Parlor Palm (Chamaedorea Elegans): History, Lifespan, Growth Rate, Problems & Care

Chamaedorea elegans, the neanthe bella palm or parlour palm, is a species of small palm tree native to the rainforests in Southern Mexico and Guatemala. The parlor palm is one of the most extensively sold houseplant palms in the world. It is one of several species with leaves that are harvested as xate.

This palm reaches a height of 2 to 6 feet when grown indoors. It can take years to reach full height, so it’s a slow grower. Its leaves are lush and green and also serve as excellent air purifiers, helping to keep your home’s air clean.

This plant was first discovered in the mid-1800s by a botanist named Carl Wendland. It gained popularity during the Victorian era when it adorned the parlors of affluent households, earning its common name.

As years went by, the Palm became a staple of indoor gardening, adding a touch of tropical ambiance to homes, offices, and public spaces. Its rise to popularity continued throughout the early 1900s, and it was often featured in paintings and illustrations of elegant interiors. In the 1950s, the Parlor Palm appeared in the film “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” and in the 1970s, it was featured in the TV show “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

This plant has gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. It prefers bright, indirect sunlight and well-drained soil. It can adapt to lower light conditions but might not grow as quickly. It thrives in temperatures between 65°F and 75°F, but it can tolerate slightly lower temperatures.

Characteristics of Parlor Palm

  • Size: It reaches a height of 2-6 feet (60-180 cm) when grown indoors. It can grow up to 6-16 feet in its natural habitat.
  • Growth Rate: The palm is a slow grower and can take years to reach its full height of 2 to 6 feet indoors.
  • Bark: Has a slender, cane-like stem that is green and can develop additional roots as the plant grows taller (Develop a ringed pattern where older fronds were attached).
  • Fronds: The leaves are lush, green, and have a pinnate shape with 21 to 40 linear to lanceolate leaflets. They can grow up to 23.62 inches long.
  • USDA Zones: It is hardy in USDA zones 10-12 where it can be grown outdoors.
  • Root System: Has a fibrous root system. Not known for causing problems by outgrowing their containers quickly. It can grow additional roots as the plant grows taller.
  • Lifespan: With proper care, it can live for many decades in a pot.
  • Light Tolerance: It prefers bright, indirect sunlight but can adapt to lower light conditions.
  • Temperature: It thrives in temperatures between 65°F and 75°F, but it can tolerate slightly lower temperatures.
  • Humidity: It prefers humidity levels around 40-60%.
  • Problems: Overwatering can be a problem for the Parlor Palm. It also can be susceptible to pests such as spider mites and mealybugs.
  • Toxicity: It is non-toxic to humans and pets.
  • Water: The Palm should be watered when the top few centimeters of soil have dried out. It is important to let the soil dry slightly out between waterings.
  • Soil: The Parlor Palm prefers well-drained soil.
  • Propagation: It can be propagated by division or from seed. Division is the easiest method, where a stem at the edge of the plant can be separated and replanted.

Parlor Palm Care

Place the palm in a location that gets bright, indirect sunlight. Too much direct sun can scorch the leaves, and too much shade will stunt growth. Plants should be watered about once a week in the summer; check the top inch of the soil and only water when it feels fully dry. In the winter, when growth is slower, you may only need to water once every few weeks.

Parlor palms do need fertilization but prefer to be fed infrequently. Younger plants that are still establishing growth should be lightly fertilized every three to four weeks; alternately, a slow-release fertilizer can feed the plant for up to three months before reapplication.

Once the palm has reached its mature size, fertilizing once or twice during the summer should be adequate. In either case, don’t fertilize too much during the winter, when the palm goes dormant; this risks unused fertilizer buildup which can create a number of salts that are bad for the parlor palm.

While some plants thrive with frequent pruning, the parlor plant does not, loss of healthy leaves and stems can shock the plant and damage the entire system. You will want to cut away stems that have turned yellow or brown and stems that have died naturally. Otherwise, don’t disturb the plant. While these palms can technically be propagated by separating one stem from the others and replanting, doing so can cause foliage on the original plant to die as it adjusts.

Common Problems of growing Parlor Palm

  • Brown Leaf Tips: Underwatering is a common issue, especially for new plant owners. Remember, it’s better to underwater than overwater your Parlor Palm. Ensure the top inch of soil dries out before watering again.
  • Yellowing Leaves: Overwatering is a culprit, as it can lead to root rot, causing the leaves to lose their vibrancy. Alternatively, insufficient light, especially for extended periods, can also contribute to yellowing leaves. Nutrient deficiency from infrequent fertilization can be another factor.
  • Pests: While relatively pest-resistant, Parlor Palms can be susceptible to spider mites and mealybugs, especially in dry conditions. Regularly inspect your plant for signs of infestation, such as webbing (spider mites) or cottony white patches (mealybugs). Neem oil spray or insecticidal soap can be effective for eliminating these pests.
  • Stunted Growth: If your Parlor Palm seems to be growing very slowly or not at all, it could be due to several factors. Inadequate light, particularly a lack of bright, indirect sunlight, can hinder growth. Check your plant’s placement and ensure it receives the appropriate light conditions. Additionally, nutrient deficiency from infrequent fertilization can also lead to stunted growth. Consider a balanced liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength during the spring and summer months.
  • Crispy Leaves: Crispy or dry leaves can be caused by a combination of factors. Low humidity, especially during winter months, can make the leaf tips dry and crispy. Misting the leaves regularly or using a pebble tray filled with water can help increase humidity around your plant. Additionally, exposure to excessive heat or cold drafts can also contribute to crispy leaves. Ensure your Parlor Palm is positioned away from heating vents or air conditioners.
  • Drooping Fronds: While Parlor Palms naturally have arching fronds, severely drooping fronds can indicate a problem. Overwatering is a major culprit, as it can weaken the stems and cause the fronds to droop. Allow the soil to dry out completely before watering again. In extreme cases of overwatering, root rot might be present, requiring repotting in fresh, well-draining soil.

How to Root a Parlor Palm

Parlor palms are most often grown from seeds or a division cut from an existing plant. Since parlor palm seeds may take several months to germinate, dividing an existing plant is an attractive option for quickly starting new plants.

  • Purchase or obtain a plant pot that measures at least 1 foot deep with a diameter of at least 8 inches. Make sure that your plant pot has several drainage holes in its base. If you are reusing an old pot, clean it with a solution of bleach and water to kill any bacteria or fungus growing on the pot.
  • Mix your perlite and peat moss together in equal parts. Add this mixture to your plant pot until it is nearly full. Leave a gap of 1 inch between the soil and the top of your plant pot.
  • Place a parlor palm seed into the soil near the center of the plant pot. Gently push the seed down into the soil and cover it with 1/4 inch of soil. Lightly water the soil so that it is damp to the touch.
  • Insert a small thermometer into the soil near the side of the pot so that you can read the temperature without removing the thermometer. Cover the open top of the plant pot with plastic wrap and secure it with a rubber band to hold the plastic firmly in place.
  • Move your plant pot to a shaded area and put your heating pad underneath it. Apply heat to the pot until the thermometer reads 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat the pot as often as necessary to maintain this temperature but do not exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Remove the plastic covering and check the moisture content of the soil every 2 to 3 days. Water the pot as often as necessary so that the soil is damp to the touch when you stick your finger in the soil. Replace the plastic covering and secure it with the rubber band after each watering.
  • Once your palm seed germinates, remove the plastic covering from the pot and maintain a temperature of at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Continue watering your palm often enough to maintain a moist growing environment.

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