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Christmas Palm vs Foxtail Palm: What’s The Difference?

Palm trees are a piece of tropical forest and they remind us of the hot sunny climate and sandy beaches. Most palms are heat-loving plants so you have to grow them indoors. Our two palm trees have several features that you need to know about.

The main difference between the Christmas palm and the Foxtail palm is the foliage. The Christmas palm has bigger leaflets whereas the Foxtail palm has narrower leaflets. Also, the Foxtail palm has much more leaflets than the Christmas palm.

On top of that, the Foxtail palm needs more light than the Christmas palm. As a result, Christmas palm is better suited for growing indoors.

Christmas palm Foxtail palm
Botanical Name Adonidia merrillii Wodyetia bifurcata
USDA Hardiness zone 10-11 10-11
Mature height 15-25′ (5.5-7.5m) 5-25′ (5.5-7.5m)
Mature width 6-10′ (1.8-3m) 10-16′ (3-4.8 m)
Growth rate fast fast
Light exposure full sun, partial shade full sun
Soil well-drained well-drained
Soil pH 6.0-7.5 5.5-7.5
Watering one time per 10 days in drought one time per 10 days in drought
Diseases fungus fungus
Pests insects, mites insects, mites
christmas-palm-vs-foxtail-palm

Christmas Palm and Foxtail Palm

Foliage

If these plants were growing side by side and you looked at them, you would immediately see the difference. Because their foliage is noticeably different.

The leaves of both palms grow on fronds. They are arranged in pairs on either side of the fronds. The leaves of the palms are called leaflets.

Christmas palm has leaflets 2 feet long and 2 inches wide. They are usually pointed at the tips, but can sometimes have blunt tips. The large leaflets make the palm look massive and somewhat weepy, as the leaflets sag significantly.

Foxtail palm has leaflets almost twice as short. They are usually no more than 1 foot long and 1 inch wide. But the number of leaflets is much greater than the Christmas palm. First, because they are smaller, and second because the Foxtail palm fronts are longer than the competition. Also, the leaves of the Foxtail palm do not grow in pairs (like the Christmas palm), but several around the axis of the frond.

As a result, the Foxtail palm looks very fluffy, like a fox’s tail. This is where the name of this palm came from. Nothing like the Christmas palm has to offer.

Sunlight

Christmas palm can grow both in full sun and semi-shade. This means you have to give it at least six hours of direct sunlight. But better if it is eight hours. In these conditions, the palm will thrive. You have to put it in front of a south window. The bigger the window the better.

Foxtail palm, on the other hand, can hardly tolerate shade. It needs at least 10-12 hours of sun. This means it’s a real challenge to grow it indoors. Especially difficult in zones 4-6 where there isn’t much sun in the winter.

To solve the problem of lack of light, Foxtail palm needs to be taken outside during the summer months. During this time the palm will regrow and increase in size. Also during winter, it needs to be watered less often to slow down its growth. Otherwise, it will be loose and elongated.

It is a little easier for those living in the south because even in winter you can get some light in front of a south-facing window. During the summer months, the sun will be enough for the Foxtail palm to recover. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the north. In this climate, there may not be enough light outside for the Foxtail palm even in the summer, so many people refuse to grow it there.

As I said, Christmas palm is much better indoors and can grow well there. But in zones 9 and 10 you have to be careful when putting it outdoors because too much light can burn the leaves.

Size and shape

Both palms are about the same height. Indoors, they usually grow no more than 10 feet tall. If grown outdoors, they can exceed 25 feet in height. There are even taller specimens in the wild.

As for width, the Christmas palm is not as wide as its competitor. Its fronds can be up to 5 feet long. As a result, the width of the plant is less than 10 feet. The number of fronds is from 5 to 12, depending on the maturity of the palm.

Foxtail palm on the other hand has longer fronds. They are 8 feet long or even longer if conditions are right. As a result, the plant forms a crown over 15 feet wide. The growth rate is fast.

This means you have to consider size before choosing a plant. The Foxtail palm needs more space than the Christmas palm.

The advantage of both is that they are self-cleaning. This means that dead fronds fall off by themselves and you don’t have to cut them back. The only thing to do is to throw the dead fronds in the trash.

Temperature and humidity

Both Christmas palm and Foxtail palm are heat-loving plants and in most cases can be grown indoors. Only in 10-11 can they be planted outside.

The Christmas palm can tolerate 33°F. When the tree is mature, the lowest temperature this palm can tolerate is 30°F.

The Foxtail palm is a bit more cold tolerant. There are examples of mature specimens of this plant that have survived 25-27°F.

As for heat, both palms are equal and can tolerate 100°F.

All this means you can grow them indoors all year round with no problems. And it’s not just about temperature but also humidity. They normally tolerate normal humidity in the house and don’t need misting.

The only thing they have a problem with is the salty ocean air. If they are planted close to the coast, brown spots will appear on the leaves.

Soil

Both palms have the same attitude to the ground. Both clay and loam are suitable for them. They also grow well in sandy soil. The only thing you need to worry about is drainage. Palm trees do not tolerate stagnant water and wherever you grow them, the soil must be well-drained.

As for acidity, our two palms tolerate both slightly acidic and slightly alkaline soil. But they do not feel well in soil with high salt content.

To make it easier for the plants to get established in their new location (in a pot or the garden) you need to add some organic matter to the native soil. This will make the soil looser and make it easier for the palm to take root.

Watering

Palm trees can withstand periods of drought. This is true for Christmas palm and Foxtail palm. They are drought-tolerant and need almost no watering. The exceptions are very hot climates and prolonged drought. In this case, they should be watered once every 10 days.

Indoors they should be watered no more often than once every 7 to 10 days. If the soil in the pot has dried out more than 2 inches, water them with just enough water to keep the soil moist.

For plants that have not yet taken root, more frequent watering is necessary.

Fruits

Christmas palm gets its name from the red fruits. They ripen around the second half of December. At this time, the green palm becomes like a Christmas tree decorated with red balls (fruits).

It is a really beautiful sight, as the fruits are quite large. The Foxtail palm also has red fruits and is very beautiful.

But there is one drawback to this beauty. After ripening, the fruits fall to the ground and if you do not remove them from the ground they begin to rot, attracting insects. The amount of fruit is large enough so cleaning them can take some time.

Fertilizer

Both palms have some challenges when growing in non-native conditions. Namely the lack of nutrients in the soil. This does not mean that if you plant them in nutritious soil everything will be fine. They need certain chemicals like boron to thrive.

If you want to successfully grow these palms at home or in the garden (if the climate permits), you need a fertilizer designed specifically for palms.