loosen or cut the roots when transplanting palm trees.
- Tap or shake the pot to filter the fresh soil down in between the roots of the palm. Add more potting soil if necessary to keep the tree planted as deeply as it was in the previous container. Gently pack the soil down around the base of the plant.
- Water the palm thoroughly until water runs out of the drainage holes.
Also Read: How To Grow And Care For Ponytail Palm Trees
Common Problems Associated With Growing Foxtail Palm
Palm borers are finicky 2-inch-long beetles that fancy the woods of foxtail palms. The top of the tree gradually dies, and the trunk buckles where damage is severe. Pupating adults leave through quarter-sized holes in the bark. Severe infestations produce numerous tunnels, weakening the structure of the trunk. Stressed palms attract borers. There’s no fix for palm borers. Remove and destroy the tree to protect others from attack. Because borers breed in decaying trunks, dead specimens must go. Adequate water and nutrition help remaining trees resist borers.
Red Palm Weevil
The red palm weevil act similarly to the palm borers, that lives in the trunks of the palm tree. They tunnel into the wood leaving holes in the trunk. The larva feed on the inner parts of the tree, causing fronds to yellow and drop and the trunk to decay, eventually killing the tree.
Soft And Armored Scale Insects
Scales are tiny insects that look like bumps on a plant’s surface. Armored scales have a hard outer shell that covers the insect while it sucks fluids from the palm tree. Soft scales do not have armor, and they secrete honeydew as they feed on the tree. Scales will weaken the tree, but do not usually cause permanent damage to palms. Prune infested fronds. Place sticky tape around the bottom of the tree to keep ants from helping the scales against natural enemies such as ladybugs and parasitic wasps. Wash the scales from the tree, and spray with horticultural oil every seven days until the scales are gone.
Mealybugs are tiny, sap-sucking insects that can cause major damage to your foxtail palms. They typically reside on the undersides of leaves, where they feed on the plant’s juices. Over time, mealybugs can cause the leaves to yellow, wilt and drop off. If left untreated, mealybugs can also harm the palm’s crown and roots. To protect your foxtail palm, be on the lookout for these pests and take action if you see any signs of mealybugs. You can use a garden hose to wash them off the plant, or use a commercially available insecticidal soap or horticultural oil.
Spider mites are tiny arachnids that love to feed on both indoor and outdoor palms. They are so small that you might not even see them, but you’ll definitely see the damage that they do. Spider mites create webbing all over the leaves of the palm, which stunts the palm’s growth and can eventually kill it. If you think you have spider mites, take a close look at the leaves of your palm. If you see webbing and tiny dots (the mites themselves), then you’ll need to take action right away.
Cabbage Palm Caterpillar
Cabbage palm caterpillar is the larva of the owlet moth, which can be identified by its brownish color, wing span of 2 inches and darken eyespots on each hind wing. The larvae grow to about 1 1/2 inches long and have a pinkish hue with shiny black heads. Long, white bristles or spines protrude out from black tubercles on their bodies. Young caterpillars will feast on the palm’s blossoms but do not cause severe damage. As the caterpillars prepare to pupate, they enter the bark of the tree. Bacillus thuringiensis, a soil bacterium, will target specific species of caterpillars and can be applied to the palm tree to help control cabbage palm caterpillars.
Whiteflies look something like tiny houseflies but are not related. Adults tend to cluster in colonies on the undersides of the foxtail palm’s leaves. They have yellowish bodies and powdery white wings. Whiteflies lay oval-shaped eggs in no particular pattern. Whiteflies at all stages of life suck vital juices from the interior of the foxtail palm’s leaves. Large infestations of whiteflies can drain the foxtail palm’s foliage of moisture and nutrition, causing the leaves to dry out and turn yellow or die. Leaves may fall off the plant or remain attached. If you detect larval stages of whiteflies on the foxtail palm, remove the infested leaves. As this will not work with winged adults, consider using a handheld vacuum cleaner to suck the adults off the foliage. Do this in the morning, when the insects are less active, then place the vacuum bag or collection bin in a sealable plastic bag and freeze it.
Also Read: How To Grow And Care For Ruffled Fan Palms
Collar, Foot, Root And Crown Rots
Collar, foot, root and crown rots caused by species of the fungus Phytophthora can infect foxtail palms as well as standard palm trees. The fungus attacks the roots or the root crown of the plant, causing distorted, discolored leaves. The fronds fall prematurely and the entire plant may wilt. These infections may also cause cankers on the trunk and oozing sap. Improve drainage to keep the soil from staying wet too long. Make sure the tree is not planted too deeply. Avoid over-watering and water only at the base to avoid getting the trunk wet. If the tree has crown rot, try removing soil from around the root crown to let it dry out. Fungicides may help ward off infection or keep it from spreading.
Although it can attack any part of the palm tree, pink rot is considered a secondary disease. Pink rot causes leaf spots, rot and stunted or deformed growth. Visible pink spore masses are a telltale symptom. Pink rot may also produce a brown, syrup-like ooze. Keep palms as healthy as possible to avoid this disease. Make sure the trees are not planted too deeply. Do not over-water or under-water, and use a fertilizer appropriate for the tree. Avoid injuring the palm with gardening equipment or pruning tools. Fungicides may help protect the tree after pruning. Follow label instructions carefully for proper application.
