The Fishtail Palm
Endemic to South Asian countries the Fishtail Palm generally grows in rain forests as an understory plant with clustered stems, bipartite leaves with leaflets that look like miniscule fish tails hence the common coined for it.
It grows upright similar to a semi vase shape when outdoors but indoors it limits growth to about two and a half meters or eight feet in height and around one and a half meters or five feet in width.
The plant would also normally have about six or eight deep arch type bipartite fronds on 30 to 60 centimeters long which is about 12 to 24 inches long on leaf stalks which form something like a crown on the plant.
The base of the main stem would also have such similar smaller fronds clustered around of which the larger fronds be as much as 90 centimeters or 35 inches wide.
The leaves grow close to each other in cluster form with the new leaves or leaflets about 15 centimeters or 6 inches in length and about 12 centimeters or 5 inches in width and they tend to grow in very close proximity to each other and generally in groups of 20 to 30.
Though they are generally a rain forest dedicated plant they could be well cared for even indoors and its slow growing trait which is limited to about a few centimeters per annum when inside makes it an ideal indoor plant.
It would not grow more than 20 centimeters or 8 feet hence keeping it within manageable heights would depend how you feed it, water it and provide Sunlight or shade.
As it is shallow rooted, care should be taken to keep it away from strong winds and when planted in understory to other plants in wooded areas would grow lushly.
It needs good Sunlight but when indoors it should be filtered through an appropriate screen in which case it would give good lush foliage.
The plant would not survive in temperatures below 13 degrees centigrade or 55 degrees Fahrenheit and when the room gets above these temperatures the humidity could be increased by placing the pot near a flat container with moist pebbles or damp peat moss.
Watering the plant
The plant needs plenty of water and as much of it as possible to keep the soil well moist but it must be taken care of to avoid the pot to stand continuously in water.
Potted plants may not have a uniform and specific period of growth and rest and though its growth could be quite slow during autumn and winter whilst in other seasons it would grow faster.
When they are growing slowly than usual it would be prudent to let the top soil dry out and then water it well.
Providing good liquid fertilizer every month beginning from early spring to mid-autumn would be the right time which should be as moderate as possible.
Potting and repotting
The plant is ideally suited for soil based mixture when planted in pots and would like to have their roots in a cluster very close together hence using a pot that would look inadequate for the plant may be the best way to begin.
Once in two or three years when a bigger pot may be required repot in one size larger and not in very big pots and the best time would be when new leaves are sprouting out.
Good potting methods like placing clay pot fragments at the bottom and packing the mix firmly around the roots taking care not to damage them would be the best way to repot.
When the plant has reached optimum growth give it an annual top to bottom dressing cleaning leaves and taking away dead stems.
They could be propagated from seeds sown in spring which would be at a temperature of at least 24 degrees centigrade or 75 degrees Fahrenheit where the seeds would take about 4 to 6 weeks to germinate and sprout out.
They could also be propagated from basal grown suckers or offsets where it would necessary to remove these when about 20 or 30 centimeters or 8 to 12 inches tall whilst retaining some part of the roots and then planting it about 8 to 10 centimeters or 3 to 4 inches in a pot with barely moist, soil based potting mix.
Keep it with the top uncovered in a warm place where filtered Sunlight is made available and water when the mixture in the pot is barely moist while allowing the water to dry out at the top to about 1 centimeter or 0.3 inches before the next watering
It should be noted that flowers and fruits would never produced when it is grown indoors.
When new growth takes effect it would indicate that the roots are strong below and then onwards the next phases are just like for any adult plant.
Can be planted on shrub borders and also as outdoor containers and whilst it adjusts to heavy shade is most often utilized in interior plantings in commercial buildings to bring some nature into them and it grows well in indoor containers too, whilst the leaves are used extensively in foliage decorations.
Do not touch the red fruit produced as it contains toxic Oxalic Acid when ingested or contacts with the skin may result in chemical burns.
The fruit, leaves and stems do contain different types of alkaloids and the pulp of a mature fruit contains Calcium Oxalate crystals, fibrous hair and the leaf stalk could give skin irritations.
Problems with the plant
The most common are Spider mites and brown leaflet tips usually attack which indicates that the air is dry but no cause for alarm if one frond turns entirely yellow and then brown which is an annual phenomenon.
Treatments : Hose them down or spray with an insecticide.
Diseases : Brown and wet lesions which would be around the leaf vein, can be stopped by removing the infested leaf and burning it.
The plant grows to its optimum and then starts to flower from the top going down to the last frond or there about. The flower is tapped and the sweet sap called “Nira” can be consumed fresh or heated and processed to produce what is called by the natives where the plant grows as “Juggery or Treacle” which is a sweet sugar like hard dark brown that are generally poured into coconut shells till they cool.
The sap could also be fermented to produce an intoxicating drink called “Arak or Arrack” and hass ben consumed by natives for centuries.
They are of the Caryota species and differ from other plants and the natives have a special preparation fopr the seeds too but you should be knowledgeable in processing it or you could be very sorry.
They live only about ten to twenty years and even the tree after its many uses are consumed can be split up and the core in the trunk can be processed and eaten which natives say is very delicious and nutritious.