Kentia Palm (Howea Forsteriana): History, Lifespan, Growth Rate, Problems & Care

Howea forsteriana, the Kentia palm, thatch palm, palm court palm, Sentry palm or paradise palm is a species of flowering plant in the palm family, Arecaceae. It hails from the lush rainforests of Lord Howe Island in Australia. It is also widely grown on Norfolk Island in the South Pacific Ocean, but thrives indoors in many parts of the world. It is a relatively slow-growing palm, eventually growing up to 10 m tall by 6 m wide.

The Kentia Palm is a low-maintenance plant that’s easy to care for. It prefers bright, indirect light and temperatures between 65°F and 85°F. Just like us humans, it enjoys a bit of humidity, so placing it on a dish of moist pebbles or misting it a few times a week can work wonders.

The Kentia Palm can be grown from seeds, but it’s a bit of a slow process. The seeds need to be soaked in warm water and then sown in a well-drained soil in partial shade at a temperature between 85 and 104°F. Its fronds can reach 3 m (10 ft) long.

As potted plants Kentias are fairly tolerant of neglect: they can withstand low-light conditions, low humidity, infrequent watering and cool temperatures. However, it is advisable to give Kentias bright, indirect light to encourage growth and a more robust appearance; Kentias placed in dark corners with little natural light tend to look leggy and grow very slowly. In the northern hemisphere, a northern or northeastern window is best, as greenhouse-grown Kentias cannot tolerate direct sun and will sunburn if placed in such an exposure


This palm is a bit of a celebrity in the plant world, having been a popular houseplant in the UK since Victorian times. It was even considered a status symbol back then, showcased in parlors and drawing rooms.

The palm gets its common name from the capital of Lord Howe Island, Kentia, and the genus name, Howea, from the island itself. The species name “forsteriana” is after Johann Reinhold Forster and Georg Forster, father and son, who accompanied Captain Cook as naturalists on his second voyage to the Pacific in 1772–1775.

During the Edwardian era, around 4 million seeds were harvested annually on Lord Howe Island to satisfy the market for Kentias. In 1912, a Judicial Royal Commission was formed in Australia to investigate the cultivation and marketing of the palm on the island. At the beginning of the 21st century, production of Kentia palm seeds globally stood at between 30 and 40 million.

Characteristics of Kentia Palm (Howea Forsteriana)

  • Air-purifier: Kentia palms good in that they help remove common toxins like formaldehyde and benzene from the indoor environment.
  • Size: Indoors, Kentia palms typically reach heights of 6-10 feet (1.8-3 meters) with a slow growth rate of about 6-12 inches (15-30 cm) per year. Outdoors, in suitable climates, they can grow much taller, exceeding 30 feet (9 meters).
  • Growth Habit: The palms have a single, slender trunk with a crown of arching fronds. As the palm matures, the older fronds at the bottom die off naturally, leaving behind rings on the trunk. These rings are a unique characteristic and add to the palm’s charm.
  • Fronds: The fronds dark green, glossy, and can grow up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) long. Each frond consists of numerous leaflets that droop gracefully.
  • Root System: They have a fibrous root system that is well-suited for growing in pots. However, they are not known for being aggressive rooters.
  • Bark: The trunk has a smooth texture when young and develops a slightly rougher texture with age. It’s important to note that Kentia palms don’t have true bark like some trees. Instead, the trunk retains the remains of old leaf sheaths at the base, which can give it a thatched appearance.
  • USDA Zones: They are not winter hardy and are best suited for USDA zones 10b-11. In these zones, they can be grown outdoors year-round. In colder climates, they are popular indoor plants.
  • Lifespan: With proper care, they can live for decades, potentially over 100 years in its natural habitat.
  • Light Tolerance: They are adaptable to light conditions, thriving in bright indirect light to low light environments.
  • Soil: They prefer a well-draining potting mix. A combination of potting soil, perlite, and orchid bark can be ideal.
  • Water: Kentia palms don’t require frequent watering. In fact, underwatering is better than overwatering. Allow the soil to dry out slightly between waterings.
  • Propagation: They can be propagated by division, ideally when repotting a mature plant. Carefully divide the root ball with several fronds per section. Pot the divisions individually with fresh potting mix and provide warmth and humidity until new growth establishes.
  • Toxicity: They are considered non-toxic to humans and pets, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

Growing Kentia Palm

When planting a kentia in the ground, break up the soil in an area two times larger than the container the kentia was previously grown in. If the soil lacks fertility or is poorly drained, working organic matter like well-rotted compost or manure into the planting site so it composes up to 50 percent of the soil will improve drainage and add nutrients to the soil. Plant the kentia so that the part of the palm where the stem meets the root system is at the soil surface level. Fertilize the plant with a slow-release fertilizer at the time of planting and provide it with regular water throughout the period of establishment.

