Learn How To Grow A Cat Palm

The “cat palm” or botanically Chamaedorea cataractarum palm [kam-ee-DOR-ee-uh, kat-uh-RAK-tar-um] is a small perennial palm plant from the Arecaceae family.  

fronds of Chamaedorea CataractarumPin

Chamaedorea Cataractarum (Cat Palm) growing in a container at Legoland Winter Haven, Florida

It is a native plant of Central America and Southeastern Mexico and widely known by the following common names:

  • Cat palm tree
  • Cascade palm
  • Cataract palm
  • Some call Chamaedorea Cataractarum the dwarf Areca palm

Cataractarum is one of several Chamaedorea palms grown for use as indoor palms. Other Chamaedoreas include:

Cat Palm Cataractarum Cataractarum Care

Size & Growth

Cat palms like many palms are slow growers. As evident from its scientific name, the plant does not grow very high (Chamaedorea means gift near the ground) and does not have a trunk either. 

In shade the dark green leaves of Cataractarum give it the look of a dwarf Kentia palm.

On average, it grows a little over 3’ feet tall, when grown indoors as a houseplant, and over 6’ feet when planted outdoors. 

Featuring green cane-like leaf stems and glossy, dark green pinnate leaves with long thin leaflets, cat palm has a clump-forming growth habit and often forms large and dense clumps upon maturity. 

Flowering and Fragrance

Cat palm is dioecious and produces bright yellow pendulous inflorescence in late winter or early spring. 

The blooming period is followed by the production of sessile fruits on the flower stalks. 

The fruits are shiny and ovoid and are dark green when produced, but turn black upon maturity.

Light & Temperature

The plant thrives in bright indirect light and requires more bright light as compared to other indoor houseplants. 

If watered regularly, Cataractarum can tolerate direct sunlight but does get a little tattered looking. It grows best in partial shade.

This Chamaedorea species doesn’t require very high humidity, but do not expose it to dry air for a long time as it can cause damage to the plant. 

To prevent any negative effects, use a humidifier or a humidity tray if the humidity level drops below 50%.

The plant is not tolerant of very cold weather and ideally should not be exposed to temperatures below 40° degrees Fahrenheit (4° C). 

Cat palm is hardy to USDA zones 11 and 12.

Watering and Feeding

Contrary to the common perception, cat palm is not a desert plant. This palm needs adequate moisture. 

  • Water Cataractarum regularly with distilled water. Water enough to keep the root ball evenly moist but not soggy at all times. 
  • The plant also appreciates misting in hot and dry weather.
  • Keep the soil moist. Do not let the soil remain dry for extended periods as it leads to brown tip and fronds. 
  • However, make sure to not over-water as well – the plant cannot tolerate soggy soil.
  • Feed the plant with a balanced liquid fertilizer monthly in the spring and summer throughout the active growing season. A granular slow release fertilizer is also an option.
  • Be careful to not over-fertilize as it will damage the plant.

Soil & Transplanting

For best growth, plant the cascade palm in an organic-rich, slightly acidic, well-drained potting soil at all times. If growing in a pot use a pot with drainage holes.

Since the plant doesn’t like wet and soggy soil, make sure it has good drainage.

The plant doesn’t need repotting very often – on average, and it is only required once every three years. 

For a good start, water the newly transplanted plants thoroughly and keep them at a place where they receive bright indirect sunlight.

Grooming The Cascade or Cataract Palm

The cataract palm doesn’t have specific grooming requirements and generally grows easily without much need for additional maintenance. 

However, remove fronds from the plant to maintain a neat and tidy appearance or the desired shape and size.

NOTE: The ends of leaves can get tattered and fronds develop leaf spot. The brown leaf tips can be trimmed to improve the look of the cat palm.

Cat Palm outdoors planted and growing in the landscape - St Petersburg, FloridaPin
Chamaedorea Cataractarum growing outdoors in St Petersburg, Florida

How To Propagate Chamaedorea Cataractarum 

While cascade palms will grow from seeds, they take a long time to germinate. Seeds can take up to a year to germinate and sprout. Bottom heat with a temperature of 90° degrees Fahrenheit will speed up germination.

Also, the seedlings grow at a very slow rate and take several years to grow into salable plants. 

Chamaedorea Cataractarum Pests or Diseases

While the plant is generally not susceptible to any pest infestation and disease, the indoor plants can get affected by spider mites.

Dry soil, lack of humidity, and the use of tap water containing high amounts of fluoride can cause browning of leaf tips.

Cat palms are sensitive to the buildup of salts in the soil, which can happen due to excessive fertilization or the use of salty water. Potted palms are more prone to soil salt accumulation from overfertilization.

Learn about Watering Plants with Distilled Water

  • Salt accumulation in the soil can damage the roots as well as foliage.
  • In cool weather, Gliocladium also known as pink rot causes the yellowing of older fronds.
  • Stem rot from Phytophthora turns root black and stems dark.
  • Ambrosia beetles can damage seedbeds by boring into the seed.
  • Wet weather conditions produce a fungal disease commonly known as leaf spot.

Is The Cat Palm Safe Around Pets?

According to the ASPCA Cat palms are not considered poisonous to pets.

Cataractarum Palm Uses

Cascade palm is commonly grown as a garden plant in most tropical and subtropical regions due to its attractive foliage. 

It is sometimes also used as a hedge plant and makes a good understory plant. 

When grown in containers, the plant makes beautiful additions to entryways.

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