Caryota mitis

Burmese fishtail palm


Caryota maxima

Blume ex Mart. 1838

pronounced: kar-ee-OH-tuh MIT-iss

Synonym: Caryota ochlandra

Hance 1879

pronounced: kar-ee-OH-tuh ock-LAND-rah

(Arecaceae — the palm family)


common names: Chinese fishtail palm, giant mountain fishtail palm

Caryota is from the Greek καρυον (kapyon), a nut; maxima is Latin for greatest. This palm is still often described and sold under its synonym, Caryota ochlandra. The palm is very similar to Caryota mitis, but the latter is a clumping palm rather than a solitary.

The Fishtail Palms are the only palms with leaves that are subdivided twice. The shape of the leaflets is responsible for the ‘fishtail’ name. As the first of the common names suggests, Caryota maxima hails from southern China through south-east Asia to Java. It often grows in mountainous areas, and is adapted to warm mediterranean climates as well as tropical and subtropical ones.

This is a solitary upright palm that grows up to 30 or 35 m tall, and 30 cm in diameter. Older specimens are ringed with slender, widely-spaced leaf scars.

The leaves are bipinnate, induplicate, up to about 7 m long, with dull green pendulous leaflets growing in one plane. The leaflets ore obdeltoid and praemorse.

The inflorescences are very large, 1 – 1.5 m long with many pendant branches bearing both staminate and pistillate flowers on the same inflorescence (the palm is monoecious). They appear on a mature palm at each node (leaf scar), ripening from the highest to the lowest.

The fruits are up to 2.5 cm in diameter. They are green at first, but turn pink to dark reddish-purple as they ripen.

dangerous 2Extreme care is required in handling the fruits, due to the stinging calcium oxide crystals that the pulp of the fruit contains. The oxalic acid crystals may not only result in severe chemical burns on the skin, but are toxic if ingested.

Fishtail palms flourish in full sun to part shade, and will even do quite well in full shade. They like adequate moisture, and good drainage. Seeds take 2 – 6 months to germinate.

All palms of this genus require plenty of water when being established, and a rich soil. Given these conditions, they are fast growers, up to about 1 m a year. They tolerate coastal conditions quite well, including salt spray.


Photographs taken in Nelly Bay 2010
Page last updated 15th July 2019