The lady palm, or Rhapis excelsa, is a small fan palm that can do exceedingly well indoors under the right conditions. It grows from multiple stems, each topped with upright fronds. As the name implies, the fronds are split into fan-like segments. The lady palm, sometimes called the bamboo palm or miniature fan palm, is the best suited of all the fan palms to indoor cultivation. Most of the others, such as the imposing Washingtonia or the European fan palm, quickly grow too large for the average room.
Light: Dappled light is best during the summer. In winter, it can tolerate light shade.
Water: Water liberally during the summer, ensuring perfect drainage. In winter, reduce watering to once a month or every other week, depending on the temperature.
Temperature: In summer, it thrives at 70ºF. In winter, keep above 55ºF and do not expose to drafts.
Soil: Rich, loose potting media. Use pebbles or sand to increase drainage.
Fertilizer: Slow-release pellets in the beginning of the growing season or biweekly liquid fertilizer. Don’t feed in winter.
Propagation by seed is possible, but it’s unlikely the palm will flower and produce viable seeds in most indoor settings. More mature plants can be divided during repotting, or the small suckers around the base can be carefully separated and potted independently. Divided palms often go into shock and their growth rate will slow dramatically.
As with other palms, the R. excelsa and other Rhapis palms do well slightly underpotted. Repot every other year in spring. Do not disturb roots more than necessary while repotting, but transfer intact root ball into the new pot. While repotting, make sure the new pot is well drained.
- R. humilis. A smaller clumping palm that grows to about 3 feet tall. This palm’s stems are covered with red fibers and the leaves are finely textured and deeply divided.
- R. excelsa. The most popular Rhapis palm. Grows to about 6 feet and forms a dense bush-like clump of stems with upright leaves.
Rhapis palms are great plants for the casual palm-lover with moderate space. Even the best R. excelsa will only grow to about 6 feet in height, with a fairly narrow, upright crown, making it perfect for a bright, warm corner. Make sure the plant is well fed during the summer and adequately watered (although no palm should sit in water, so remember to pay attention to drainage). Don’t overtrim brown fronds at the expense of the mother plant.