Broadleaf Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa)

Bamboo Palm, Broadleaf Lady Palm, Fan Tufted Palm, Lady Palm

Rhapis Excelsa or the Lady Palm is a less well known indoor houseplant. Its high price and slow growing nature seem to have put people off them in recent years, but I honestly believe they’re a contender for the easiest indoor palm you can own.

I. Appearance and Characteristics 

Rhapis excelsa, also known as broadleaf lady palm or bamboo palm, is a species of fan palm (Arecaceae subfamily Coryphoideae, tribe Trachycarpeae) in the genus Rhapis, probably native to southern China and Taiwan. It is not known in the wild; all known plants come from cultivated groups in China. They were first collected by the Japanese for Tokugawa shogunate palaces, then popularity spread to Europe, and later to America where its low light and humidity requirements make it a common feature in malls and offices. The genus name is Greek – rhapis, meaning “needle”; and the species name is Latin for “tall”, though R. excelsa is not the tallest in the genus.

Rhapis excelsa grows up to 4 m in height and 30 mm in diameter in multi-stemmed clumps with glossy, palmate evergreen leaves divided into broad, ribbed segments. Leaf segments are single or few in young plants and increase to a dozen or more in mature plants; segments are divided to the petiole. Leaf-ends are saw-toothed unlike most other palms, occurring on slender petioles ranging from 20 to 60 cm in length. New foliage emerges from a fibrous sheath which remains attached to the base. As the plants age, the sheaths fall, revealing the bamboo-like trunks. This usually dioecious palm species produces a small inflorescence at the top of the plant with spirally-arranged, fleshy yellow flowers containing three petals fused at the base. Ripe fruits are fleshy and white, though R. excelsa more readily propagates via underground rhizome offshoots.

In the UK this plant has gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.

Rhapis excelsa is a versatile slow growing palm that adapts extremely well to being grown indoors in a container. It is not fussy about light or humidity, being one of the more shade tolerant palms. What’s more, Rhapis excelsa is number two on the list of top houseplants for removing unwanted pollutants from the surrounding air according to Dr Wolverton/NASA study (with the Areca Palm being number 1). All in all, the perfect, well-behaved indoor palm!

II. How to Grow and Care

Sunlight

They really want the classic “bright indirect light,” which means the brightest spot you have in your home without being bathed in intense sunlight (too much sun can cause yellow leaves).

If you can provide this you’ll get a few inches of growth over an entire growing season, along with one or two brand new stems emerging from the soil.

If those “bright indirect light” spots are already reserved for the more fussy houseplants in your collection, then the Lady Palm will put up with lower light conditions pretty well. You won’t get as much growth (if any), but the plant won’t die on you either.

Temperature and Humidity

Lady palms thrive in typical room temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees F. In the colder months, be sure the temperature does not drop below 55 degrees F, as anything colder damages the plant. Protect your plant from cold drafts, as well as from blowing hot air (such as air from a heating vent) that will dry it out.

This palm prefers a humidity level of 50% or higher. Brown leaf tips are often a sign that the humidity is too low for the plant. To boost the humidity, regularly mist your palm with water from a spray bottle. Or place its pot on a tray of pebbles filled with water, making sure the pot isn’t sitting directly in the water as this can cause root rot.

Watering

Lady palms have average water needs. In the spring and summer, when most of the palm’s active growth is taking place, water whenever the top inch of soil feels dry. In the fall and winter, reduce

watering to whenever the top 2 inches of soil feel dry.

Soil

Soil with excellent drainage is essential for lady palms. Using a potting mix made especially for palms works well. African violet potting mix also is suitable.

Fertilizing

Lady palms only need fertilization during the growing season. From around April to September, feed your palm monthly with liquid houseplant fertilizer diluted to half strength.

Pruning

Lady palms don’t need a lot of pruning. Avoid removing fronds that have just a little browning (a fairly common sight on lady palms often due to inadequate water or light), as the plant still uses nutrients from those fronds. However, if an entire frond is discolored or dead, you may prune it off.

If there are lots of offsets or pups growing at the base of the plant, it is usually a good idea to remove them, even if you don’t use them for propagation. If you let them grow, the plant is likely to get too crowded, the new shoots will compete for water and nutrients, and air circulation will be poor.

