Tropical plants are very popular now because they do a great job complementing modern interior designs. Minimalist and modern designs can seem cold and unwelcoming, but luckily palms and other tropical plants can add a touch of warmth and an exotic vibe to any home.
Rhapis Excelsa, also known as the Bamboo Palm or the Broadleaf Lady Palm is a very popular indoor pot plant. It can also be grown outdoors, although it can be fussy about direct light, so it needs to be properly sheltered. Outside, people usually use it as part of shrub borders, whereas indoors it is either a room’s focal point or a guard for the entryways.
With proper care and a little bit of patience, this slow-growing plant will reward you with its bright green rich foliage which will become the focal point of any room or garden.
About the Lady Palm
- The Lady Palm began its ‘career’ as an indoor plant in Feudal Japan when it was very popular in Tokugawa shogunate palaces. Its popularity quickly spread across Europe and later to America.
- This slow-growing plant is native to Southeastern Asia, so it’s very common in southern China and Japan. Wild plants can also be found in Vietnam.
- Lady palms grow in forests at an altitude of about 1000 m, but they can also be found in river valleys.
- The Lady Palm is very tolerant of shade and dry air, and it will not take it personally if you forget to water it from time to time. This makes it ideal for offices, malls, and other indoor public spaces, but it also makes it a great choice for any home.
- This plant has amazing air purifying properties. In fact, it ranked in the second position in NASA’s Clean Air Study. It can filter benzene, formaldehyde, xylene, ammonia, and several other volatile organic compounds.
- Lady Palms are quite susceptible to pests, so you will have to check yours regularly. The scale is common, and it tends to hide in the fibers at the base of the plant. Lady Palms can also suffer from infections with Pink rot, Pythium, and Fusarium oxysporum.
- These plants have been used in traditional medicine and it is believed to have hemostatic and antidysentery properties. They can also be used as a tonic for circulatory problems. It is mostly the bark and roots that are used for medicinal purposes. Root decoctions and bark ashes are also used for rheumatism.
- The Lady Palm is not toxic for humans and pets.
Lady Palm Features: An Overview
- Rhapis Excelsa develops several stems, and it features rich foliage of large, fan-shaped leaves.
- In the right growing environment, this glossy palm can grow up to 4 m in height with the stems having a maximum diameter of 30 mm. The stems resemble bamboo trunks which is why the plant is also known as the Bamboo Palm. The overall foliage can reach a diameter of 2 m.
- The leaves are a lot wider compared to other palm plants and they have blunt, brittle tips.
- Young plants have leaf segments with only a few leaves, whereas mature plants develop leaf segments with over a dozen leaves. The leaves are arranged on thin petioles with lengths that vary between 20 and 60 cm. The long petioles serve to protect the plant from direct sunlight and shelter the leaves when needed.
- Rhapis excelsa produces fleshy coral shaped inflorescences. The rosy blooms appear at the top of the plant, having a thin, spiral shape. As the blooms turn into ripe fruit, their color changes from rose to white, maintaining the same fleshy texture.
- In commercial nurseries, you will find two types of Lady Palms. They belong to the same variety, but have different shapes, depending on how they were grown.
- Firstly, you have the “butterball” plant, which has lots of canes. This type of plant has been grown from seed, it has a roundish shape and a rich, even foliage. The second type of plant is an “open style”. This is a thinner, upright plant, dug from the field. It grows taller, but the foliage is more abundant at the top of the plant.
- This plant also has several variegated varieties, some of which are very rare and sought after by passionate collectors. Variegated varieties should be grown in cooler and shadier environments. Exposure to lighter environments and regular feeding can often diminish the variegation.
- Outdoor plants often resemble bamboo cultures, but they are less invasive than bamboo. Most outdoor lady palms are used as screens or living fences. Outdoor plants can survive mild droughts but try not to test their resilience and water them as often as possible. Make sure the outdoor soil has good draining properties.
Growing Lady Palms
Indoors, Lady Palms have a very slow growth rate. Commercial plants grown indoors will usually grow about 15 cm per year, whereas wild outdoor plants will grow 30 cm per year.
As long as you do not leave it under direct sunlight, this plant will thrive in most lighting conditions. It tolerates shade extremely well, so it will be very happy in any home or office. If you want to place the plant on a sunny windowsill, make sure to at least place it behind a curtain.
In terms of temperature, it can even survive mild frosts. Basically, anything between -5 and 37°C will do just fine. Normal indoor humidity also works well for this plant.
As far as fertilizing goes, you should only feed the plant once a year, during the growing season. It is best to only use half the amount recommended for other plants.
This low maintenance plant has basic grooming requirements. Its sensitive leaf tips will often get brittle and brown. Some people prefer to trim the tips of the leaves when this happens, for aesthetic reasons. While the plant does not mind this mild grooming ritual, make sure to only trim the wilted tips and not the healthy leaf flesh.
The plant prefers soils with good drainage. It will tolerate various types of soil like clay or sandy soil but if you want your plant to thrive, use an African Violet Soil mix which will allow air to reach the roots. The soil mix should contain peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite, the Peat Moss being half the potting ratio.
When it comes to pruning, focus on eliminating aged leaves or stems to maximize the plant’s growth. Lower leaves will be the oldest so they will need the most pruning. You should only prune when the leaves get discolored. Also, check for newly grown stems as some die before maturing, and they also need to be pruned. Sometimes, you may even have to cut off a whole trunk.
Spraying for pests is not recommended as it can burn the leaves, especially in the summer. Most pests can be eliminated with a systematic insecticide for soil.
Watering Lady Palms
The Rhapis Excelsa enjoys being thoroughly watered. Ideally, the whole root system should be well drenched and the soil should remain relatively moist between watering sessions. If the soil dries out, the foliage will deteriorate quickly. Burnt leaf tips are the first signs of underwatering.
On the other hand, if the soil is too moist, it can lead to the rotting of the root. Keep in mind that the plant’s root system is usually on the bottom of the container, so even if the topsoil dries, the bottom soil may still be moist. Like most tropical plants, the Lady Palm is sensitive to excess fluoride and chloride. If possible, try to water the plant only with distilled water or with rainwater.
Propagating Lady Palms
The plant can propagate from seeds, but this is not recommended unless you are an experienced gardener. Believe it or not, it takes 6-7 years for a plant to grow from seed to the average size that you see in flower shops. Moreover, for successful pollination, you will need both male and female plants.
On the bright side, the Lady Palm bears rhizomes, also known as creeping root stalks. These are underground stems that can produce both roots and stem for new plants. The rhizomes also store valuable nutrients such as proteins and starches which allow perennial plants to survive unfavorable seasons.
The rhizomes are what cause the clusters of stems. Each new stem is enveloped by thick fibers until the stems thicken. A normal plant produces many rhizomes, which can easily be separated from the mother plant. The Lady Palm also produces big root systems which can be divided. The division can cause the plants to go into shock which will considerably slow down their growth rate.
The Lady Palm is not a fussy plant, but it does require some basic gardening skills. You can simplify your life by investing in a fully grown plant. It is generally more expensive than other indoor plants, as it grows very slowly. Nonetheless, a mature plant is very attractive, and it will maintain its luscious foliage in mostly any indoor environment.