Areca Palm Plant Profile

an areca palm indoors

The Spruce / Alonda Baird

It is hard to believe that the areca palm (Dypsis lutescens) was once an endangered species. Drive down almost any street in a subtropical or warm climate, and you are likely to see dozens of these tall, attractive and clumping palms that look a lot like bamboo. The palms have smooth, sometimes golden trunks that are reminiscent of bamboo clumps. Their fronds are narrow and full, almost like bamboo leaves. When grown outdoors, they are often used as a privacy screen.

When sold as indoor houseplants, areca palms typically are clustered in small pots and look somewhat like palm grass. However, there are two reasons they are not the best palms to grow as houseplants: they need fairly bright light and they are especially sensitive to the buildup of fertilizer salts. However, if you are seeking a good short-lived palm for indoor growth, the areca palm is a popular and relatively inexpensive option.

Botanical Name Dypsis lutescens (formerly Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)
Common Names Areca palm, bamboo palm, butterfly palm, golden cane palm, or yellow palm
Plant Type Evergreen houseplant or perennial
Mature Size 10 to 30 feet tall 8- to 15-foot spread
Sun Exposure Diffused bright sunlight; tolerates some direct sun
Soil Type Rich, moist soil
Soil pH Slightly acidic to neutral
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color Pale yellow
Hardiness Zones 10 to 11 (USDA)
Native Area Madagascar
closeup of an areca palm
The Spruce / Alonda Baird
closeup of an areca palm leaf
The Spruce / Alonda Baird 

How to Grow Areca Palms

When grown outdoors in tropical regions, areca palms prefer a part-shade setting and a slightly acidic soil that is moist and well-draining. Amending soil with sand is sometimes necessary unless drainage is naturally good. The plant needs to be watered frequently as it becomes established. After the palm is established in its environment, water thoroughly whenever the top two inches of soil becomes dry.

As an indoor houseplant, areca palms present the home grower with multiple challenges. There is the seemingly eternal quest for light that frustrates many growers. These palms require more diffused sunlight than the average indoor environment can supply. Also, there is the persistent challenge of feeding. Areca palms are heavy feeders and can develop yellowing leaves in the absence of magnesium, iron, and trace elements. However, they are also susceptible to fertilizer salts and dislike fluoridated water, which puts many growers at a disadvantage.

Light

Outdoors, these plants like part shade or constant filtered sunlight. Indoors, areca palms do best with mostly sunny bright light exposure from a south- or west-facing window and might live longer with some direct sunlight. However, avoid giving it too much direct sun; which can scorch the leaves.

Soil

For potted indoor plants, a peat-based potting mix with lots of drainage material is perfect. Palms appreciate good drainage to prevent waterlogged roots. Outdoor specimens do best with a slightly acidic soil that is very well drained. Amending with sand and peat moss might be necessary to improve porousness and lower the pH of the soil.

Water

Like many palms, areca palms are sensitive to overwatering and cannot tolerate being waterlogged or sitting in a water-saturated potting mix. Let the soil or potting mix dry out slightly between waterings. Areca palms are sensitive to fluoridated water, so use distilled water or collected rainwater.

Temperature and Humidity

Indoors or out, this plant does best in average temperatures of 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. It will do fine planted in the garden in regions where outdoor temperatures don't dip below about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. When grown as an indoor plant, keep the leaves away from cold windows, air conditioners, and heat sources. Areca palms are sensitive to low temperatures so if you place potted plants outside during the summer be sure to bring them in before temperatures dip below 50 degrees. Sudden cold bursts can bring on dark spots in the leaves.

High humidity is essential to keeping an areca palm looking its best. The plant will acclimate to normal room humidity, but if the air is too dry, it is common for the leaf tips to turn brown.

Fertilizer

The areca palm is a heavy feeder and requires fertilizing each season with a liquid fertilizer especially during the growing season. Do not feed during the winter when the plant is dormant.

Potting and Repotting

Areca palms are relatively fast-growing and are usually planted in clumps. Over time, individual plants will form clumps, as well. The plant likes a tight container. Crowded roots will aid in keeping the plant size in check. However, you might want to repot in order to replace the old potting soil and remove fertilizer salt deposits that have built up. When repotting, use a palm potting soil or a general-purpose soil amended with a cup of clean builder’s sand.

In most indoor situations, it is unlikely that an areca palm will live long enough to need frequent repotting. But if your palm happens to truly thrive, you might need to repot it every other year or so. When repotting a clump, be careful not to damage the root ball or bury the palm too deeply.

Propagating Areca Palm

Areca palms are planted from seed, usually many seeds to a single pot or cluster. It is unusual to find areca palm seeds, but if you do, you can germinate them at home by planting them at a uniform depth in a seed-starting mix. Orange-colored seeds, which are older, have a better germination rate than the newer, greener seeds. Germination takes about six weeks under the best conditions, with soil over 80 degrees Fahrenheit and relatively high humidity.

Related Species

Palms that are closely related to the areca palm include the triangle palm (Dypsis decaryi) and betel nut palm (Areca catechu), but these are rarely grown outside tropical or subtropical regions.

Pruning

Areca palm is one of the few palms that can tolerate trimming without serious harm, making it possible to keep mature plants indoors for their full lifespan of up to 10 years.

Never prune off the brown tips of your palm fronds unless the frond is dead. Clipping brown tips might cause frond growth to cease.

Common Pests/ Diseases

Several leaf-spotting fungi can attack areca palms. The end result is a palm that has a fairly narrow range of tolerances and is not likely to live a long life. Rather than fret over it, it is probably better to discard yellowing or declining areca palms and replace them. Areca palms are vulnerable to common houseplant pests, including mites, aphids, mealy bugs, scale, and whitefly. If possible, identify the infestation as early as possible and treat it with the least toxic option available.

Toxicity

The areca palm is non-toxic to humans, cats, and dogs if ingested.

Article Sources
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  1. Dypsis Lutescens. Missouri Botanical Garden

  2. Areca Palm Production Guide. University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences