Because of the flowers, this plant caught my eye at the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory. I know palms do flower, but I had never seen any like these. They are gorgeous! The fishtail palm or Caryota mitis is named for the shape of its leaves which do resemble a goldfish’s tail fins. The interesting thing about the fishtail palm is that it flowers from the top of the plant to the bottom and then it dies. Below is the fishtail palm at Belle Isle Conservatory along with a larger palm.
It would appear that the flowers are yellow, but those are the stamens. The actual flower is purple. They originate in the leaf axils, starting at the top of the mature stem and flowering their way down. When the lowest axil flower cluster dies that stem will die. As this is a clumping plant, it will send up suckers near the dying stem, ensuring the plant continues.
The fruit starts out green and ends up black/purple when it ripens. The seed is edible, but the soft part on the outside (pericarp) contains calcium oxalates and is inedible. They also could cause skin irritation if touched without gloves, so I would steer clear of them.
Fishtail palms are from India, SE Asia, E. Indies, and the Philippines Islands. It was first described by Joao de Louveiro in 1790 in Vietnam. This species grows in a cluster than can become over 15 feet around. The plant can grow 20-30 feet tall, but never in your home. These are the only palms with bipinnate foliage. It will need as much light as you can give it inside. In the United States, it can live outside in Zones 10b-11 and should be grown in part shade to full sun. It needs to be moist whether inside or out. It would prefer extra humidity inside, as they are very susceptible to spider mites, which love dry air. Grow your palm on a pebble tray which will keep the humidity up.
The genus name Caryota comes from the Greek word “caryon” meaning nut or date. The species name mitis means soft, gentle, or unarmed meaning it has no thorns on its stem as some palms do.
If I hadn’t seen these flowers, I might never have noticed this plant. Once again, go to your local conservatory, or you might miss something amazing, such as these gorgeous flowers.
Have a great week, plant friends!