The parlor palm (Chamaedorea elegans) has long been used as an indoor plant in the United States. This attractive little plant was first discovered in Central America and brought back to the United States where it immediately became a popular indoor palm. It gained a near-instant following for several good reasons: It's adapted to relatively low light, can handle lower temperatures, and grows in attractive clumps with light-textured foliage cloaking thin trunks. These factors make the parlor palm one of the most popular indoor palms grown in most temperate countries.
It is possible to sometimes find single-stalk specimens, but most often the palms are grown in small clumps so that they resemble palm-like shrubs in attractive pots. The fronds are popular in flower arrangements, Palm Sunday decorations, and wreaths because they can survive for up to 40 days after being cut from the plant. The parlor palm plant is non-toxic for animals and humans.
|Botanical Name||Chamaedorea elegans|
|Common Name||Parlor palm, Neanthe bella palm|
|Mature Size||In natural habitat, 6 to 16 feet tall; as a houseplant, 2 to 6 feet tall, 2- to 3-foot spread|
|Sun Exposure||Bright, indirect light|
|Soil Type||Outdoors, any well-drained soil; indoors, use a peaty soil-based potting mix|
|Soil pH||5.1 to 7.5 (acidic to neutral)|
|Bloom Time||Spring; rarely blooms indoors|
|Hardiness Zones||10 to 12 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Rainforests of Southern Mexico and Guatemala|
How to Grow Parlor Palms
Among all the palm trees, parlor palms are a great place to start for the beginner. They do especially well in 3-gallon pots (about 10 inches wide) in a northern exposure or foyer, where they show off their fine-textured leaves. Because they are tolerant of lower light conditions and sensitive to too much water, they are prime candidates to be "loved to death," either through overwatering or by getting too much direct sunlight. Resist the temptation.
These are considered low-light palms, but that doesn't mean "no-light." Parlor palms will do their best in bright, filtered sunlight. They often do well with northern exposure.
Indoors, any high-quality peat-based potting mix will suffice. Be careful not to let the mixture break down and become spongy. Outdoors, this palm will grow well in almost any soil—sand, loam, or clay. But it does not tolerate salty soil.
Like many palms, parlor palms are sensitive to overwatering and cannot tolerate being waterlogged or sitting in a saturated potting mix. Ideally, keep moisture at an even level. Err on the side of slightly too dry rather than overwatering. Water when the top 1 inch of the soil feels dry. Yellow fronds will indicate the plant needs more water.
Temperature and Humidity
The parlor palm prefers room temperatures between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. It can tolerate a low of 50 degrees but will die if touched by frost. Keep it away from cold drafts near windows, vents, and outside doors. It will thrive with average humidity. If your palm begins to develop dry leaf margins or brown tips, it's most likely caused by cold drafts or prolonged dry periods. To remedy this situation, raise the humidity levels before overwatering.
Feed with a weak liquid fertilizer once or twice during the growing season and not at all during the winter. These plants are light feeders.
Potting and Repotting
Parlor palms have weak root systems and grow relatively slowly, meaning that repotting should only be done with care. In general, the plants stay a manageable size, so you shouldn't have to repot it more than every other year. If your potting media breaks down and becomes mucky or sponge-like, then repot to prevent root rot.
Propagating Parlor Palms
These plants are almost always propagated from seed by professional growers. It may be possible to divide a clump into two smaller clumps successfully, but this is not recommended. The plants aren't clumping by nature but grown in clumps for aesthetic reasons. They cannot be propagated by stem cutting or leaf cutting. In general, it's best for most home growers to buy a new plant rather than attempt propagation.
Parlor Palms vs. Other Indoor Palms
The main parlor palm is C. elegans, which is native to Mexico and Central America. This type is sometimes used in dish gardens.
The related bamboo palm, C. erumpens, originates slightly further south and is a bit larger, with more fan-like leaves. A few other varieties are sometimes seen in the trade, including the newer C. hooperiana, which resembles a kentia palm.