Foxtail palms stand guard outside the old visitor's center at Miami's Fairchild Tropical Garden.
The foxtail palm has one of the most spectacular foliage displays of all palms. The pale green arching fronds have leaflets that radiate out at all angles from the leaf stem, thus appearing like a bottlebrush or the tail of a fox. A mature foxtail palm has a canopy of 8-10 leaves, each with the characteristic foxtail or bottlebrush appearance, and a crown of foliage 15-20 ft (4.6-6.1 m) across. Foxtail palm is thornless and has a slender, closely ringed bottle shaped to columnar trunk that grows up to 30 ft (9.1 m) tall. The foxtail palm bears white blossoms of both sexes at the base of its crown, and a single palm is capable of producing fertile seeds. Foxtail palm produces colorful clusters of red to orange-red fruit, each containing just one seed.
Foxtail palm grows naturally amongst rocks and boulders in northeastern Australia, specifically in northeastern Queensland, in the Melville Range, near Bathurst Bay on the Cape York Peninsula. This is a very limited distribution and foxtail palm is listed as a Threatened Species in Australia. Foxtail palm grows in loose, sandy, granitic soils among enormous granite boulders. The climate in this area of Australia is tropical with a prolonged dry season. Foxtail palm has recently become a very popular ornamental in the southern parts of Florida, California and Texas.
Foxtail palms are exceptionally hardy and easy to grow. They tolerate a wide variety of well drained soils, including alkaline limestone soils and rocky sands. Regular fertilization with palm fertilizer, and regular watering result in rapid growth. Fertilizer for foxtail palm should have ample amounts of micronutrients and slow release potassium. Foxtail palms may develop potassium deficiency in potassium deficient soils. The foxtail growth rate has been documented to be 2-3 ft (0.6-0.9 m)/year under good conditions. Foxtail palms tolerate light frost, rarely attract pests and disease, and are resistant to lethal yellowing. Light: The foxtail palm grows best in full sun, but it grows well in partial shade, too. Even small plants and seedlings can tolerate hot, full sun from an early age. The foxtail palm can also be grown indoors where it does well in brightly-lit areas. Moisture: The mature foxtail palm has a deep root stem that allows it to be quite drought tolerant. However, this palm responds well to regular, deep watering in well drained soils. During cooler months the foxtail palm needs only occasional watering. Care should be taken not to overwater foxtail palms that are grown in containers. Hardiness: USDA Zones 10 - 11. Foxtail palm should be protected from frost or freezing temperatures. Mature and established plants can tolerate only a light frost with temperatures down to about 27º F (-2.7 C), without significant damage. Some enthusiasts are growing foxtail palms outdoors in zone 9, where they must be protected from freezing conditions. Propagation: Foxtail palm is propagated by seeds. Some seeds germinate 2-3 months after sowing, and others will take up to 12 months to sprout.
The foxtail palm becomes even showier when its brilliant red fruit is on display.
Foxtail palm is considered by palm enthusiasts and landscapers to be a useful accent in a wide spectrum of landscape settings. It is prized for its robust trunk and its unique bushy leaves. Foxtail palm may be used alone as an accent specimen and may also be planted in groups of three or more for a stunning massed effect. Foxtails are being planted in rows along streets and driveways. Foxtail palm is also grown as a house or conservatory plant in well lit areas. Foxtail palm can be used effectively as a patio or deck plant in a large pot or tub. Plant foxtail palm outdoors in a site that can accommodate the large spread of leaves (15-20 ft (4.6-6.1 m) average landscape size). Foxtail palm may be planted in areas having strong winds and moderate amounts of salt spray.
The foxtail palm was not even known to botanists until 1983 and is now listed as a Threatened Species in Australia. It was first introduced to the American horticultural trade in 1995. Wodyetia bifurcata is the only plant in the genus, which was named in honor of Wodyeti, an Australian Aboriginal bushman who was the last male in his line of Melville Range Aborigines. Wodyeti had a vast traditional knowledge of the foxtail palm's natural habitat. The species name, bifurcata, comes from the Latin, meaning twice forked which is in reference to the unique shape of both the fruit and the fish-tailed leaflets.