Botanists did not know the foxtail palm (Wodyetia bifurcata) even existed until the early 1980s. An Australian Aboriginal man surnamed Wodyeti took botanists into a secluded area of the the Cape York peninsula. In the Melville Range, stands of lush foxtail palms grew in full sun in a wide array of well-drained soils. Today, the foxtail palm is propagated by seed and grown for use in tropical landscapes in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 and warmer.
Foxtail palms are sold in containers or dug up from a nursery field and planted as a bare-rooted plant. Rarely is the palm transported or planted at its mature size. In the Australian tropics, a foxtail palm potentially grows up to 50 feet tall. In other tropical regions, it's more common to see a foxtail reach a mature height around 35 to 40 feet. The mop of fronds measures 15 to 20 feet wide.
For fullest expansion and development of the feathery canopy, plant foxtail palms no closer than 15 feet from each other, measured trunk to trunk. This spacing prevents mature palms from touching their frond tips. Where there is no concern of overlapping some fronds between palms, plant multiple foxtail palms no closer than 8 to 10 feet. When palm trunks are shorter, the arching fronds that measure 8 to 10 feet long readily brush up against building facades or block views or clearances near sideways and roadways.
Foxtail palms make a better alternative to the larger royal palms (Roystonea regia) in many residential garden settings. The foxtail palm's mature size is more in scale with one- or two-story buildings. Their smaller size allows for easier maintenance. Foxtail palms may be planted in long rows along an avenue to create a stately allee. Or, plant multiples of three or five palms in a cluster. Robert Riffle, author of "The Tropical Look," lauds foxtail palm's silhouette as being both tropical and beautiful. Plant the palms with varying heights so the fronds don't web together and the fronds droop gracefully to cast as much shade as possible.
Refrain from planting foxtail palms too close to each other within a group. When the palms are young, there is little detriment. It is only when the palms approach 20 feet in height do the trunks begin to lean outward in the attempt to expose the fronds and growing tips to more sunlight. Palm roots are rather fibrous and foxtail palm roots do not tend to lift hardscape. For plant health, do not plant the trunk of a foxtail palm within four feet of a sidewalk, curb and paved patio or road.