How to grow the striking Fishtail Palm (Caryota mitis)

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Written By Martin Cole

Plantsman, gardener, plant-obsessive

Caryota mitis - Fishtail Palm
Caryota mitis by Carol (vanhookc) is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Fishtail Palm: the verdict

Originating in the humid forests of Southeast Asia, the Fishtail Palm (Caryota mitis), is a distinctive and attractive houseplant. Its leaves, shaped like a fish’s tail, add an exotic flair to any indoor setting. In my opinion, it is a plant that is really worth growing. It brings a slice of the tropics right into your living room, and is also unlike most other types of palm. Thriving in warm and humid conditions akin to its native rain forests, this palm can grow pretty tall and become a real statement piece.

I’d rate the Fishtail Palm a 4 out of 5 as a houseplant. Its visual appeal makes it stand out, but it does require more attention than most of the best indoor palms.

  • Ease of Care: 3/5 – Requires a bit of care, especially in maintaining humidity and watering.
  • Visual Appeal: 5/5 – unique, fishtail-shaped leaves, make it a stunning addition to any space. Offers an unusual, tropical aesthetic.
  • Value for Money: 4/5 – grows relatively fast and can become a large, statement piece in your home, offering good value for money. But, size means it might require larger pots and more space over time.
Caryota mitis - Fishtail Palm

Basic Needs

Light

Moderate

Water: growth period

High

Water: dormant period

/ Low to Moderate

Humidity

/ Moderate to High

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 Star House Plant

Pros

Unique leaf shape for visual interest.

Purifies indoor air.

Fast-growing, adding quick tropical charm.

Can grow quite large, making a dramatic statement.

Cons

Requires high humidity, challenging in dry climates.

Large size may be impractical for small spaces.

Needs careful watering and attention.

Toxic to pets and children if ingested.

Fishtail Palm

Fishtail Palm

Uk

Star Ratings

We rate plants overall from 1 to 5 stars based on individual ratings for ease of care, visual appeal and value for money.

Full details of care requirements for the plant are in the care guide below.

Fishtail palm leaves
Fishtail palm leaves

Fishtail Palm quick care guide

Caring for a Fishtail Palm is ‘moderate’ in difficulty. It’s not overly demanding, but it does need consistent care, especially in relation to watering and humidity.

  • Light Requirements: Bright, indirect light. A spot near a window with morning sun and indirect light later is ideal.
  • Water Requirements: Keep soil slightly damp.
  • Humidity Requirements: Prefers at least 50% humidity. Mist regularly.
  • Temperature Requirements: 65-85°F (18-29°C). Avoid temperatures below 55°F (13°C).
  • Potting Soil Requirements: Well-draining soil, like a cactus mix or potting mix with sand or perlite.
  • Fertiliser Requirements: Monthly with a liquid palm fertiliser during growing season.
  • Propagation: Through seeds or division, especially for suckering varieties.
  • Repotting: Every 2-3 years, or when roots show through drainage holes.
  • Pruning: Minimal, mainly to remove dead leaves or control size.

Read more about house plant care in general in our comprehensive guide to the 7 critical requirements of house plant care here.

Fishtail Palm key facts

The Fishtail Palm is unique among palms, as it is is monocarpic. This means that when it flowers it dies. However, it rarely flowers indoors, and, in any case, it is only the flowering stem that dies.

Since this is a clumping palm, this means there will usually be other stems that have grown up around the flowering stem. So, the plant, as a whole, survives.

  • Scientific Name: Caryota mitis
  • Meaning of Name: ‘Caryota’ is Greek for ‘nut,’ referring to the fruit’s shape.
  • Common Names: Fishtail Palm, Clustering Fishtail Palm
  • Plant Family: Arecaceae
  • Origin: Southeast Asia
  • Type of Plant: Palm
  • Size (Indoors): Up to 6-10 feet, can reach 20 feet
  • Growth rate: About 1 to 2 feet (30 to 60 cm) per year
  • Foliage: Bipinnate leaves resembling a fishtail. The leaves are sharp-edged and need careful handling.
  • Flower: Rarely flowers indoors
  • Fruit: Non-edible, toxic berries
  • Toxicity: Toxic to pets and people

Light

Fishtail Palms need bright, indirect light. Insufficient light slows growth, while too much direct sunlight can scorch leaves. A north-facing window often works well. Struggles in low light.

House plant bright light
Fishtail Palm: ideal location for optimum light

Propagation

The Fishtail Palm can be propagated by seed or by division. As with most large plants, seed propagation can be slow and uncertain.