Propagation

Lady palm can be propagated from seeds or by division, which is the preferred method because it is faster and allows you to produce a plant that is true to the parent. Mature lady palms grow clusters or offsets at the base of the plant. Here’s how to use them to propagate the plant:

  • In the early spring or late fall, remove the offsets with a knife, or scissors. Sterilize the tools with an alcohol- or bleach-based solution before use.
  • Place the offsets on a tray for a few days in a well-ventilated indoor space away from direct sunlight. Letting the offsets callus over increases the survival rate because the wounded plant tissue is less likely to get diseases.
  • Partially fill a pot with well-draining potting mix for palms. The pot should only be about 2 inches wider than the offset and there should be about 2 inches of space at the bottom. Place the offset in the center of the pot and fill the pot with potting mix
  • Water slowly and deeply right after planting. Let the top inch of soil dry out before watering again.
  • Place the pot in a location with bright, indirect light (just like the mother plant).

Potting and Repotting 

The lady palm doesn’t mind being a bit cramped in its pot. Initially, choose a pot that’s slightly larger than the size of the root ball. Make sure it has ample drainage holes.

Plan to repot your palm every other year in the spring into a slightly larger container. To do so, gently lift the roots out of the container, aiming to disturb them as little as possible and keep the root ball intact. Then, place the palm into its new container, and fill around it with fresh potting mix. Pack down the soil, and water it well.

Pests and Diseases

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

These plants generally don’t have any serious pest or disease problems. But watch out for scale, spider mites, and mealy bugs. Signs of an infestation include wilting or yellowing leaves, a sticky substance or webbing on the leaves, and tiny light or dark dots along the plant.

Lady palm is also susceptible to leaf spot diseases.

Common Problems

Iron deficiency is a common problem when lady ferns are grown as potted plants. The youngest leaves might be light greenish yellow, sometimes there are additional, dark green, pea-sized blotches. If the iron deficiency is severe, the entire plant will turn a light greenish-yellow color. This iron deficiency is not caused by an actual lack of nutrients but by poor soil aeration, which prevents the plant roots from properly absorbing the micronutrient iron. The best remedy is to repot the plant with fresh potting mix. When repotting, remove as much of the old potting mix from around the plant roots as possible. Fertilize the plant as described under Fertilizer above.

Speed of Growth

Although it has a slow growth rate, with proper care and good levels of light, you should still get at least a few inches of upwards growth a year and one or two runners appearing around the base of the plant.

If the care it’s getting is reasonably poor, or you’re growing it in a low light position, you will only get a minimal level of growth (or none at all!).

Toxicity

Rhapis Excelsa is not at all toxic to either humans or animals. It’s completely safe to plant Lady Palms in your garden or home without having to worry about any harm coming to your pets or kids.

III. Types of Lady Palm

There are several varieties of the lady palm available, including:

  • R. excelsa ‘Koban’: This variety has notably wide leaf segments and tends to spread outward.
  • R. excelsa ‘Daruma’: This variety features narrow leaves and an upright growth habit.
  • R. excelsa ‘Tenzan’: The leaves on this fast-growing variety have a bit of a curl.
  • R. excelsa ‘Kodaruma’: This is a miniature variety with an especially slow growth rate.
  • R. excelsa ‘Zuikonishiki’: This variety sports green and white striped leaves.

IV. Uses and Benefits 

Rhapis Excelsa can successfully eliminate airborne contaminants, including ammonia, formaldehyde, xylene, and carbon dioxide, from homes. Rhapis Excelsa truly purifies and improves the quality of the air in your house, in contrast to other plants that only produce oxygen.

Broadleaf Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa) Details

Common name Bamboo Palm, Broadleaf Lady Palm, Fan Tufted Palm, Lady Palm
Botanical name Rhapis excelsa
Plant type Houseplant
Hardiness zone 9a, 9b, 10a, 10b, 11a, 11b
Height 6 ft. 0 in. - 15 ft. 0 in.
Width 6 ft. 0 in. - 15 ft. 0 in.
Sunlight Deep shade (Less than 2 hours to no direct sunlight)
Soil condition Loam (Silt)
Flower color Gold/Yellow
Leaf color Green