lady palm

Lady Palm (Rhapis Excelsa): Types, How to Grow and Care

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Maybe it is the delicate leaves. Maybe it is the easy and forgiving nature of it. No matter the reason, a Lady Palm is a worthy addition to any home or garden. Read on to see how to take care of this elegant plant.

What is a Lady Palm Plant?

The Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa) is a delicate plant from the Palm family. This plant can also be called a broadleaf lady palm, rhapis palm or bamboo palm.

It is believed to have originated in South China and Taiwan and is the most popular species of Rhapis used in tropical landscaping. The name rhapis means ‘needle’ in Greek while excelsa is Latin for ‘tall’, referring to the needle-like segments of the leaves and the plant’s tall stature (1).

Like any other palm, Lady Palm is famous for their delicate foliage. The leaves are fan-shaped, glossy, and deep green in color. Each leaf can grow up to 20 inches long, divided into five ribbed oblong segments with toothed edges.

The leaves are borne in long, thin petioles growing from a bamboo-like cane which is why it is sometimes called ‘bamboo palm’. The plant itself can grow up to 6 to 15 feet in height (1,2).

Lady Palms along with other Rhapis species are first used by the Japanese to adorn Imperial palaces and temples (3). Nowadays they are mainly cultivated as indoor plants are found adorning many households and establishments around the world.

What are the Types and Cultivars of Rhapis excelsa?

There are three types of Lady Palms available in garden centers, green form, variegated form, and dwarf form (3).

Green Form 

This type of Lady Palm has all-green leaves. They have varying leaf shape and growth habits. Some examples of green form Lady Palms are ‘Koban’ and ‘Daruma.

Variegated Form 

This type is the most ornate of Lady Palms and a popular specimen for Japanese style gardens. They feature leaves with cream or light green stripes running along the ribs of each leaf segment. Some notable variegated cultivars are ‘Zuikonishiki’, ‘Zuiko-lutino’, ‘Chiyodazuru’, and ‘Kotobuki’.

Dwarf Form 

This type can grow up to 5 inches to 7 inches tall, but they are fast clumping. Perfect as tabletop or countertop specimens. Some examples of dwarf form cultivars are ‘Kodaruma’, ‘Gyokuho’, and ‘Tenzan’.

Rhapis Excelsa

How to Take Care for a Lady Palm Plant

Lady palms are really easy to care for. Their forgiving nature is one of the reasons why they are one of the sought-after ornamentals in the market. Here are some tips on how to take care of your Lady Palms at home.

How Much Sunlight Does a Lady Palm Need?

Lady Palms can tolerate full shade, but they grow best in bright and indirect or filtered light. When growing Lady Palms indoors, make sure to place them in areas where they can still get some sunlight.

Rotating the plants can help in distributing light in partial shade preventing asymmetric growth. Full sunlight on your Lady Palm plant can cause the leaves to take on a yellowish color. Keep them green and vibrant in shaded areas (2).

How Often Do You Water Lady Palms?

Despite their easy-going nature, Lady Palms cannot tolerate drought conditions. Water them regularly depending on the growth and weather conditions. Watering should be done by soaking the roots and then allowing the soil to dry out slightly before watering again (2).

For potted Lady palms, drenching the soil once a year can get rid of many impurities and excess salt in the soil (4).

What is the Optimum Temperature and Humidity for Lady Palms?

Lady palms grow best in normal room temperatures, but they can tolerate cold temperatures down to 46oF (8oC). In winter months, Lady Palms will go through a cold rest and grow more slowly than usual. Plants grown outdoors could develop freeze damage especially in the older, taller canes but the lower, younger offshoots will be protected (4).

These plants prefer a humid climate. Low humidity could cause the leaf margins to brown so keep them in a dry well if possible (5). 

What is the Best Growing/Potting Media for Lady Palms?

These plants grow in almost all soil that is well-draining. Best results can be seen in high organic, slightly acidic soil (6). An African violet mix is perfect for potting Lady Palms grown indoors. Make sure that all roots and the base of the canes are covered to retain moisture and to allow growth of new offshoots.

Root-bounding in Lady palms is normal and is actually encouraged so repotting should be done every couple of years. When repotting, make sure to keep the soil density firm and the water slowly seeping through. Do not pack the soil to avoid overwatering.

Do Lady Palms Need Fertilizer?

Lady Palms are slow growing and can benefit from occasional application of fertilizer. The elegant leaves would turn yellow when they need feeding. Fertilize using a special fertilizer formulated for palm plants such as a 12-4-12-4 fertilizer with micronutrients. Feed two or three times throughout the year (2).


Reference List

1.       “Rhapis excelsa”. Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder. (online)

2.       MacCubbin T., Tasker G. “Florida Gardener’s Guide”. Cool Springs Press. 2002. P 117.

3.       McKamey L. “Secret of the Orient, Dwarf Rhapis Excelsa: A ‘lady Palm’ Reference, Including Standard Rhapis Excelsa and Other Rhapis Palms”. Rhapis Gardens. 1983.

4.       McKamey L. “Rhapis Palms: Cultivated Species & Vartieties, Culture and Care of the ‘Ladies’”. PALMS. International Palm Society. 1989. 

5.       Zachos E. “Growing Healthy Houseplants: Choose the Right Plant, Water Wisely, and Control Pests.” Storey Publishing. 2014. P 109.

6.       Neal N. “Gardener’s Guide to Tropical Plants: Cool Ways to Add Hot Colors, Bold Foliage, and Striking Textures”. Cool Springs Press. P 178.


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