Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Lady Palm

I just adore Lady palms. Their dense, dark green, tropical foliage makes them so strikingly attractive!
The Lady palm (Botanic name-Rhapis Excelsa) is a native of Southern China and is a slow growing palm that can be grown both outdoors and indoors. It is great as a houseplant because it cleans toxins such as carbon dioxide, formaldehyde, xylene and ammonia from its surroundings and is also easy to care for! It is one of the top rated plants for purifying air indoors in a NASA research which studied house plants as a means of providing pure and clean air in space stations!

The Lady Palm forms dense clumps of bamboo-like stalks topped with dark green, glossy, fan-shaped leaves divided into ribbed segments with saw toothed ends. Rhapis leaves commonly have a slightly brown tip fringe. These can be trimmed with a pair of scissors or even just carefully pulled off by hand. 
Each stalk or cane of the Rhapis is thick and covered with dark woven palm fibers (picture above). The tip of each of these stems is the growth point and it will stop growing if you remove the tip. You cannot prune a stem and get new growth from the cut stem as you do with some other plants. So you should only cut a stem when most of the leaves have turned yellow or fallen off and then it should be cut as low as you can go, down to the soil level. This will encourage new shoots to grow from the base of the stem. The plant above has four such canes that I need to cut down to the soil level. It is such a dense plant that I am feeling plain lazy! 

The Rhapis Palm propagates itself via underground rhizome offshoots which is great because they will slowly fill out a pot beautifully! The Lady palm forms multi-stemmed clumps that can reach enormous width, spreading as wide as its height or more. I have a couple of beautiful specimens in pots that are as wide as they are tall-almost 4 feet and I just love them! The Lady below standing with her pot is taller than me!

A Lady palm should be repotted every couple of years till it is the size you want it to be or is in too big a pot to be repotted. Then you can just top dress it. Remove the top 2-3 inches of soil and replace with fresh soil every couple years. Take care not to harm any roots that may be near the surface.

The best time to divide a Rhapis is during spring when the palms are actively growing. You can easily propagate your plant by gently removing it from the pot and using a sharp, sterile knife to separate a shoot or shoots from the mother plant with some of their own roots already growing. A single cane that you plan to divide should have a few leaves and several roots before being separated. Pot it into a container just slightly larger than the root system filled with loose well-draining soil. Remove several lower leaves on each cane to reduce stress. Place in a humid area or mist daily until the palms resume active growth. 

Since my pots are too huge and heavy to divide, I plan to cut off some basal suckers with some roots attached to them and try my luck planting them in a 4 inch pot sizes.

The Rhapis palm prefers filtered light or partial shade. Outdoors, it will thrive under a canopy of tall trees. The Lady Palm leaves are dark green when grown in shade to a light green when grown with more sunlight. Placing it in full sun without protection will cause unattractive yellow-green leaves and slow growth. The palm below is kept in a sunny location and you can see the lighter yellow-green color of the leaves as compared to the beautiful dark green of the one above and the one on top, both of which are under a canopy of trees. Indoors, Rhapis grow best in bright, indirect light near a window or skylight but their growth slows considerably inside.

 When kept in bright lighting, the Lady Palm can be kept moderately moist but avoid overwatering them in lower light. The Lady palm should be thoroughly watered by soaking or drenching the entire root system as the roots are very deep at the bottom of pot so even though the soil at top is moist the roots may be dry at the bottom. Do not over water as it is prone to root rot. Do not allow it to wilt as it will not recover well. I lost a beautiful plant almost ten years old as its pot had broken and it was unable to retain adequate moisture and I got careless and did not repot till it was wilting. I was able to save just a single cane in one small pot from a huge dense plant.

Lady Palms are relatively slow-growing plants and need very little fertilizer. Apply only half the fertiliser required by other plants. If the leaves are rich green it indicates that fertilizer levels are okay and you should apply nutrients only when a slight overall yellowish color is detected.

The nastiest pests to attack them are scales which may hide inside the stalk mesh. A systemic insecticide which gets absorbed in the plant system is the best control. 


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  2. Thank you for posting this article, the concept is clear and really useful.
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  3. All the leaves on mine are completely wasn't watered properly while I was away for a week. Can it be resurrected or is it beyond repair?

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