Palm trees are evergreen; they belong to the family called Palmae. (also known as Arecaceae). They are mostly tropical plants and trees. Most of them are single trunk trees; their leaves have different looks and shapes—fan, feather or compound. The larger palms make dramatic statements in landscapes, and smaller palms are grown in containers everywhere.
Artificial Palms fill a very distinctive niche in the world of indoor plants with their bold, architectural appearance. They come from a huge family of plants with literally thousands of different varieties. Most are either tropical or subtropical, from regions all over the world. Like other foliage plants, palms rely on the beauty of their trunks and leaves to create their character.
Fishtail Palms have flat fronds that split at the tips like a fish tail. All are large plants that require strong light. Caryota mitis, clustered fishtail, is a little difficult to grow unless you have a well-lighted, humid environment and keep the fronds free of dust. Keep fishtail palms evenly moist, mist several times a week and provide bright light.
Coconut Palms are truly an unusual indoor palm, Coconut palms (Cocos nucifera) send up bold, broad leaves from a coconut planted halfway in the soil. They never seem to have many leaves at one time, but will eventually develop trunks. They need lots of light, cannot tolerate too much water or poorly drained soil and prefer high humidity and warm temperatures. There is another plant called a dwarf coconut palm (Microcoelum), but it is only a distant relative, doesn’t grow from a coconut and doesn’t produce coconuts! It almost looks like a miniature Areca with wispy, open foliage.
Majesty Palm is one of the most graceful palms, Ravenea rivularis ‘Majesty’ has a classic upright form with a central trunk and large fronds. This is a variety that prefers high light. If needed, supply supplemental artificial light. It is tolerant of average indoor humidity and temperatures but will be more lush if it is warmer and more humid. Majesty palms have an extensive root system and should be kept evenly moist.
Kentia Palm a.k.a. Sentry Talk about a slow grower! Kentia palms (Howea fosteriana) only produce one new spike that unfurls into a frond each year. To make it look fuller, several are planted in each pot. It is tolerant of most indoor situations and is commonly used in offices and malls. It does perfectly well in moderate to high light and will stay healthy if misted frequently. Neantha bella (growing to about 3 feet) and Kentia (growing up to 12 feet at a snail’s pace) are often confused for one another.
Chinese Palms: There are several fan palms but the most successfully grown as indoor plants are Chamaerops humilis (European fan palm) and Livistona chinensis (Chinese fan palm.) Both have fronds shaped like large, deeply dissected fans. As new leaves develop, lower fans die revealing an interesting trunk. European fan palms typically grow to about 4 feet indoors, need lots of light and average humidity. Chinese fans palms grow from 3-6 feet, can tolerate average to bright light and average humidity. Keep them cooler during the winter months. Their leaves will need to be cleaned occasionally with a soft cloth.
Parlor Palm: This is a group of palms with feathery foliage, usually growing in a cluster. They are the easiest of all palms to grow. Chamaedorea elegans is the parlor palm often called Neanthe bella. It grows to 3-4 feet tall with long fronds, needs lots of light (but not direct afternoon sun in summer) and likes humidity but will tolerate moderately dry air. Another great member of the family is C. seifrizii, commonly called a Bamboo or Reed palm. It has smooth green trunks with markings that resemble bamboo canes. It can grow from 3-12 feet tall and has a narrow habit. This plant tends to be more open in appearance and tolerates a wide range of light levels and humidity.
Areca Palm a.k.a. Feather: A palm that prefers high light but no direct sun, Areca palms (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens) have lots of upright fronds with rich green color and yellow stems. They grow as clumps and tend to stay full. While they can outgrow most homes, with judicious pruning of the tallest fronds, they make great indoor plants. Keep evenly moist in the spring and summer and slightly drier during fall and winter.
Lady Palms: These palms look much like clumps of bamboo. There are several types of Lady palms. Rhapis excelsa is the common lady palm, growing to about 12 feet. R. humilis is the slender lady palm or rattan palm. It can grows to about 18 feet. Lady palms have deep green foliage and develop trunks with coarse, dark coverings. Both varieties are tolerant of medium light levels. Keep them evenly moist in summer and allow them to dry slightly in winter. They like lots of humidity, especially in the summer.
Phoenix Palms are commonly called date palms, there are several varieties. Phoenix roebelenii is the Pygmy date palm, growing only about 2 feet tall and, unlike other Phoenix palms, does not have sharp-edged fronds. P. dactylifera is the true date palm and can get to be a huge tree. Since it is very slow growing, young specimens are used indoors in large spaces. P. canariensis is the Canary Island date palm that grows slowly to a maximum height of 15 feet. All Phoenix palms tolerate average indoor temperatures and humidity and like to dry slightly between waterings. They need lots of light, but cannot tolerate the direct afternoon sun. Of the three, the Canary Island palm will survive with the least light.
Ponytail Palm a.k.a. Elephant Foot: This one isn’t really a palm. It is a succulent (Beaucarnea) with palm-like foliage. It grows from a large swelling at the base of the stem which serves as a reservoir for water. Ponytails make good indoor plants but can outgrow their situation. They like it warm, tolerate dry soil and like to dry out between each watering.
Cyas or Sago Palm: If you want to grow a part of history, grow these palms. Sago palms (Cycas revoluta) were a major source of food for vegetarian dinosaurs. The leaves are dark, glossy, stiff, coarse fans emerging from a central knobby brown core. As they mature, they form a trunk. They like lots of light but not direct afternoon sun in the summer. Sago palms need excellent drainage, high humidity and should be kept moderately moist.
About Philip Travers