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Yunder Wækraus

Wild foxtail palms

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Yunder Wækraus

Why do foxtails have such a narrow wild distribution? Do cassowaries not eat them? They germinate like weeds at the house we rent north of Cairns, but nothing in our neighborhood disperses their fruit. Now that they are popular cultivation, are they spreading to the neighboring rainforest? Also, there’s this: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cape_Melville_incident

Basically, I would like to hear anything y’all know about the discovery, natural situation, etc. of wild or naturalized foxtail palms.

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Tyrone

I’ve wondered the same. They’re not a rainforest palm though, like Normanbya which cassowaries do disperse. Maybe a now extinct bird was a dispersal agent.

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Yunder Wækraus
1 hour ago, Tyrone said:

I’ve wondered the same. They’re not a rainforest palm though, like Normanbya which cassowaries do disperse. Maybe a now extinct bird was a dispersal agent.

Cassowaries will also live in more open woodland of there is sufficient fruit. Their absence from such border zones is likely due to aboriginal hunting pressure in the last. Perhaps they became locally extinct in foxtail areas 50,000 years ago. Or, like you suggest, perhaps some of the other megafauna made extinct by aborigines 50,000 years ago was a transporter of the foxtail fruit. I was hoping someone on here might know more.

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greysrigging

Interesting topic....must be all about the method of seed dispersal ( not withstanding organised crime in the 1980's ). 
They are probably the commonest exotic palm planted in the Darwin-Palmerston region, an area that almost exactly mimics their natural range climatically and latitudinally.
They fruit and set seed prolifically, but I can't think of any local critter that feeds on the seeds. Darwin is surrounded by Riparian spring fed pockets of rainforest, also some remnant wet/dry coastal rainforest.....areas that are ripe for plunder by garden escapees, including exotic non native palm species. The ones that do manage to appear in these natural forest areas are the species that have their seeds spread by birds, bats and rats ie Caryota and Ptychosperma and to some extent Archontophoenix ( which the Torres Strait Pigeons adore )
We have a Nature Park called Holmes Jungle only a few miles from my house.... it has had a fair bit of human interference dating back 75 years to WW2, and has a lot of exotic plant species escapees..... not seen a Foxtail in there, in fact can't recall seeing any feral Foxy's in the Darwin region.

Edited by greysrigging
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tropicbreeze

Foxtails are an interesting one. I'd think that the fact the species is so restricted in distribution suggests that there weren't any distributive vector animals, or at most only small mammals like native rodents. Small mammals wouldn't have moved the seed far from the parent plants. If prior to the arrival of Aboriginal people there had been a megafauna distributive vector of the seeds there was ample time for the species to have been far more widely distributed. Given of course that human arrival was no more than 70,000 BP, which isn't long in  palaeontological terms.

The closest relative of the Foxtail is the Carpentaria which, although also somewhat restricted, is still more widely distributed. But Carpentaria seeds are smaller and they're attractive to Torresian Pigeons and Flying Foxes and can be carried reasonably long distances.

The Foxtail seed isn't much different in size to Cycad seeds (particularly Cycas). And the coating on the seed is similarly relatively thin. It's common to find seeds around Cycads that have had the outer layer (fruit) chewed. But they still lie close to the parent plant.

When you think of it, Cycads have had a long time to move themselves around, since the Jurassic. If you look around the distribution range of Carpentaria acuminata there are at least 8 species of Cycas. The size of the seed and its lack of appeal to other than some small rodents has meant, despite relative proximity, the populations were able to speciate without mixing.

Given time, like the Cycads had, Wodyetia would probably have crept out through a lot of the savanna lands. With no mixing the distant populations would have speciated and Wodyetia wouldn't have been monotypic.

Just a few thoughts to toss around.

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Yunder Wækraus

I suppose the real question is whether foxtails are a relictual species whose past distribution was truncated due to the extinction of (a) past megafauna disperser(s) or a species which evolved in situ and never had the ability to be dispersed. I reckon foxtails are the former because they would have been at a higher elevation (relative to sea level) in the Pleistocene, and I’m sure that would have affected the climate. The house we rent is full of these palms, and their seedlings are all over the place. We’re in the northern beaches above Cairns, which are not granite-strewn open woodland. I suspect foxtails once had a wider distribution and began to shrink in range with the loss of the megafauna. 50,000 years ago (the approximate extinction point for most Australian maegafauna) is more than enough time plant populations to blink out, especially if this species had favored open canopy that wasn't too dry. I suppose no one is looking for fossil evidence if past distribution. I’m just glad the species exists and does so well in cultivation.

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bubba

Vividly interesting commentary about a rather recent species that is now virtually ubiquitous worldwide!

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greysrigging
4 hours ago, bubba said:

Vividly interesting commentary about a rather recent species that is now virtually ubiquitous worldwide!

Gotta be grateful to the North Queensland Mafia for getting those early seeds out into the market....lol !

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Yunder Wækraus

I don’t remember seeing anything disperse them in Florida either. Is there a y new habitat where this popular palm now grows where a local animal is spreading it? Are the fruits poisonous? I mean, what DO we know about a palm discovered in my lifetime that is now second only to the royal palm in popularity?

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