The bamboo palm houseplant, also known as Rhapis excelsa, is a long-standing favorite for indoor gardeners. The plant is native to Southern China and Taiwan and has been used in gardens since the 18th century. When grown indoors, these plants can be treated almost exactly like other houseplants, but they do require more water to avoid wilting.
About the Bamboo Palm
Bamboo palms are slow-growing and can be kept to as little as a foot tall indoors. To control their height, you’ll want to use a smaller pot and trim them regularly. Their petite size makes them perfect for small spaces or desks near windows where you want a little greenery without taking up too much room. (Outdoors, they can grow as tall as 12 feet!)
A bamboo palm houseplant will live for many years when treated with proper care, but it may eventually succumb to pests or root rot if not monitored for these issues.
History of the Bamboo Palm as a Houseplant
The bamboo palm houseplant has been used in gardens for centuries. The first references to the plant date back to 1727, where a botanist’s journal mentions seeing them growing near orchards and rice paddies in China.
In the 18th century, Europeans began planting these plants in their homes as well. Their popularity is linked with that of cacti and other tropical plants which became popular around this period.
Around 1900-1930, an American nurseryman propagated Rhapis excelsa by crossing it with another species called Rhapis Rubra (Taiwanese red umbrella). People eventually came to know this hybrid simply as “Bamboo Palm.”
The Best Environment for Bamboo Palms
The bamboo palm houseplant thrives best when temperatures are between 65°F and 80°F. They prefer a humid climate, so a bathroom often makes a good home for them.
Potting Needs of Bamboo Palms
You can pot bamboo palms in any pot with adequate drainage holes: you can use clay pots if you keep the soil moist; plastic pots are perfectly acceptable; terracotta pots hold humidity better than other pots as long as you water them sparingly during winter months when plants are dormant.
Repotting the Bamboo Palm Houseplant
It’s best not to report this plant until the edges begin creeping out over the edge of its pot, roots are visible through drainage holes in the bottom, or leaves appear wilted even following a proper watering schedule. You’ll want to pot the plant into larger containers only if you want to keep propagating them from cuttings. Otherwise, they grow too easily on their own and can quickly fill up an entire room!
Pruning Bamboo Palm Plants
Trim bamboo palm plants often. After a while, they will become top-heavy and you’ll need to cut them back with large scissors to avoid breaking the plant’s stem. The easiest way to do this is by holding the palm tree at its base and cutting it back with scissors.
Lighting Conditions for the Bamboo Palm
The bamboo palm houseplant prefers indirect sunlight with protection from the direct midday sun, high temperatures, and drafts.
Watering Your Bamboo Palm
You’ll want to water your bamboo palm plants about once a week. Depending on the season and your location, you may have to water it more often during dry periods or less frequently if the plant is in a humid environment.
The best time of day to water your plant is in the morning because roots need 12 hours between waterings due to heat absorption from sunlight during daytime (and plants drink less than).
Fertilizer Recommendations for Bamboo Palm Plants
Fertilize bamboo palm plants every two weeks using a balanced houseplant fertilizer diluted to half strength.
For a mature plant, mix up about one cup of water with a half teaspoonful (approx. 17 g) of calcium nitrate and two tablespoonfuls (approx. 28 ml) of a quality fertilizer powder, to create your own fertilizer solution. For smaller plants or cuttings not yet rooted in soil, use more diluted measurements according to their size:
Seedling: Add ¼ tsp soluble 20% nitrogen per gallon (128mL/L) of filtered water; apply every week until you observe root growth – usually within four weeks.
Small Plant Cut from Parent Plant: Mix ½ tsp soluble 20% nitrogen per gallon (128 mL/L) of filtered water; apply every week until you see root growth
Pot-Bound or Dormant Plant: Mix ¼ tsp soluble 20% nitrogen per gallon (128 mL/L) of filtered water and apply every two to three months.
Fun Facts About Bamboo Palm Plants
- Many consider bamboo palm plants as a sign of good luck!
- The name “rhapis” comes from the Greek word meaning “shade.”
- Rhapis excelsa originated in China. People used the plant as screens and hedges around rice paddies, orchards, and vegetable gardens. Wealthy families also treasured them as indoor decorative plants. People typically grew them near windowsills in clay containers with drainage holes at the bottom that collected excess water.
- In Chinese culture, bamboo palms symbolize wisdom because they can live up to 100 years old while still maintaining lush green leaves; this quality makes them seem wise. It’s said that anybody who has one will not go through any difficulties throughout their life.
- People often dry bamboo palms and burn them as an herb. They also make a great decoration for home altars or on mantles, if you trim them regularly so their trunks don’t become too heavy.
- Rhapis excelsa originated in Asia but you can find it throughout much of North America today, except for parts of Alaska and Canada due to cold weather conditions. The most popular locations include California, Florida, and Louisiana because they provide the perfect humid environment.
FAQs About Bamboo Palm Plants
These plants prefer bright-indirect light such as sun coming through windows from an eastern exposure. They will also thrive under fluorescent lighting but will grow slowly and begin to lose their color if the artificial lights are too close to them. Keeping grow lights at least 8-12 inches from your plant’s leaves should work well.
If your plant has grown roots filling its container or needs more room for growing stalks, simply repot the plant into a larger pot. However, be aware that a larger container will generally mean a larger plant. If you don’t want your plant to grow very tall, simply trim some of the roots and keep it in its smaller pot. In any case, just be sure that your plant has drainage and does not sit in water.
It is best to keep your bamboo palm near a window that receives indirect natural light. This will help ensure its leaves remain green. Other than that, just make sure you have good circulation and frequent airflow around the plant. Avoid cooler areas of the room since cold temperatures can cause yellowing on the leaves.
The main thing to remember when watering your bamboo palm is that it must be watered sparingly. You want the soil to dry out between waterings; otherwise, the roots may rot and kill the plant. Put your finger in the soil; if it feels moist, don’t water yet! In addition to watering, you will also want to mist the leaves of your plant frequently.