These choice, slow-growing fan palms are beautiful, extremely versatile, and easy to grow. Cultivated in China since the 17th century, they achieved star status in Japan, where the samurai collected multitudes of prized forms. The two species described here, both hardy to 18F, feature large, deep green leaves on sturdy canes like those of bamboo. In the Tropical and Coastal South, they may be grown outdoors in the shade, where they make excellent additions to foundation and understory plantings. Perfect for a large container in a Florida room. Elsewhere, they're wonderful, low-maintenance houseplants and patio plants (bring them indoors during cold weather). Because they take many years to reach a large size, lady palms command a premium price.
R. excelsa. LADY PALM. The only ornamental palms to have named selections in both green-leafed and variegated forms. Coarse, dark brown fiber covers the canes. Well adapted to summer heat.
Divided into three classes by size; most grow about as wide as tall. Standard forms grow to 14 ft. high; dwarf types to 58 ft.; mini-dwarfs to 4 ft. tall after 30 to 40 years. Selections include the following.
'Daruma'. Dwarf. Upright form. Resembles a small version of a standard lady palm.
'Gyokuho'. Mini-dwarf. Small, oval leaves and short, bushy habit. Grows only a few inches per year.
'Heiseinishiki'. Dwarf. Leaves are heavily variegated with broad, creamy yellow stripes.
'Koban'. Dwarf. Most popular selection. Full, spreading plant with large, wide leaves.
'Kodaruma'. Mini-dwarf. The shortest of all R. excelsa selections, often wider than tall. Good subject for bonsai.
'Tenzan'. Dwarf. Tallest of the dwarfs. Large, drooping leaves and slender canes.
'Zuikonishiki'. Dwarf. Leaves are elegantly striped in white and green.
R. humilis. SLENDER LADY PALM. The tallest of lady palms, sometimes exceeding 18 ft. highbut it grows only 3 ft. wide. Common name refers to slender canes. Large leaves are divided into many narrow segments. Despite its common name, all plants are male and must be propagated asexually.
These palms do best with light shade and fertile, well-drained soil. Outdoors, site in the shadow of the house or the shade of tall trees. Indoors, place in bright indirect light and let soil go dry between waterings (but when you do water, soak the entire root system). Feed monthly from spring through fall with a general-purpose liquid houseplant fertilizer diluted to quarter-strength. Yellowing leaves are typically a sign that more fertilizer is needed. Regular repotting isn't necessary, as lady palms prefer to be slightly rootbound. To get more plants, divide in spring or early summer.