The Areca Palm or butterfly palm Dypsis lutescens formerly known as Chrysalidocarpus lutescens is a long lasting tropical houseplant that is grown for its graceful feather-like arching fronds composed of many thin yellow-green leaflets with an elegant look. Show it off in a pot of good quality. They are native to Madagascar and will grow to a great height, 20’ (6m) in the wild but only 6’-9’ (2-3m) in a pot in your home. The clustered stems will appear bamboo-like indicating previous leaf stalks. New fronds grow from the roots which keeps it bushy. They are slow growing with new fronds unfurling at a leisurely rate of 2-3 a year. As a bonus they will remove toxins from the air in your home.
Light and Temperature
This palm likes bright indirect or curtain filtered sunlight (400 ft candles). An east facing window in winter is fine. A northern window will be fine if you live in a location that has 70% sunny days like Arizona or southern California. If you have only 45-55% sunny days like Michigan it would not be enough light. The more sunlight it receives the more yellow in the leaf and the more quickly they will grow. In the wild small plants grow in the shade of many taller plants and can not tolerate as much light as more mature plants. Direct sun may burn the fronds.
Placing spot lights on the Areca palm will add dramatic shadows and reflections on walls and ceilings. The light from a fireplace will throw dancing patterns.
Your palm will thrive with an outdoor vacation for the summer if you have a nice shady spot.
Keep the night temperatures from 60-70 F (15.55 – 21 C), down as low as 55 F (12.8 C) in the winter months and the day temperatures from 75-85 F (24 -29.4 C).
Keep the soil moist, drying out only a bit between waterings from spring through fall and empty standing water. The fine roots will rot if left standing in water so provide a pot with lots of drainage holes and plenty of drainage material (pea gravel) at the bottom. This houseplant needs a winter rest with cooler temperatures and less water from late fall to early spring. It will tolerate central heating but dislikes drafts and sudden changes of temp but for the slight drop at night.
Areca palm care is quite easy. They appreciate humid conditions and would do well on a tray of wet pebbles. A daily mist will help keep pests at bay.
Clean fronds from time to time with wet cloth so your palm can ‘breathe’. They are sensitive to salts and minerals so do not use softened water. The soil needs flushing in the fall to get all the salts and fertilizer minerals through and to freshen the soil for the winter months. Some municipalities use fluoride along with chlorine in their treatments which the Areca palm does not tolerate well. Let water sit overnight so the chlorine and fluoride will evaporate and water temperature will be same as room temperature so there will be no shock from cold water from the tap.
1 part loam, 1 part sphagnum peat or leaf mold, 1 part coarse sand and ½ part well-rotted or dried cow manure will be a nice light mix for your Areca palm. To each pail full add 2 T bone meal. If you use a good commercial light potting soil mix do not add bone meal as it probably already in there. When potting be sure to firm the fresh soil around the soil ball especially well.
Use a diluted balanced fertilizer every 3-4 weeks from spring until fall. If your palm is newly potted wait until the following spring to begin feeding as the soil will have enough nutrients to get through the first year.
The Areca palm very rarely flowers potted or indoors but should you be so lucky you may see small bright yellow flowers that grow from beneath the leaves. They turn into a light green to yellow 1” fruit changing to yellow-orange as they ripen. They are not edible.
Areca palms grow best in relatively small pots. Don‘t re-pot unnecessarily. Re-pot in spring only if root growth begins to push the plant out of its pot. Perhaps every 3 years for a mature plant. Top dress annually once the pot has reached optimal size.
Palms are most often propagated from seeds. Seeds do not store well; sow as soon as possible. Seeds are first soaked in hot sulfuric acid solution. They are best germinated in peat in a propagator and kept moist, humid and warm, 80-85 degrees F. It may take 4-6 weeks to germination.
You can propagate by division when you have several new fronds that are 12” high at the bottom of a plant that also has several 3’+ fronds by gently teasing the roots apart. It may be necessary to rinse dirt away to find an appropriate place to separate the fronds into more than one plant.
Among the pests that might affect your plant are spider mites (mottled, grayish dry-looking leaves), aphids (sticky substance on leaves and create pale, twisted leaves), mealybugs (cottony looking insect creating weak, withered yellow leaves) and white fly (yellow, withering leaves).
If infected you can begin with a mist of mild soapy water solution once or twice a day to the undersides of the leaves and wipe the fronds gently with a soft cloth dampened with soapy water. If you need to use an insecticide be sure to read the packaging carefully as palms are very sensitive to chemicals. Be certain it is OK for palms specifically.
Keeping the humidity up will help keep pests at bay.
Yellow leaves and brown leaf spots as they may be an indication that the plant is too dry. If the leaves are too yellow it could be due to too much fertilizer or fertilizing too often. Some brown leaf tips are normal. Don’t be tempted to trim brown tips as this may stop the growth of the frond; just remove it completely.
The Areca palm is one of the very best plants for removing indoor air toxins. It removes CO2 and converts it into oxygen. It is also a good humidifier that adds moisture to the air.
Aliases – Cane Palm, Madagascar Palm, Golden Feather Palm, and Yellow Palm.
Excellent for hydro-culture (growing plants in water and absorbent clay stones) if properly acclimated to the purpose.
Victorian or Edwardian twentieth-century homes originally displayed the Areca palm on ceramic palm stands as a showpiece. Their tropical nature can be shown by grouping them with ferns and begonias in a nice display.