The lady palm (Rhapis excelsa) is a small fan palm that can do exceedingly well indoors under the right conditions. It grows from multiple stems, each topped with upright fronds. The fronds are split into fan-like segments, as might be used by ladies in olden times. The lady palm, sometimes called the bamboo palm or miniature fan palm, is the best suited of all the fan palms to indoor cultivation. Most of the others, such as the imposing Washingtonia or the European fan palm, quickly grow too large for the average room.
Here are the ideal conditions for growing the lady palm indoors:
- Light: Dappled light is best during the summer. In winter, it can tolerate light shade.
- Water: Water liberally during the summer, ensuring perfect drainage. In winter, reduce watering to once a month or every other week, depending on the temperature.
- Temperature: In summer, it thrives at 70 F. In winter, keep it above 55 F, and do not expose it to drafts.
- Soil: Rich, loose potting media is recommended. Use pebbles or sand to increase drainage.
- Fertilizer: Use slow-release pellets at the beginning of the growing season or biweekly liquid fertilizer. Don't feed it in the winter.
Propagation by seed is possible, but it's unlikely the palm will flower and produce viable seeds in most indoor settings. More mature plants can be divided during repotting, or the small suckers around the base can be carefully separated and potted independently. Divided palms often go into shock and their growth rate will slow dramatically.
As with other palms, the R. excelsa and other Rhapis palms do well slightly underpotted. Repot them every other year in spring. Do not disturb the roots more than necessary while repotting, but transfer the intact root ball into the new pot. While repotting, make sure the new pot is well drained.
These two varieties of Lady Palm are available:
- R. humilis: This is a smaller clumping palm that grows to about 3 feet tall. This palm's stems are covered with red fibers and the leaves are finely textured and deeply divided.
- R. excelsa: This popular Rhapis palm grows to about 6 feet tall and forms a dense bush-like clump of stems with upright leaves.
Rhapis palms are great plants for the casual palm-lover with moderate space. Even the best R. excelsa will only grow to about 6 feet in height, with a fairly narrow, upright crown, making it perfect for a bright, warm corner. Make sure the plant is well fed during the summer and adequately watered (although no palm should sit in water, so remember to pay attention to drainage).
One thing to remember is that container-grown Rhapis plants have roots mainly located at the bottom of the container rather than throughout. You should keep this in mind when checking for the soil moisture. The top of the soil may be dry but the bottom will still be wet.
When it comes to foliage, it’s not uncommon for Rhapis to have brown tips or edges on the leaves. However, if the whole leaf is brown it’s a sign that something is wrong. Brown damage is usually a consequence of extreme heat. It’s best to always trim the damaged brown leaf tips. Since Rhapis grows slowly, it’s never a good idea to remove the whole leaf.