Plant lovers without much experience, who would like to get an exotic leaf decoration in the room, are well advised with the parlor palm.
This is because the daintily feathered Central American palm tree does not require any elaborate or particularly demanding care.
Chamaedorea is a moderately species-rich plant genus. However, its 107 species in total are quite diverse. Their areas of origin extend from Mexico to Brazil in South America.
Most species come from higher elevation habitats, with only a few also native to lowlands. What all species of Chamaedorea have in common, however, is their establishment in the understory of moist forests. They are therefore adapted to rather half-shady light conditions.
Of the various species of Chamaedorea, only Chamaedorea elegans, the parlor palm or neanthe bella palm, is actually relevant to the local houseplant culture. It originates in the mountainous regions of Mexico and Guatemala.
As already mentioned above, the species of the genus Chamaedorea are quite diverse. This already concerns their respective habitus.
So there are both upright growing, as well as prostrate or even climbing species. But all of them are rather small to medium-sized. Most species are single-stemmed, others also form clumps.
Chamaedorea elegans grows as an erect tree with a slender trunk with an umbrella-like leaf head. In its native habitat, it grows up to 10 ft (3 m) high and spreads its crown around 7 ft (2 m). In indoor cultivation, on the other hand, it usually only reaches a more manageable 4 ft (1.3 m) in height.
Parlor Palm As a Houseplant
As a houseplant, Chamaedorea elegans is extremely easy to care for, making it very suitable for beginners. It does not require excessive attention and is very tolerant of care errors.
Primarily because of its delicately pinnate, fresh green, and slightly shiny leaves, the parlor palm is valued as a foliage ornamental houseplant.
The leaves grow closely opposite at the top of the stem and have a filigree pinnate structure of 20 to 40 narrow, lanceolate individual leaves up to 6 inches (15 cm) long.
With the stem flattened at the top and rounded at the bottom, the palm fronds reach a total length of about 24 inches (60 cm).
The parlor palm forms very filigree, widely fanned out flower panicles with small, yellowish, spherical flowers throughout the entire vegetation period from spring to fall.
They do not stand out much visually from the green leaves, but the attentive observer can certainly enjoy their graceful structure.
The parlor palm is dioecious, that is, there are male and female specimens. If you have a female specimen, the flower also fills the room with a pleasant fragrance.
Which Location is Suitable for the Parlor Palm?
As an understory plant, the parlor palm is naturally not accustomed to direct sunlight. However, its equatorial origin requires quite a lot of brightness.
So indoors, you should offer it a light location where it is protected from direct sunlight. In the summer, you can also place it outside. But again, of course, you should place it in a shaded spot.
Since Chamaedorea elegans originates from the Central American mountain regions, it conveniently does not need tropical forest temperatures.
A living temperature of 68°F (20 °C), which is also comfortable for us, is ideal for it. In winter, on the other hand, it needs cooler temperatures of about 54 to 61 °F (12 to 16 °C), provided that you place emphasis on flower formation in the next vegetation phase.
An overwintering spot in an unheated stairwell is ideal. It may also provide some tropical cheer when you come home on wet, cold winter days.
The location requirements at a glance:
- The parlor palm should stand in a bright location, but protected from direct sunlight.
- Temperatures in summer should be moderately warm, around 68 °F (20 °C).
- Outdoor cultivation is possible, but the locations needs to be shaded.
- In winter it needs cooler temperatures around 54 to 61 °F (12-15 °C), so that there is a temperature incentive for flower formation in the next spring.
What Soil Does the Parlor Palm Need?
The parlor palm should grow in a loose, not too compact substrate. Potting soil especially for palms or for herbs is well suited.
You can make the soil a little more humic with a little compost. Good drainage of coarse sand or volcanic rock is definitely recommended because of the relatively high sensitivity to waterlogging.
The pH should be alkaline rather than acidic.
Soil requirements at a glance:
- A permeable substrate of palm or herb soil and some compost.
- Drainage of coarse sand or volcanic rock.
- The pH should be rather alkaline.
Watering the Parlor Palm
When watering the parlor palm, the simple rule of thumb is: not too little and not too much.
In concrete terms, this means that it should be kept evenly moist and not allowed to dry out, but waterlogging should also be avoided at all costs.
Give the palm plenty of water, especially during hot dry spells in summer, and make sure that the pot root ball always remains moist.
Nevertheless, you should not allow water to stand permanently in the saucer. In any case, the water should be absorbed by the plant before you water it again.
It is also recommended to take a dip once a week: immerse the pot completely in water and then let it drain well.
During the winter break, reduce watering a little. But even then the substrate should always remain slightly moist.
Watering rules in short:
- Not too little, not too much
- Always keep moist, but avoid waterlogging
- In summer, occasional dipping is recommended
- In winter, keep the plant only slightly moist
You can also keep Chamaedorea elegans in hydroponics. It is especially recommended for beginners or in offices, as it requires even less attention to watering and care.
Overall, hydroponics is also somewhat more hygienic, as there is less breeding ground for pests and allergens to colonize. So particularly sensitive people can also benefit from this.
However, it is important that the decision to use hydroponics is made right at the beginning. The parlor palm does not tolerate a change from soil culture to hydroponics well.
Its roots must be accustomed to this type of water and nutrient intake right from the start.
Place the parlor palm for hydroponics according to the very classic method in a planter with expanded clay and a water-nutrient solution as a base.
A water level indicator is important to always stay informed about the hydro status and to be able to refill in time.