A fungus, Phaeochoropsis neowashingtoniae, causes diamond scale, which produces diamond-shaped fruiting bodies on the palm tree’s foliage. Diamond scale is more prevalent in coastal areas and some inland valleys. Tiny, watery-looking dark spots form first, growing to diamond-shaped, black, shiny fruiting bodies on the upper and lower surfaces of the leaves and leafstalks. Leaves turn yellow, then brown. Consider replacing badly infected trees with resistant species. Keep existing trees healthy and give supplemental water as necessary. Improve drainage, if needed, and fertilize with a product formulated for palm trees. Keep other vegetation at least 2 feet away from the trunk.
Another fungus, Fusarium oxysporum can infect foxtail palms. Leaves in the lower part of the canopy behave much like those infected with diamond scale, turning brown and hanging onto the plant. The disease may affect only one side of the leaves. Leafstalks may become discolored and brown to black streaking may be noticeable. The disease will kill the tree sooner or later. Fusarium wilt also stresses the palm tree, leaving it susceptible to a secondary infection, pink rot. The fungus can enter the palm tree through wounds, so disinfect pruning tools and avoid injuring the tree with lawn mowers, chainsaws or other tools. Fusarium wilt may also attack at the roots during periods of heavy rainfall or excessive watering.
Sudden Crown Drop
Sudden crown drop is a disease that is usually caused by the fungus Thielaviopsis paradoxa, although it has not been confirmed that this pathogen is the primary cause of sudden crown drop. This disease causes internal decay of the trunk that is not visible from the outside. The pseudobark appears healthy, as do the leaves, but this small amount of healthy tissue is not enough to support the weight of the trunk. Eventually the decay causes a palm tree’s entire crown and the upper portion of the trunk to fall. The upper portion of tall palm trees can weigh several tons. Cultural factors such as drought stress can promote development of this disease, as well as injury caused by pruning, which provides a point of entry for the pathogen. There is currently no fungicide treatment available to prevent or treat sudden crown drop, and an infected tree cannot be saved.
Leaf spot is a fungal disease appearing as circular or elongated spots. This fungal disease is not serious and can be controlled with proper cultural care. Several fungus pathogens cause leaf spot which is spread through pests, water or wind. Leaves achieve a polka-dot appearance with spots ranging from yellow to black. In severe cases, spots enlarge into widespread blight, effectively killing off the leaf. Use low pressure drip irrigation on the soil to seep water into the ground rather than using sprinklers, as leaves that remain dry cannot support leaf spot fungi. In severe infestations, however, applying a fungicide may be warranted. Maintain an open windmill palm canopy and prune away any overhanging tree limbs hindering air movement in your garden.
Also Read: Major Florida Palm Trees
Palms need to be consistently moist, but not soaked. The leaves on palms that don’t get enough water may begin to die, starting at the tips. To avoid this, water your palm tree as soon as soil feels dry to the touch. Palms generally need a good soaking at the base of the tree about twice monthly. You can allow the soil to get slightly drier during the winter. If you’re growing your palm in a container, water the soil until it drains out the holes in the bottom of the pot. Dump the tray or saucer beneath the pot so that your palm’s roots are not standing in water.
Palm trees suffering from too little or too much of various nutrients often show signs of this in their leaves. For example, potassium, iron and manganese deficiencies show as dead tissue at the leaf tips. Potassium deficiency can be fatal, and begins with translucent yellow-orange or necrotic leaf spotting and wilting of older leaves, particularly at the tips and margins. Too much nitrogen may cause leaf burn, where the tips of the lower fronds brown and then die. Palm trees need a slow-release, granular palm fertilizer that contains nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous, and trace amounts of iron, manganese, zinc, copper and boron. These are available at nurseries and garden centers with nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium ratios of 12-4-12 or 8-2-12. Apply at a rate of 1 1/2 pounds of granular fertilizer per 100 square feet of canopy four times per year, or 1 pound per 100 square feet of canopy six times per year.
Chilling injury occurs in tropical palm trees that are acclimated to warmer nighttime temperatures, but are suddenly subjected to cooler temperatures. For example, leaf tips may die if a palm acclimated to night temperatures of 70 degrees Fahrenheit is suddenly subjected to a night that drops to 45 F. If the leaf surface, or the air around the palm drops below 32 F, frost or freeze damage occurs, which can result in dead leaf tissue. Keep indoor plants away from drafty windows, and bring outdoor container palms inside when temperatures are expected to drop. The damage is not usually fatal, and new growth is usually normal.
Palm decline, also referred to as Texas Phoenix palm decline, begins with yellowing of older leaf tips. Flowers also die and the fruit drops. Leaves eventually turn reddish-brown to dark brown or gray. The roots soften as they decay and the spear leaf eventually dies, causing the palm to stop producing new growth. Palm decline is caused by the bacteria Phytoplasma. When the disease has progressed far enough that the palm no longer produces new leaves, or more one-fourth of the foliage is affected, it is not treatable. Palms that are newly infected with either disease can be treated with oxytetracycline HCl, an antibiotic that must be administered every four months for the life of the tree.