Best Palms to grow indoors as houseplants

indoor grown palm

For elegant and majestic appearance there are few groups of foliage plants that can compete with the palms in their many forms. Some of them require to be mature plants before they are seen at their best-in the case of Cycas revoluta it is 10 years or more before the plant begins to develop its true character. By this time they have almost become heirlooms and are only to be seen in the rarified atmosphere of the botanic garden where the necessary time, cash and conditions are available to bring them to maturity. Commercially speaking, almost all the palms that are offered for sale are very costly on account of the time that is needed and the high heating costs involved in rearing plants. But as there are no satisfactory lower-cost substitutes, palms are still very popular plants in spite of expense.

Chamaedorea elegans (Neanthe bella) Parlour Palm; 13 C/55 F; Mexico

In common with all the palms, the best method of propagation is by means of seed. Seed is sown in shallow peat beds that are maintained at a temperature of not less than 20°C/70°F, and allowed to grow on in the bed until plants are several cm tall before potting them individually in small pots of open mixture. Neanthe bella, the more popular name for this plant, is grown in large quantities as they are very much smaller than most of the other palms and are sold in small pots. It is one of the easiest small palms to grow with light feathery foliage. It is, in fact, a natural miniature palm that is ideal for smaller rooms, for bottle gardens, and dish gardens. It is not unusual for plants little more than 46cm/18in tall to produce flowers and subsequently seed, which can be saved and sown in the manner described above.

Chrysalidocarpus (Areca) lutescens Butterfly Palm; 15°C/60°F; India

Lutescens means yellow, which refers to the yellow stems and leaves which results in a most attractive and desirable plant. At first sight these plants have the appearance of palms that are suffering as a result of some iron deficiency. However, the areca palm has much finer foliage and is altogether more delicate in appearance than Kentia forsteriana. An attractive feature of this plant is to witness the slow process of new leaves opening-leaves are delicately joined at their tips giving the leaf a skeletonized appearance prior to fully expanding.

Cocos nucifera Coconut Palm; 15 C/60°F; India

In their natural habitat the coconut palms attain a height of 27-30m/90-100ft, but can be restricted to reasonable size by growing in a container. They are also extremely slow-growing. Some nurserymen wishing to limit the upward growth go in for root pruning which, in a way, results in giant Bonsai-treated plants. In recent years a limited number of interesting Coconut Palms have been available in Europe-the giant coconut lies on its side in the pot like the biggest seed you have ever seen in your life, and from one end a typical Kentia-type palm growth seems to grow very freely. In its early stages the growth of this palm is very similar to that of Kentia jbrsteriana with dark green, arching leaves, silvery-grey beaneath.

Cocos (Syagrus) weddeliana 15°C/60°F; Cocos Islands

One of the most delicate and compact of all the palms, the cocos has slender fronds that are dark green above, glaucous on the undersides. It retains a dwarf stature of about 30cm/1 ft for several years and when established will go on for at least two years in the same pot. Some care is needed, such as a humid atmosphere, freely circulating air and good light out of direct sun. A loam-based soil mix is preferable, kept moist in summer.

Cycas revoluta Sago Palm; 15°C/60°F; China

One of the oldest and, surely, one of the most majestic plants in cultivation. In time the plant develops a substantial trunk, which adds considerably to the general appearance, to a height of at least 1.8m/6ft. Leaves are dark green and stiff and individual segments are narrow, bending slightly at their tips. Not a plant for the impatient gardener, as only a very few leaves are produced annually and growth rate is painfully slow. It needs plenty of moisture and water and you should use a loam-based mixture.

Kentia (Howeia) 10-13°C/50-55 F; Lord Howe Islands

Kentia palms, now correctly known as Howeia, have remained in the forefront of popularity over the years in spite of ever-increasing cost. However, there remain few of the nurseries which, for most of this century, specialized in palms, especially K. forsteriana and K. belmoreana. We are faced with an almost permanent shortage of palms of all kinds with the result that they have a scarcity value that has meant much higher prices.

Kentia forsteriana has a more erect habit of growth than K. belmoreana, and for that reason is better suited to most indoor locations. Leaves are a rich, dark green in colour, but are surprisingly susceptible to damage if cleaned with chemical concoctions that seem to cause little

or no harm to plants that would seem much more vulnerable. Given reasonable warmth, moisture and light shade (heavier shade in a greenhouse), palms in general can be very tolerant of room conditions.

best palms to grow indoors

When potting kentia palms on from one pot to another larger one it is very important that a good layer of crocks should be placed in the bottom of the new pot before introducing mixture, as this will ensure that drainage is sharp and that the mixture does not become waterlogged. The addition of coarse leafmould to standard potting mixture will be of considerable benefit in assisting plants to grow more freely indoors. When potting, the mixture should be made fairly firm. In a medium that is badly aerated there will be a tendency for the mixture to turn sour with the result that plants take on a generally hard, less green appearance, and in time will result in browning of tips of leaves and eventual loss of leaves.

Except for the fact that leaves are narrower it is difficult to detect the difference between K. belmoreana and K. J’orsteriana in the early stages of growth. However, as belmoreana ages, the midrib of the leaf arches and the plant adopts a more drooping appearance which is not unattractive in larger plants.


P. canariensis  for growing as a houseplant


Phoenix 10-13°C/50-55°F; South East Asia/Canary Islands

P. dactylifera is the commercial date palm of North Africa, but is seldom offered as a potted plant. Although in short supply, the two varieties that you are likely to come

indoor grown palm

across as potted plants are P. canariensis and P. robelenii, the latter from South East Asia. Should there be a choice, the latter is much more graceful and is, therefore, a much more desirable plant for room decoration. Both are planted throughout the tropics as decorative trees, but they take many, many years to reach maturity when their roots are confined to plant pots. In many locations the slow growing plant of architectural merit, as these two are, is much more rewarding than plants that are forever in need of replacement. Both plants have stiff leaves and robust appearance, and are not difficult to care for in reasonable conditions-but avoid having the soil saturated for long periods.

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