Townsville Bulletin - Townsville Eye - - Garden -

When you have one ice cream af­ter an­other, the sec­ond seems to have less ap­peal than the first. Have a third and the plea­sure di­min­ishes yet again.

Could this be how the story of the in­fa­mous foxtail palm ( Wodyetia bi­fur­cata) fin­ishes up? A case of too much lov­ing also hap­pened to the less glamorous queen palm ( Sya­grus ro­man­zof­fi­ana) 20 years ago when it was re­moved from its po­si­tion as “the” palm to plant and relegated to a weed list be­cause of its vol­umes of seed and tatty dead fronds that re­fused to drop.

Then there was its pro­fu­sion of ger­mi­nated seeds that looked like a lawn of long grass.

Foxtail palms were ‘dis­cov­ered’ some­what un­of­fi­cially in the Cape Melville area fur­ther north in the early ’90s at about the same time as that other relic plant of the long past, the wollemi pine, was also dis­cov­ered and de­scribed as one of the new world won­ders.

Fox­ies, and their seeds in par­tic­u­lar, were highly sought af­ter from around the world for their hand­some ar­range­ment of fronds, which re­sem­bled a large green fox tail. In fact, it is al­most cer­tain that there had been trad­ing in the seed a long time be­fore they were said to have been dis­cov­ered. This is ev­i­dent if ever you visit Cairns’ Sis­ter City Zhan­jiang in China, which has at least one ma­jor high­way planted with fox­tails that were large, ma­ture spec­i­mens that would have been planted be­fore the ’90s.

A thou­sand of the seeds were re­leased of­fi­cially by the CSIRO to grow­ers for tri­als, yet there seemed to be thou­sands more in the mar­ket and trade was brisk, to say the least. The seeds of the palm fetched a mas­sive $3 each for some time and were a cur­rency unto them­selves.

Raids of grow­ers, court cases and the telling story on the ABC Four Cor­ners pro­gram blew the lid off the whole ar­range­ment, while the govern­ment of the day de­cided to, rather than reg­u­late the sale and dis­tri­bu­tion of the seed, ap­ply more sanc­tions. They missed a great op­por­tu­nity that would have had bet­ter results.

Over time the foxtail has evolved as a gar­den palm, still with mas­sive amounts of seed that were pig food in the na­tional park of their ori­gin, to be­come a wor­ri­some plant with heavy fall­ing fronds, co­pi­ous seeds now worth noth­ing and a root sys­tem that pre­cludes com­pan­ion plants. But, to be fair, it is still a hand­some palm.

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