What to consider with hydroponics:
- Suitable for beginners, offices, and allergy sufferers.
- If you want to go with hydroponics, then cultivate the palm from the beginning like this.
- The classic variant works best: expanded clay substrate over water nutrient solution with water level indicator.
Fertilizing the Parlor Palm Properly
You should fertilize a parlor palm only when it is mature. In its first year of life, the plant should have the opportunity to first develop its roots well.
Later, you can give it some universal liquid fertilizer from time to time during the growing season from early spring to late summer.
However, you should apply only a small amount and keep an interval of at least 2 to 3 weeks between fertilizer applications.
Diseases are generally not known in the parlor palm.
Pests can occasionally infest Chamaedorea elegans. It is most likely to be attacked by the most common of all houseplant parasites, spider mites, and scale insects. In both cases, too dry heating air is usually the cause.
If the substrate is too wet, fungus gnats can also colonize.
These tiny little animals colonize many houseplants and feed on their sap. The damage is initially manifested by the fine webs with which the reddish to yellowish or greenish mites cover their host plant.
Later, small spots appear on the leaves, which gradually expand into larger patches. Eventually, the leaves curl up and are shed.
However, a spider mite infestation can usually be detected and controlled at an early stage. The spray and foil method has proven effective here.
First, spray the palm with a strong water jet to remove the pests mechanically. In order to eradicate all of them, cover the plant completely with foil and seal it as airtight as possible at the bottom.
Under this, the mites will die within a week.
These somewhat larger parasites also feed on the plant sap of their host, leaving behind excretions called honeydew that stick to the area around the houseplant.
You can remove scale insects mechanically as well at first, by wiping them off the leaves with a damp cloth. Then apply a spray cure of garlic, nettle, or tansy decoction.
For more stubborn infestations, you can also use an oil preparation that will suffocate the pests.
Fungus gnats prefer to settle in wet soil substrates. For this reason alone, you should not keep the parlor palm permanently too moist.
The parasites are easy to spot because they buzz around the plant every time you water it. Then you should act quickly, because the larvae deposited in the soil eat all lower parts of the plant, especially the roots.
You can use sticky yellow traps to contain much of the population.
An entirely organic method is to use beneficial insects such as nematodes, which you can buy at specialty stores. If you let them out on the fungus gnats, they will satisfy their hunger immediately.
As a preventive measure, you can also keep carnivorous plants in the room. They also do a reliable service.
Brown Leaves On the Parlor Palm
In most cases, brown leaves on the parlor palm are an indication of drought. Either it has not received enough watering from below, or the surrounding air is too dry for it.
In any case, keep the pot ball evenly moist, or simplify your water supply by hydroponics. For higher indoor humidity, you can place a bowl of water on the heater. This will also benefit you.
An occasional spray shower is also good for the parlor palm.
Another reason for brown leaves can be sunburn. As an understory plant, the parlor palm does not tolerate direct sunlight.
So protect it in the nevertheless necessary bright location by shading it from other plants or even a thin cloth sail.
If the tips of the leaves of the parlor palm turn brown, the causes are the same as with completely brown leaves. Here you have only recognized the grievance earlier.
Of course, this also makes it easier to remedy. Immediately increase the amount or frequency of watering and, if necessary, increase the humidity in the room.
If the sun plagues the parlor palm too much, shade it from the direct sunlight.
Propagating the Parlor Palm
The easiest way to propagate a parlor palm is through shoots. These are formed regularly in the lower part of the plant as side shoots.
You can simply cut them off with a sharp knife and place them in a planter with growing soil. Grow it in a bright, warm place, protected from direct sun, keeping it evenly moist.
Conducive to growth is a uniformly warm and humid microclimate, which you can achieve by covering it with a foil.
Another method to propagate parlor palms is to grow them from seeds. You can either buy seeds in a store or collect some yourself from two parent plants.
However, this requires a little skill and motivation. This is because you first need a male and a female plant specimen so that fertilization is possible.
When both specimens are in bloom, brush the male and female flowers alternately for several days. You can then take the seeds from the ripened, blackish fruits.
Growing the seeds again requires a lot of patience. This is because they must first be soaked in water for about two days to loosen the hard capsule.
Once this is done, place them in growing pots and put them in a protected, bright, warm, and evenly humid place. A mini-greenhouse offers the highest chances of success.
Alternatively, you can also create a suitable microclimate by covering them with foil.
When the seedlings show themselves, they need some ventilation. When you have reached a stable size, you can move them to larger planters and continue cultivating them in a species-appropriate manner.
Is the Parlor Palm Poisonous?
It is not entirely clear whether the parlor palm is poisonous. It is often classified as harmless, while some experts attribute slight toxicity to it because of the saponins it supposedly contains.
In any case, however, the toxicity, if present at all, is weak. To minimize risks, however, you should place parlor palms rather high in households with small children and pets,. Collect and dispose of any fallen plant parts to be on the safe side.
Chamaedorea elegans Bella
This is the most common variety of parlor palms that you can usually purchase in local stores. Occasionally one may also find cultivars of other species such as the especially filigree Chamaedorea metallica or the Chamaedorea Ernesti-augustii.
Chamaedorea elegans Bella is characterized by its compact growth and shapely, fresh green palm fronds.
It grows up to 50 inches (130 cm) high and shows the typical dainty, panicle-shaped inflorescences with yellowish globular flowers. It can bloom throughout the entire growing season.