Rhapis excelsa, also known as broadleaf lady palm or bamboo palm, is a species of fan palm in the genus Rhapis, probably native to southern China and Taiwan. It is not known in the wild; all known plants come from cultivated groups in China. The genus name Rhapis is Greek ‘’ meaning ‘needle’, referring to the pointy leaves. The plant has proven successful in removing airborne toxins within the home, including ammonia, formaldehyde, xylene, and carbon dioxide. Unlike other plants, who simply make oxygen, Rhapis excelsa will actually make the air in your home cleaner and safer to breathe. It is widely known as one of the easiest house plants to grow in the world. Distinct in nature, this palm survives in households around the world, and has been grown as a house plant for over 500 years in Japan.
Rhapis excelsa grows in multi-stemmed clumps with glossy, palmate evergreen leaves divided into broad, ribbed segments. Leaf segments are single or few in young plants and increase to a dozen or more in mature plants; segments are divided to the petiole. Leaf-ends are saw-toothed unlike most other palms, occurring on slender petioles ranging from 20 to 60 cm in length. New foliage emerges from a fibrous sheath which remains attached to the base. As the plants age, the sheaths fall, revealing the bamboo-like trunks. This usually dioecious palm species produces a small inflorescence at the top of the plant with spirally-arranged, fleshy yellow flowers containing three petals fused at the base. Ripe fruit are fleshy and white, though R. excelsa more readily propagates via underground rhizome offshoots.
Table of Contents
6 - 15 feet (Outdoors)
Up to 6 feet (Indoors)
6 - 15 feet (Outdoors)
Up to 4 feet (Indoors)
5.5 - 7.0
Varieties of Lady Palm
There are several varieties of the lady palm available, including:
Rhapis excelsa ‘Koban’: This variety has notably wide leaf segments and tends to spread outward.
Rhapis excelsa ‘Daruma’: This variety features narrow leaves and an upright growth habit.
Rhapis excelsa ‘Tenzan’: The leaves on this fast-growing variety have a bit of a curl.
Rhapis excelsa ‘Kodaruma’: This is a miniature variety with an especially slow growth rate.
Rhapis excelsa ‘Zuikonishiki’: This variety sports green and white striped leaves.
Planting Lady Palms
Whether indoors or outdoors, you’ll need to make sure that your Lady Palm has enough shade to grow well. This is because too much direct sunlight will fade the leaves, causing them to change from green to yellow. Outdoors, you should find a shady spot with neutral to slightly acidic soil. An understory near a larger tree is usually good location to plant. Make sure the area has adequate drainage, and dig your hole to cover about 2/3rds of the root structure.
You should water the plant regularly, especially during hotter months. This will ensure that the leaves maintain their color and the plant stays hearty. The Broadleaf Lady Palm is highly resistant to temperature changes, but for the most part does well in tropical and subtropical climates. Fertilize with half-strength all-purpose fertilizer, and watch the leaves to get an indication of the plant’s overall health.
Indoors, you’ll follow those same rules but will need to carefully place your plant for optimal growth. Don’t place this plant in direct sunlight. Keep it in a well-lit room, but to the side of any windows or skylights so it isn’t getting bombarded by the sun. When the Lady Palm is in a pot, you’ll do well to remember that the roots grow to the bottom of the container rather than spreading throughout.
Know that your Lady Palm will grow at a relatively slow and steady rate, but once your palm is well established, you’ll be ready to start a routine of advanced care and cultivation.
Lady Palm Care
As houseplants, lady palms will fit easily into a corner of a room near a bright window. Their care isn’t overly complicated, though you will have to establish a regular watering and feeding routine. Plan both to water and feed more during the warmer months of the year and then back off slightly during the cooler months. Other than that, your palm should thrive in the indoor temperatures that you also would be comfortable in.
These palms don’t need a lot of pruning. Avoid removing fronds that have just a little browning (a fairly common sight on lady palms often due to inadequate water or light), as the plant still can use nutrients from those fronds. However, if an entire frond is discolored or dead, you may prune it off. These plants generally don’t have any serious pest or disease problems. But watch out for scale and spider mites, which can affect many houseplants. Signs of an infestation include wilting or yellowing leaves, a sticky substance or webbing on the leaves, and tiny light or dark dots along the plant. Treat your palm as soon as possible with an appropriate insecticide.
A spot that gets direct sunlight is not ideal for these palms; the unfiltered sun can cause leaf burn. When grown outdoors, lady palms like dappled light and can even tolerate a somewhat shady spot. Indoor palms should be placed where they can get bright indirect light near a window.
A loamy soil that has excellent drainage is best for lady palms. When grown in containers, a potting mix made especially for palms works well. African violet potting mix also is suitable.
Lady palms have average water needs and are somewhat tolerant of drought once they’re established. In the spring and summer, when most of the palm’s active growth is taking place, water whenever the top inch of soil feels dry. In the fall and winter, reduce watering to whenever the top 2 inches of soil feel dry.
Temperature and Humidity
Besides their compact size and light requirements, another factor that makes lady palms ideal for growing indoors is that they thrive in typical room temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. In the colder months, be sure your palm remains in temperatures above 55 degrees Fahrenheit, as anything colder can damage the plant. Protect your plant from cold drafts, as well as from blowing hot air (such as air from a heating vent) that can dry it out.
