It's hard to believe the areca palm (Dypsis lutescens) was once an endangered species. Drive down almost any street in a subtropical or warm climate and you're 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 culms. Their fronds are narrow and full, almost like bamboo leaves.
When sold as indoor plants, areca palms typically are clustered in small pots and look somewhat like palm grass. However, they are not the best palms to grow as houseplants, for two reasons: they need fairly bright light and they are especially sensitive to the buildup of fertilizer salts. But if you're looking for a good short-lived palm for indoor growth, the areca palm is a popular and relatively inexpensive option.
Growing Conditions for the Areca Palm
- Light. Areca palms do best with bright light and last longer with some direct sunlight.
- Water. Like many palms, areca palms are sensitive to overwatering and cannot tolerate being waterlogged or sitting in saturated potting mix. Let the potting mix dry out slightly between waterings.
- Soil. A peat-based mix with lots of material for drainage is perfect. Palms appreciate good drainage to prevent waterlogged roots.
- Fertilizer. Feed with a weak liquid fertilizer once or twice during the growing season and not at all during the winter.
Areca palms are planted from seed, usually many seeds to a single pot or cluster. It's unusual to find areca palm seeds, but if you do, you can germinate them at home by planting them at a uniform depth in the seed-starting soil. Orange-colored seeds, which are older, have a better germination rate than newer, greener seeds.
Germination takes about 6 weeks under the best conditions, with soil over 80° F and relatively high humidity.
Repotting Areca Palms
Areca palms are relatively fast-growing and are usually planted in clumps, or, over time, they form clumps on their own. In most indoor situations it's unlikely that an areca palm will live long enough to need frequent repotting. But if your palm thrives, you may need to repot every other year or so. They also tend to do well when slightly underpotted. When repotting a clump, be careful not to damage the root ball or bury the palm too deep.
The popular areca palm is the Dypsis lutescens, which is planted heavily all over the world. There are a few other related palms, including the triangle palm (D. decaryi) and betel nut palm (Areca catechu), but these are rare outside tropical or subtropical regions.
Areca palms present the home grower with multiple challenges. There is the seemingly eternal quest for light that frustrates many growers of palms. They like more light than the average indoor environment can supply. Also, there is the persistent challenge of feeding. Areca palms are heavy feeders that 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.
Several leaf-spotting fungi attack areca palms. The end result is a palm that has a fairly narrow range of tolerances and isn't likely to last long. Rather than fret over it, it's probably better to discard yellowing or declining areca palms and replace them. Areca palms are vulnerable to pests, including mites, aphids, mealy bugs, scale, and whitefly. If possible, identify the infestation as early as possible and treat with the least toxic option.