When growing in containers, ensure that the container has adequate drain holes and, if necessary, a plate or other catch to receive water under the container. Containers of any number of materials prove suitable for kentia cultivation, but soil in pots made of porous materials like terracotta dries out much faster than soil in plastic containers. Kentia does perform well when pot-bound, so choosing a durable, heavy planter will help to keep the plant from tipping over after several years when it grows large enough to become top-heavy and thus limit the need for replanting. As the kentia grows, however, it will require occasional transplanting into slightly larger containers.

If planting the kentia directly in the ground outdoors, plant it at a site where it will receive partial or full shade when it is young. The kentia is not salt-tolerant and requires protection from frost and high winds. Create and maintain a turfgrass-free ring around the base of the palm to minimize competition for water and nutrients with the kentia roots. Kentia grown indoors in containers grow best when they receive bright light but tolerate low-light conditions.

Commonly Problems That Affect Kentia Palm

  • Root Rot: This is a fungal disease that can lead to the decay of the roots, causing the plant to wilt and leaves to turn yellow or brown. It’s often a result of overwatering, so make sure to let the soil dry out between waterings to prevent this issue.
  • Leaf Spot: This disease is characterized by brown or black spots on the leaves. It’s caused by a variety of fungi and can be prevented by avoiding overhead watering and ensuring good air circulation around the plant.
  • Cylindrocladium Leaf Spot: This is a fungal disease that causes irregular brown or black spots on the leaves. It’s important to quarantine your plant and prune all affected foliage to prevent spread.
  • Red Spider Mites: These tiny pests can cause yellowing and dropping of leaves. They thrive in dry conditions, so maintaining a humid environment around your Kentia Palm can help prevent infestations.
  • Mealybugs: These are small, white, cottony insects that can infest the plant and cause yellowing and dropping of leaves. They can be controlled with insecticidal soap or by wiping them off with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol.

Maintenance and Care

The Kentia palm must have a moderate watering schedule; not too dry, not too wet. The palm is getting too much water if the fronds are browning with speckling or yellowing tips. The Kentia’s fronds will weaken and brown if the palm isn’t getting enough water. Mist the palm with water to remove dust and provide a source of humidity.

Prune the palm’s dry, brown fronds close to the trunk and from the bottom up, but do not remove all of them at once. Remove new blooms from the palm if you don’t want to keep the seeds or fruit. Fertilize your outdoor Kentia palm tree twice a year with a 3-1-3 mixture of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. A commercial bug killer such as malathion, or organic remedies such as insecticidal soap or diluted ammonia will kill pests such as beetles, mealy bugs and mites.

Growing Kentia Palm From Seeds

Seeds from the Kentia palm’s fruits also propagate the tree. The seeds typically germinate within three months to several years, and the palm itself grows slowly. Healthy Kentia palm seeds are orange or reddish in color. Kentia palm fruits can take up to four years to mature. Mature Kentia palm fruits are a pale dark red.

-Remove them from the palm and soak them in warm water. After several days, pull the fruits off of the seeds.

– Clean the seeds so that no fruit residue remains-it can cause fungi to grow. To germinate the seeds, either place them in a sealable plastic bag with soil mix or put them in planting trays.

-Water the soil so that the seeds are hydrated, but drain out excess moisture. Place the bag or planting trays in indirect sunlight. Temperatures between 65 degrees Fahrenheit and 75 degrees Fahrenheit will help the germination process.

Transplanting a Mature Kentia Palm

Moving any mature palm tree can be risky, but healthy Kentia palms with thick, woody trunks are fairly resilient. Transplant palms in the spring or early summer when the soil is warm. Choose a location where the palm tree can grow freely; it must have ample space to spread. Dig a hole in the ground that is as deep as the tree’s current container and twice as wide as the size of the palm’s root ball.

Lift the tree from the bottom, and place it in the hole. Fill the area around the roots with soil and give it a couple of inches of water. Add more soil to fill the hole, and place mulch around the tree. Secure the tree if its trunk is bending by placing cloth strips around its trunk and attaching them to three wooden stakes placed into the ground in a triangular shape.