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 a house or condo and in 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 - The lady palm potted and up closePin

Rhapis excelsa is the most well-known and widely cultivated species, easily adapting to most interiors and used in tropical and subtropical landscapes worldwide. Another popular species is Rhapis humilis, which has slender leaf segments.

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

Along with the “slender lady palm,” the Rhapis also gets called by many other different common names like – the bamboo palm, most known as the Chamaedorea reed palm, fan palm, finger palm, and parlor palm. 

I’m not much on common names, but I’ll stick with the “lady palm.”

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 tree,” believed to originate from southern China, can grow to a height of more than 14′ feet tall, with clumps reaching enormous widths, often having a diameter as wide as their height.

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

Sturdy canes or stems of the lady palm tree find themselves covered with a fibrous sheath or coarse, dark brown fiber. 

Excelsa is fairly cold and hardy and can tolerate tropical and subtropical temperatures from 20° to 100° degrees Fahrenheit and handles both humid and dry climates.

Moreover, they are best grown in USDA hardiness zones 9 to 11.

Related: What Are The Best Plants for Cold Rooms?

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 grows 8″ – 12″ inches in height per year. When grown indoors as houseplants, the growth rate decreases considerably.

Find a Lady palm plant that fits an area indoors, and you won’t have to worry about the Rhapis palm growing too large for the space, and it can work as a natural air cleaner.

They have a growing season, but most growers classify Rhapis excelsa as a slow grower.

A typical 6 – 8″inch potted plant has been growing in the nursery for a minimum of 2 years.

It is not unusual for the larger sizes to grow in the nursery for 4 – 7 years. This is one reason you find Rhapis excelsa more expensive than other ornamental plants and palm trees. 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 and are thinner in appearance but have more height.

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

Rhapis Lady Palms - Winnie Palmer Hospital, Orlando FloridaPin

Easy To Grow And Lady Palm Care Tips

potted rhapis from Hawaii for interior usePin

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

This makes lady palm Rhapis excelsa very versatile. Both 6″ and 8″ pots can be used as tabletop and accent plants, while 10″ and up are free-standing specimens. 

Wherever you may live, Rhapis excelsa is one plant that will thrive in your house or landscape.

  • Outstanding for container culture.
  • Bamboo-like canes and fan-shaped leaves.
  • Temperature range of 50°-70° degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Partial sunlight to shade. Moist potting mix.
  • Older plants will stand 18° degrees Fahrenheit. (More on house plants that like cool temperatures)
  • Rhapis excelsa, sometimes known as Rhapis flabelliformis.
  • A miniature Japanese Rhapis, as yet unidentified, matures at 18 inches.

The Lady palms grow slowly, particularly as potted plants. If you start with a young, small one, it may take years before it attains any size. 

You will enjoy the pleasure of watching it grow into a showy palm, and your initial investment will be small.

Lady palms will also look good as a hedge against walls or as a screen.

If you desire a larger Rhapis for an immediate decorative effect, age, size, and species will determine its price. The older the palm, the more time its grower will have invested in it.

Related: Why we DO NOT recommend the Majesty Palm as an indoor plant.

Rhapis Excelsa & Light

As with most indoor plants getting the right amount of light is a key factor in your plant’s health. 

Indoors, Rhapis excelsa palm grows best in bright, indirect light near a window or skylight but is very adaptable to low-light conditions or full shade.

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

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

Remember, too much sun can result in yellow leaves.

So 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 too easy to read a book is usually about 125 footcandles. Sunlight entering a south window often has levels of 500 – 800 footcandles.

A typical shade house 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 partial shade but as much light as you can without being in direct sunlight.

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 and develop rich, dark green leaves. Give them as much as you can without being in full sun.

Quick ¼ Turn Lighting Tip

Whether sun or shade-loving, turn your indoor palm a ¼ turn from time to time so each side receives the stronger light. This helps it to be symmetrical and straight in stature.

The Rhapis Excelsa – Lady Palm Tree Won Me An Award!

The lady palm plant (broadleaf) has been one of my favorite palms for use indoors for many, many years. 

In fact, the image below is of me (I know I have a face for radio) in 1990 at the TPIE (Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition), where I won the award for the “Most Unusual Plant Specimen” with my large 12′ feet tall, 90 gallon Rhapis excelsa.

Rhapis palm TPIE 1990Pin
Gary Antosh Awarded “Most Unusual Plant Specimen” at the 1990 TPIE (Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition) Show

I will admit… it was a show-stopper. But the Rhapis excelsa is just that kind of plant. The lady palm Rhapis excelsa as an indoor palm I highly recommend for your home. There are several varieties of Rhapis grown, with Rhapis excelsa being the most popular.

Just as there are different Lady palm varieties grown, location also plays a part.

In the video below, Kevin from Kraft Gardens talks about the differences between a Florida-grown Rhapis excelsa and a Hawaiian-grown Rhapis palm. Notice the pot size and how big the plant from Hawaii is. 

Couple that with an attractive decorative container… and you have a winner!

Pruning Lady Palms

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 or dry air, 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 slowly, so don’t remove the whole leaf. Black tips are not common and are usually associated with some type of excesses, such as fertilizer or overwatering.

Watering Rhapis

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

Too much water over a long period can also cause black leaf edges.

Moreover, lady plans also prefer a humidity level of 50% or higher. You can regularly mist your plant using a spray bottle. You can also use a pebble tray or humidifier

If the soil mix 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 than throughout. Also, ensure adequate drainage holes.

A loamy soil will provide excellent drainage for the lady palms.

Keep this in mind when checking your soil moisture. The top may be dry, but the bottom is still wet.

Rhapis Grow In Almost Any Soil

Rhapis excelsa will grow in almost any well-drained potting soil but prefer a soil mixture similar to 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, so repotting every couple of years is normal. All roots and the base of canes should be covered to retain moisture.

Broadleaf Lady Palms and Fertilizer


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

Lady palms 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 excelsa, 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.

Moreover, you can use liquid houseplant fertilizer diluted to half strength from around April to September.

Rhapis Pests

Lady palms are virtually disease-resistant. However, Plant scale bugs on plants are the enemy of all Rhapis; Plant scale can hide in the fibrous sheath leaf bases. 

Mealybugs, scale insects, and spider mites can also be an issue. Try neem oil to control the mealybug and plant scale and other insect pests.

Contact sprays such as malathion are seldom effective. A systemic insecticide that 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 for 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 is one of my top plants and palms for use indoors and in the landscape.

Other Interesting Palms

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