Therefore, as the Fishtail Palm is a clumping, or suckering plant, propagation by division is the easiest way to produce more plants. You can read how to do it in the step-by-step guide below.

Fishtail Palm propagation by division

Here are the steps to take

1. Water the Plant:

  • Water the Fishtail Plam thoroughly a day before you plan to divide it. This will help ease the stress on the plant and make the soil easier to work with.

2. Remove the Parent Plant from Its Pot:

  • Carefully tip the pot on its side and gently slide the palm out. If the plant is large, you may need assistance.
  • If the plant is root-bound, you might need to tap the pot’s sides or gently prise the plant out. You may even need to cut the pot off (if plastic).

3. Identify the Divisions:

  • Look for natural divisions or ‘suckers’—these are smaller plants growing at the base of the parent plant.
  • Each division should have its own set of roots and at least a few leaves.

4. Separate the Divisions:

  • Gently tease apart the roots of the divisions. If they are entangled, use a sharp knife to carefully cut them apart. I have an old carving knife that I keep especially for dividing plants.
  • Be sure to leave a good amount of roots with each division.

5. Pot the Divisions:

  • Fill new pots with a well-draining potting mix suitable for palms.
  • Plant each division in its own pot, making sure the roots are well covered with soil.
  • The soil level should be the same as it was in the original pot.

6. Water the New Plants:

  • Water each new plant thoroughly after potting. Ensure the water drains out of the bottom of the pot to avoid waterlogging.

7. Aftercare:

  • Place the new plants in a location where they will receive bright, indirect light.
  • Maintain consistent moisture in the soil, but avoid overwatering.
  • Keep the plants in a warm environment and avoid exposing them to drastic temperature changes.

Fishtail Palm common problems and solutions

If you manage the watering, light and humidity requirements of the Fishtail Palm well. Then you should not get many problems. As you can see from the guide below, most problems occur when one of these factors is not right.

Fishtail Palm troubleshooting guide

Leaves and shoots

  • Leaves Yellowing: Overwatering or low humidity. Increase misting and adjust watering.
  • Brown Leaf Tips: Low humidity. Increase misting.

Roots

  • Root Rot: Overwatering or poor drainage. Improve soil drainage.

Pests

  • Pests (Spider Mites, Mealybugs): Usually thrive when the growing environment is hot and dry. Use insecticidal soap or neem oil.

Diseases

  • Diseases: Rare, but can include leaf spot. Improve air circulation.

Winter care

Reduce watering and stop fertilising in winter. Keep the plant away from cold drafts and heaters.

Read more about how to overwinter your house plants here.

Buy

So, if you’ve got this far and are feeling like you can’t resist this beautiful plant, I’ve listed some buying options below – depending on whether you are US or UK based.

The buy links are affiliate links, which means I’d be paid a (very) small commission if you go on and buy after clicking these links. But that does not affect the price you pay.

Fishtail Palm

US Buyers

Fishtail Palm

UK Buyers

Uk

Other Fishtail Palm varieties

Other tyoes of Fishtail Palm include:

  • Caryota urens (Wine Palm or Toddy Palm): Known for its sap which is used in wine-making.
  • Caryota gigas (King Kong or Giant Fishtail Palm): A larger variety, perfect for spacious rooms.

Other great indoor palms

Read our guide to the 16 best indoor palms to grow and our individual guides to caring for these other indoor palms:

Key references and resources

World Checklist of Palms – Rafael Govaerts, John Dransfield. ISBN 9781842460849, Kew Publishing 2005.

Ornamental Palm Horticulture, Broschat, Timothy K.; Meerow, Alan W.; Monica L. Elliott, 2017, University Press of Florida

Alloway, Z and Bailey (F). (2018) RHS Practical House Plant Book: Choose The Best, Display Creatively, Nurture and Care, Royal Horticultural Society, UK.

Camilleri,L and Kaplan, S. (2020), Plantopedia: The Definitive Guide to Houseplants, Smith Street Books.

Hessayon, Dr D.G. (1991) The New House Plant Expert, PBI Publications, UK.

Brickell, C. (2016). Royal Horticultural Society AZ encyclopedia of garden plants. 4th Edition Dorling Kindersley.

Squire, D. (2017). Houseplant Handbook: Basic Growing Techniques and a Directory of 300 Everyday Houseplants, CompanionHouse Books.

Nelson, G (2021). Plant – House plants: Choosing, Styling, Caring. Mitchell Beazley. London

Brickell, C. (2011). American horticultural society encyclopedia of plants and flowers. Penguin.

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