This palm prefers a humidity level at 50% or higher. Brown leaf tips can be a sign that the humidity is too low for the plant. To boost the humidity, you can regularly mist your palm with water from a spray bottle. Or place its pot on a tray of pebbles filled with water, making sure the pot isn’t sitting directly in the water as this can cause root rot.
Lady palms only need fertilization during the growing season. From around April to September, feed your palm monthly with liquid houseplant fertilizer diluted to half strength.
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.
Potting and Repotting
The lady palm doesn’t mind being a bit cramped in its pot. Initially, choose a pot that’s slightly larger than the size of the root ball. Make sure it has ample drainage holes.
Plan to repot your palm every other year in the spring into a slightly larger container. To do so, gently lift the roots out of the container, aiming to disturb them as little as possible and keep the root ball intact. Then, place the palm into its new container, and fill around it with fresh potting mix. Pack down the soil, and water it well.
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.
Scale insects on leaves 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.
White 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.
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:
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.
Never prematurely peel off the tubular green leaf encasing young shoots. This will cause permanent damage to the woody shoot underneath.
As the tree ages, lower leaves will become discolored. These should be pruned for the plants health.
Brown leafs are caused by extreme heat or lack of watering. Fix the problem and trim the brown leaves from the plant.
Black leaf tips are associated with over watering or over fertilizing. Fix the problem and trim the black leaves from the plant.
Any time that new growth dies, that entire shoot has become ill. It must be removed at soil level immediately to prevent poisoning of the entire plant.
Benefits of Lady Palm
1. Great Air Purifier
Research studies have found that lady palms, palm varieties, and indoor plants remove carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide from your living space.
Lady palms can easily create clean air in your home due to their natural ability to remove carbon dioxide.
2. Added Oxygen
The more leaves a plant has, the more oxygen it will produce from the carbon dioxide in the air.
A lady palm can not only remove carbon dioxide from the air but create oxygen from it.
A lady palm can effectively create clean air to have a positive impact on your living space.
3. Removal of Toxins From The Air
NASA has tested many indoor plants and their ability to filter toxins from their indoor environment.
In NASA’s indoor plant studies, all palm varieties, including the lady palm, are one of the top plants that can remove harmful chemicals and pollutants from your air.
A lady palm, including its sister plants, can remove formaldehyde, benzene, and ammonia.
Because of their natural ability to absorb carbon dioxide, they are also able to remove harmful particles from your living space.
Owning a broadleaf lady palm will help remove particles that can cause intrusive illnesses and sensory irritations like formaldehyde and ammonia.
4. Boosts Your Mental Health
With the removal of carbon dioxide and added oxygen in the air, a lady palm can create a positive impact on your mental well-being.
According to a research study, the added oxygen and removal of toxins will create a more productive workflow and headspace.
The presence of a lady palm will relieve negative emotions while creating an improved learning and working environment.
5. Humidify Your Home
Some research studies have found that the lady palm, including other palm varieties, can increase the amount of humidity in the air.
Palms can release almost 1 quart of water vapor per hour.
Dry air can cause some negative reactions to your environment. If air is too dry, the spread of viruses can increase, since they are able to survive for a longer amount of time.
An environment that is too dry can also affect your productivity level and have a negative impact on your quality of sleep.
Owning a lady palm will allow you to sleep easier, and have a higher work performance.
It can also potentially save you from a common cold or any other airborne virus.
6. Helps Fight Allergies
According to Zyrtec, the lady palm can benefit allergy sufferers. The palm can successfully filter the air and improve the air quality to aid people during the allergy season.
Since they also humidify your home, the added water vapor can lower the chances of an allergic reaction.
The lady palm is effectively able to remove harmful particles and create humid air to reduce allergic reactions and stuffy air.
7. Non-Toxic to Pets
Lady palms are great for pet owners as they are non-toxic to cats and dogs. Many houseplants are harmful to pets and can cause negative reactions if ingested.
The ASPCA has even listed the lady palm as a safe plant for pets.
The lady palm is a plant that you can add to your home without any worry about how it will affect your cats or dogs.
8. Low Maintenance
Lady palms are known as one of the easiest plants to own. They enjoy indirect sunlight and can even tolerate low light.
These plants can also handle most temperatures except for low winter temperatures below 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
The lady palm rarely needs fertilizer and only needs to be watered once or twice a week.
9. Hardy and Almost Impossible to Kill
Since the lady palm is low maintenance, if you forget about watering for one week, it will be able to survive until the next time you remember to water the plant.
It can also handle any type of potting soil, so if you mix up a ratio when repotting, it will not mind what it is potted in.
The palm can also withstand any type of temperature and sunlight. However, too much direct sun may burn its leaves.
10. Historical and Subtropical Style
The lady palm has been used as an indoor plant for the past 500 years in Asia and later Europe and North America.
Because of its history in Japan, to aid military commanders with goodwill and protection from people with bad intent, this plant can add historical symbolism and value to your living space.
Along with its benefits of cleaning the air and being non-toxic, the lady palm’s foliage can create a modern and subtropical aesthetic for your home.