Finding a good evergreen palm can sometimes be a chore. However, Cyrtostachys renda (sir-toh-STAY-kiss REN-duh) is a highly attractive option for those needing a small to medium clumping palm.
This member of the Arecaceae family sometimes goes by the alternative scientific name of Cyrtostachys lakka and is perhaps best known by the common name of lipstick palm.
Lipstick palm has a variety of common names, including:
- Maharajah palm
- Rajah wax palm
- Red sealing wax palm
- Sealing wax palm
- Sumatra wax palm
Most of these names are in reference to the vivid red crownshafts and petioles (leaf sheaths), which resemble traditional sealing wax.
It’s short enough to be grown indoors, where it benefits from the more stable environment, but will also thrive outdoors under the right conditions.
Native to peat swamp forests and the tropical regions of Australia and Southeast Asia, the plant can be found growing naturally in, Borneo (Indonesia), Brunei, Malaysia, New Guinea, Singapore, Sumatra, and Thailand.
The plant grows naturally in wet areas such as rain forests and riverbanks. It is widely cherished for its colorful and unique appearance.
Lipstick Palm Care
Size & Growth
What makes red palm a great plant for indoor growth is its relatively short height. The slow-growing plant will often only grow to between 8’ and 15’ feet tall in the wild with a spread of up to 10’ feet.
It has a potential height of 40’ to 50’ feet in ideal conditions.
As with other palms, a lipstick palm’s trunk is accented by attractive leaf scars which begin green, fade to an orange or brownish-green, then finally dull to grey.
However, as a suckering plant, it may produce a number of slender trunks within the clump, resulting in a naturally dense, multi-tiered appearance.
Each crownshaft gives way to petioles, both a bright red to maroon colour. The many pinnate leaves which continue from the petioles are 4’ to 5’ feet long with a dark green upper surface and greyish green underside.
There are approximately 50 pairs of pinnae (leaflets) per leaf.
Flowering and Fragrance
Sealing wax palm in a monoecious plant which blooms in July.
Its inconspicuous greenish-white inflorescence grows in groups of three (one female and two males) on small panicles that appear below the crown. These give way to small, blackish ovoid palm seeds approximately .55” inches long
Light & Temperature
It’s usually best to keep lipstick palm in partial shade or filtered sunlight until it’s older. Afterwards, it handles part shade and full sun equally well.
This plant can survive outdoors in USDA hardiness zones 11-12, but is highly cold sensitive and will die in frost conditions.
It should also be partially shaded in high heat areas or places with high winds. Higher humidity is preferred for the plant’s health.
Some enthusiasts have managed to successfully grow red palm in zone 10, but the risk of a temperature drop makes this very difficult.
Watering and Feeding
Red wax palm requires a lot of water. It cannot survive in standing water for long periods of time, although it will tolerate it for a while. Ideally, the soil around it should be kept moist.
High humidity is also beneficial.
Soil & Transplanting
While adaptable, rajah palm can be temperamental due to a high sensitivity to change. The best soils are rich, loamy, moist soils with low acidity.
Well-drained soils are best, as overly soggy soil can harm the plant over time. Higher nitrogen levels are also preferred.
Transplanting should generally be avoided, although it can be done with some care. Ensure the new container has good soil and fertilizer.
Add some root hormone and organic compost to help encourage root growth. Finally, you’ll want to soak the plant prior to transplanting and follow up by watering 2 to 3 times daily for the first 3 to 4 weeks afterwards.
Grooming And Maintenance
Red Palm requires a moderate amount of care. Frequent pruning of any damaged or diseased fronds that have lost their color can have a large effect on both the appearance and health of the palm.
Avoid pruning leaves while they’re still green unless necessary, as palms are only able to generate a limited number of leaves per year.
Excess suckers should be trimmed to limit spread. This is especially true for younger or potted plants.
How To Propagate Sealing Wax Palm
Lipstick palm can be very difficult to cultivate outside of the tropics, especially from seed. Great cared must be taken to maintain temperature, humidity, and soil quality.
Use only fresh seeds, and expect a germination period lasting anywhere from 2 months to a year.
An easier way of propagation is by harvesting sucklers from an adult plant. Gently separate the suckers along with their roots using a sharp shovel and plant where desired.
Sumatra Wax Palm Pest or Disease Problems
This palm has a moderate salt tolerance and can handle short-term flooding conditions. It was previously listed as vulnerable from 1995 to 2000 due to over-harvesting.
In Indonesia, laws were passed in 1999 to protect the plant from harvesting.
It’s largely resistant to pests and diseases, although scale and spider mites may prove problematic.
Suggested Lipstick Palm Uses
Red Palm is a popular, if difficult to cultivate, ornamental that brings a colorful touch to any tropical garden. The thickness of its clumps also make it a popular privacy hedge or as cover for sheds or jacuzzis.
When planted outdoors, it should always be close to a source of water.
Traditionally, the plant has been used in building thatched huts and fishing rods. The stem tip, or palm heart, is edible.
Due to its sensitivity to change, lipstick palm is a great choice for growing indoors in a more controlled environment.
It will also work as a container plant that’s kept on the patio during warmer months and brought indoors to overwinter.