Broadleaf Lady Palm (Rhapis Excelsa): Growing Tips and Care

Broadleaf lady palms are a strange species of fan palms that actually don't exist in the wild — they came from Chinese cultivators.

They're exceptionally good indoor houseplants, because they clean toxins from the air. The main four they process are carbon dioxide, formaldehyde, xylene, and ammonia. They're also easy to care for, making them good for gardening beginners!

Read on for a complete guide to growing the lady palm tree at home.​

History

A classic lady palm tree

Lady palms come from China and are some of the easiest palms to grow. Also known as rhapis excelsa, these palms first came to prominence as a feature in Japanese palaces, only then spreading through to Europe and America in the 1770s and 1850s, respectively.

Types of Broadleaf Lady Palms

There are many different types of broadleaf lady palm, but these types can be split into two main groups: green and variegated. Some of these types are so rare that they're actually avidly collected by palm enthusiasts around the world.​

Ayanishiki, a type of variegated lady palm.

Perhaps the most popular variegated Rhapis excelsa is the Zuikonishiki. It is straight forward to grow and gives rise to many sprouts. Still, only about 40% of these sprouts are good enough to propagate. The rest tend toward either too much green or too much white.

When the Rhapis excelsa tends toward white leaves, the effect is a golden color, called “golden chlorophyll”. These variegated types should be grown in cooler temperatures and average lighting. Too intense of light will burn the leaves.

While increasing the fertilizer can mask the stripes, it cannot eradicate them. Keep to average fertilizing in order to bring out the correct colors.​

Planting Lady Palms

In general, lady palms are an indoor plant. This is mostly because they do so well in the shade. In fact, the plant's leaves change color in the shade, appearing darker and more variegated (if you are growing a striped variety) when grown indoors.​

If planted outside, lady palms attract many kinds of tropical butterflies and can even serve as a home to nesting birds.​ However, this is usually not a good idea unless you can ensure that they're in a shady area.

Caring For Lady Palms

Example of a medium-sized broadleaf lady palm tree. source

Lady Palms grow slowly, at 8-12" annually when growing in 80% shade and in subtropical temperatures. If grown indoors, the growth rate is a bit slower.

They can reach as high as 14 feet and have palm fronds from 6 to 12 inches across. Keep the plant thinned by removing any leaves that have become discolored or dried out. This will aid in ventilation.​

If new growth is brown or dead, then the entire plant should be cut back to the soil. The whole plant has rotted out. All growth after that will also be rotten.

If only the tips are browned, trim the tips off.

If the tips are black, this means you have gone way too far with either water or fertilizer. Cut the tips off and adjust your watering or fertilizing.​

Sun

Lady palms can thrive in any kind of light from shade to full sunlight. The best results will likely be found in full, but indirect sunlight. The more shade it's exposed to, the darker green the leaves will be.

If you move it into fuller sunlight, the leaves may turn yellow and their tips might burn. However, the burning will go away as the plant acclimates to the increased amount of light.

Soil

As long as you use soil that drains well, lady palms will tolerate most different types of soil (clay, sandy, loamy). Try to keep it slightly acidic as well.

Add some organic material to it as well so it will hold some of the moisture, while allowing for good drainage.​

While you can use a 10-10-10 fertilizer from time to time, it's not necessary as lady palms are very susceptible to injury from over-feeding.

Water

Do not over water. Standing water in the soil will only promote root rot. It can tolerate dry periods, but keep them short. Lady palms prefer sol that is constantly moist.

Remember: misting the leaves will keep the fronds clean from dust.​

Propagation

Propagation is not recommended unless you're an experienced gardener with a lot of patience ​— it takes around 7 years before a propagated lady palm will reach the sizes you see it at in nurseries.

Lady palms require both sexed plants in order to achieve successful pollination. However, if you are set on propagating from seed, they are prepared commercially. Other species of Rhapis do not even have male and female plants and must be propagated by division.​

Lady palms produce so many roots that dividing the rhizomes is not that much of a problem. You should wait to divide it until the root system has either grown to break its clay pot or has simply become root bound. Divide the roots without worry about harming the plant, since the broadleaf lady palm is a hardy plant.​

Pests and Diseases

Lady palms are quite hardy, meaning most pests and diseases don't bother this plant. However, there are a few key pests and diseases to watch out for to ensure your plants stay nice and healthy.

Pests

​Scales

Scales are the nastiest pest that will attack your lady palm. It can be hard to see them, especially if growing in shade. They love hiding underneath the leaves of your lady palm, near the base of each leaf.

To get rid of them, you should use a systemic insecticide that actually gets into the plant system itself.

Spider Mites

Spider mites are hated by gardeners around the world for their ability to decimate a plant in quick fashion. To get rid of these bad boys, use a cotton swab with rubbing alcohol to immediately kill them and be sure to inspect your plant fully.

Diseases

The only type of disease that rhapis excelsa is susceptible to ​is root rot. The following pathogens can infect your lady palm's root system and cause the plant to die:

  • Fusarium oxysporum​
  • Pythium
  • Rhizoctonia
  • Penicillium (also known as pink rot)

The best way to prevent these pathogens from destroying your plant is to watch for the signs of root rot, and treat liberally with a fungicide specifically designed to combat root diseases.

FAQs​

Q: How do I find and cultivate a variegated lady palm?​

A: This is actually something that palm enthusiasts love doing: they take lady palm seeds and propagate as many as possible, then wait and see which ones have stripes. Of those, only about 1 in 5 will be strong enough to survive. 

Q: My lady palm leaves are turning yellow. What's up?

A: The most likely culprit is too much light. Lady palms will acclimate to a lot of light, but they react by turning yellow.​

Q: The leaves of my rhapis excelsa are drying out and wilting...help!​

A: The most likely culprit is under-watering. Lady palms like well-draining soil that is constantly moist (but not soaked). If you're already following these watering guidelines, then the next most likely cause is the plant is outgrowing the pot or container that it's planted in.


Do you have a broadleaf lady palm at your house?

Have any growing tips that I didn't share in this post? Leave them in the comments below and help out your fellow gardeners!

Thanks for stopping by!

Broadleaf lady palm trees are hardy, air-purifying indoor plants that are easy to grow in the average home. Learn exactly how to care for them in this guide.
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