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How to Troubleshoot Cat Palm Leaves That Are Turning Brown

Cat palms (Chamaedorea cataractarum) are clumping palm plants that grow up to 4 feet tall and are native to southeastern Mexico. Cat palms have unique, clustering trunks that can be clumping, forked or even slightly horizontal and only 1 inch in diameter. The cat palm has striking, 40-inch-long fronds that have 30 to 50 leaflets that are 12 inches long and 1 inch wide. Grown outdoors in tropical and semitropical regions or indoors in colder climates, the cat palm enjoys shade and lots of water. The cat palm can suffer from a wide range of diseases and pest infestations, but many of its problems can come from environmental conditions or physiological issues.

Diagnose the Problem

Look for browning, dying leaves and “burned” leaf tips to diagnose root damage and foliar tip burn. These problems are caused by over-watering, poorly drained soil and salt excesses in the soil.

Diagnose fluoride toxicity by looking for dark-brown leaf tips signifying necrosis in your cat palm. This problem is usually caused by too much fluoride in the potting mixture.

Identify copper toxicity in your cat palm by looking for brown, elliptical spots on the leaflets. These leaf spots may look like symptoms of fungal leaf spot.

Look for reddish-brown to brownish-black lesions on the cat palm fronds that are usually 1/8- to 1/4-inch long to diagnose Helminthosporium leaf spot. A band of yellow may outline the lesions, which can grow to form large, irregularly shaped spots on the leaf tips and edges.

Diagnose an infestation of scale insects on your cat palm by looking for stunted growth and an overall weakening of your plant, in addition to the browning and dying leaves. Scales are tiny round or oval-shaped insects that are less than 2 mm long and feed on the stems or leaves.

Treat the Problem

Treat your cat palm for root damage and foliar tip burn by re-potting the cat palm into a freely draining potting soil, if it’s container grown. Stop watering the cat palm if it’s planted in the ground. To remove the excess salts, leach the potting soil by pouring water into the soil and allowing it to drain completely two or three times.

Correct fluoride toxicity in your cat palm by replacing the potting mixture with one that contains no fluoride or fluoride compounds and by maintaining a soil pH of 6.0 to 7.0. Also beware of potting mixtures and fertilizers containing superphosphate, which can cause fluoride toxicity in your cat palm.

Treat your cat palm for copper toxicity by stopping any use of copper-containing fungicides on the plant. Also stop using any copper-containing micronutrient fertilizers on your cat palm until the symptoms subside.

Stop misting or wetting the cat palm’s leaves to treat Helminthosporium leaf spot. Withholding any water contact from the leaves will eliminate this disease.

Get rid of scale infestations by treating your cat palm with an appropriate systemic insecticide. Be sure to follow the directions on the label exactly.


Keep in mind that your cat palm’s leaves can also turn brown and begin to die if the plant is exposed to extremely cold temperatures. Consider whether your cat palm has been recently exposed to temperatures below 24 to 28 degrees Fahrenheit when you’re attempting to troubleshoot the problem.


Also watch out for root-feeding mealybugs on your cat palm. These are also tiny insects that will cause stunted growth and brown, dying fronds, but they’re found in the soil. To get rid of root mealybugs, drench the soil with an appropriate insecticide, according the instructions on the label.

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