Rhapis Excelsa: The Lady Palm And Its Care

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Rhapis excelsa, the Lady Palm, is grown in the garden and used indoors in homes and offices around the world. Rhapis adapts to a wide range of climates, soils, and environments, making the “lady Palm” popular for many applications.


Rhapis excelsa
is the most well-known and widely cultivated species, easily adapting to most interiors, and used in both tropical and subtropical landscapes throughout the world.

One distinction of Rhapis Excelsa is that it has a multitude of named varieties in green and variegated forms.

Many of these named varieties would be considered collector’s items with quite a few of the varieties being selected dwarf types.

The “Lady Palm” can grow to more than 14′ feet in height with clumps reaching enormous width, often having a diameter as wide as their height.

Large thick leaves with blunt tips and wide segments, gives Rhapis excelsa its occasional name “broadleaf lady palm”.

Sturdy canes find themselves covered with coarse, dark brown fiber. Exclesa can tolerate tropical and subtropical temperatures from 20 to 100 degrees F and handles both humid and dry climates.

A prolific producer of rhizome offshoots adds fullness and provides an easy method to increase numbers by division. In addition, seed is occasionally available.

Growth Rates of Rhapis Excelsa

Growth rates of Rhapis excelsa vary with culture and environment. In commercial production the Lady Palm usually grows 8″ – 12″ inches in height per year. When grown indoors as houseplants, the growth rate decreases considerably.

Find a plant that fits an area indoors and you won’t have to worry about the Rhapis outgrowing its space and it can work as a natural air cleaner.

Generally speaking growers would classify Rhapis as a slow grower. A typical 6 – 8″ potted plant has been growing in the nursery for minimum of 2 years.

It is not unusual for the larger sizes to be nursery grown for 4 – 7 years. This is one reason you find Rhapis being more expensive then other palms. Believe me, they are worth the expense.

You will find two styles of “Lady Palms” in your nurseries and garden centers. One I would call a “butterball”.

These plants, grown from seed, have lots of canes and a 3 – 4′ foot plant can be 3 – 3-1/2′ wide. Full of leaves top to bottom and you usually find these in pot sizes from 6″ up to 14″.

The other style is a more upright and open plant. These plants have been dug from the field, are thinner in appearance but have more height.

You usually find these in pot sizes from 14″ up to 28″ in heights ranging from 5 – 14′. They are more of a specimen plant with each one having its own unique look.

Rhapis Excelsa Easy To Grow

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Rhapis are some of the easiest palms to grow, but each species has its own particular environment and culture requirements.

This makes Rhapis very versatile. Both 6″ and 8″ pots can be used as table top and accent plants, while 10″ and up are free standing specimens. Wherever you may live, Rhapis is one plant that will thrive in your house or landscape.

Rhapis & Light

As with most indoor plants getting the right amount of light is a key factor in your plants health. Indoors, Rhapis grow best in bright, indirect light near a window or skylight but is very adaptable to low light areas.

We seem to see this type of lighting description all the time.

  • What is bright, indirect, low or whatever?
  • How do we measure light?

We measure light in footcandles.

If you begin to look at how bright certain levels of footcandles are, you will begin to understand the environment and light levels that your indoor plants require.

A Footcandle is an instantaneous measurement of light.

For example, in the evening, inside your home, with a TV and a table lamp on you might have 25 footcandles.

The light in an office or study where it is to easy to read a book is usually about 125 footcandles. Sun light entering a south window often has levels of 500 – 800 footcandles.

A typical shadehouse where indoor plants are grown has about 2000 footcandles. Outside, on a bright sunny summer day when the sun is directly overhead is around 10,000 footcandles.

You see, you will almost never have as much light inside your house or office as in the nursery where the plants were grown.

Light is also an issue in big cities where buildings block out light. Let me state again the light levels for Rhapis indoors in a different way. Give them as much as you can without being in full sun.

Although it is one of the most low light-tolerant of all palms, and it is ideal for a poorly lit hallway or stairwell where it will grow slowly but steadily. Give them as much as you can without being in full sun.

Pruning Lady Palms

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New fronds come out from the center of the trunk. Trim off lower leaves as they age and become discolored.

If new growth is dead, the whole trunk needs to be cut out, because it has rotted, and the leaves will all eventually become dry and brown.

It is a common characteristic of Rhapis to have a brown tip or edge on the leaves.

Brown leaf damage is usually associated with extreme heat, allowing the plant to dry out, or not thoroughly watering the entire root system. Any damaged brown leaf tips can have the tips trimmed.

Remember, Rhapis grow slow so don’t remove the whole leaf. Black tips are not common and is usually associated with some type of excess, such as fertilizer or over-watering.

Watering Rhapis

Rhapis should be thoroughly watered by soaking or drenching the entire root system. They like their soil to stay moist. Drying the soil severely can cause the foliage to turn gray, and tips to burn.

If the soil becomes too moist, the soil can encourage root rot and damage will eventually show up in the foliage with browning tips, or spotting on the new growth.

In container grown Rhapis, the roots will be predominately at the bottom of the container rather then throughout. Keep this in mind when checking your soil moisture. The top may be dry but the bottom still wet.

Rhapis Grow In Almost Any Soil

Rhapis will grow in almost any well-drained soil, but prefer a soil mixture similar a mix used for African violet care.

Soil density should be firm and allow water to slowly filter through. Rhapis prefer to be slightly root-bound. All roots and the base of canes should be covered to retain moisture.

Lady Palms and Fertilizer

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Rhapis are relatively slow-growing plants and need very little fertilizer.

As a guideline, apply only 1/2 the recommended rate required by other plants in your home. Leaf color is one of your best guides:

  • Rich green indicates fertilizer levels are adequate
  • Slight overall yellowish color may mean the to apply nutrients

Rhapis can suffer from trace element deficiencies which produce yellowing leaves, distorted new growth, or general decline.

These deficiencies can be hard to determine without laboratory tests.

You will usually find these problems on old plants that are growing in landscapes.

Rhapis as are other palms can be sensitive to excess boron, fluoride, and chlorine in water supplies, which will cause fast spreading black tip burn. Use the purest water available until the problem is corrected.

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What To Do This Month - October

Every month there are things to do in the garden and October is no different. However, the garden is not just veggies but flowers, lawns and greenhouse.

As the season changes the - garden - is a wonderful place to hang out with lots to do! Find out what to do at: October Gardening To Do List: Flowers, Veggies Lawn and More

Rhapis Pests

Scale on plants is the enemy of all Rhapis; It can hide in the fibrous leaf bases.

Contact sprays such as malathion are seldom effective. A systemic insecticide which is absorbed into the plant system provides the best protection or control.

Since spraying Rhapis in hot summer weather can cause leaf burn, use a systemic insecticide labeled for soil application or spray only during early morning hours.

Consult your local nursery or garden center on available options.

Excelsa Root Rots

Rhapis are very resistant to pathogens; however, Fusarium oxysporum, Pythium, Rhizoctonia, and Penicillium (pink rot) can periodically infect Rhapis. Use a "broad spectrum" root fungicide labeled as a soil drench to provide prevention or control.

Rhapis excelsa are one of my top plants and palms for use indoors and in the landscape.