Fishtail palms typically form multi-stemmed clumps up to 25 ft (8 m) high and 12 ft (4 m) wide. Each slender stem is topped with several bipinnate leaves than can reach 9 ft (3 m) in length. The light green leaflets are shaped like a fish's tail fin, hence its common name (see photo below). Like other species in the genus (see C. urens), as well as the related genera Arenga (see A. engleri) and Wallichia, mature plants first begin flowering at the top of the stem. Subsequent flowering proceeds lower and lower down the stem. After the last flowering, the stem dies and should be removed. The clump will survive, however, and continue to produce more stems.
Location Caryota mitis is native to southeast Asia where it grows as an understory plant in tropical rain forests.
Culture Light: Fishtail palm thrives full sun to part shade, and even in shade . Moisture: This palm needs adequate moisture, but with good drainage. Hardiness: USDA Zone 9-10. This palm does well only in the warmest parts of Zone 9. It will tolerate light frosts, but is not hardy. Propagation: Seeds take 4-6 months to germinate. Fishtail palm can also be propagated by division of clumps and separation of suckers from the parent clump.
The fishtail palm can be used in shrub borders and outdoor container plantings. It tolerates heavy shade and is often used in interior plantings in commercial buildings. It does well in indoor containers. Because it is shallow rooted, it should be planted in an area protected from wind. This palm is perfect for understory planting in woodland areas.
Fishtail palm is a tough, easy to grow palm that makes a great houseplant, and is sometimes available from discount store garden centers at a reasonable price.
Avoid contact with the red fruit produced by this palm. It contains oxalic acid which is toxic when ingested, and contact with skin may result in severe chemical burns.