Palm trees have long been a symbol of the tropics. With their tall trunks and long leafy fronds, palms have been associated with royalty, religion and shelter. In some areas, huts and homes are built from palms. In the Christian religion, palm fronds are used to celebrate Palm Sunday, when churches commemorate Jesus' triumphant entry into the city, greeted by people waving palm fronds. Members of smaller species can thrive as house plants.
In ancient Babylonia and Egypt, palms were known as royalty in the plant kingdom. In more recent times, palm trees have been used as landscape plants and house plants. Palm trees became popular house plants in the Victorian era, when explorers brought tropical plants home to cooler climates on board ships and placed them into glass conservatories. Plants that survive easily in low light, such as palm trees, made the transition to house plants.
Howea forsteriana, also known as the Kentia palm, grows naturally in both temperate and semi-tropical regions. This palm tree tolerates small pots well and has the classic jungle palm look with the arching fronds of drooping leaflets. It does quite well in many indoor settings since it doesn't require bright direct light all day long.
Two members of the Rhapsis genus make excellent house palms. The Lady Palm, or Rhapis excelsa, is a fan palm that grows in clumps. It tolerates lower light levels than many of its tropical counterparts. Rhapis multifida is another smaller palm that works well in the house.
Chamaedora is a large group of over 100 species of palms. Many of them do very well as houseplants. This group of palms prefer at least some sun during the day. Chamaedorea radicalis matures at only 4 feet tall.
Indoor Care Requirements
Indoor palm trees require some special treatment to grow well. Watering must be carefully monitored. Palms need enough water to support their growth, but they don't like to be over-watered. Before watering, always check the soil with your finger. If the soil is still dry to the touch an inch below the surface, your palm needs water. During the winter, palms will appreciate more humidity. You can provide this by setting the pot on a tray of wet gravel or you can mist the plant frequently. While a humidifier may seem like a good choice, it can cause mold to grow in your house. Pay attention to the light requirements for the particular palm you have chosen. It should be noted on the plant care tag that came with the plant.
Palms are fairly resistant to insect pests, but occasionally the pests can become a problem. An easy way to fight pests is to release some ladybugs. They will happily munch on any eggs, crawling bugs and other goodies that come their way. If you don't want to introduce ladybugs into your house, wipe down the plant thoroughly every three days with warm, soapy water. The soapy water kills the bugs without resorting to poisonous treatment.
Water and fertilizer can cause mineral salts to build up in the soil of your potted palm. Brown edges to the leaves are a sure sign. To flush the soil, take your palm outdoors and spray it down with a hose. Let the water run through the pot for 10 to 15 minutes. Let the pot drain completely before you bring it back in the house. You may need to do this two or three times per year. Using distilled water can help reduce salt build-up.