How to grow Howea forsteriana, the beautiful Kentia Palm

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Written By Martin Cole

Plantsman, gardener, plant-obsessive

Howea forsteriana

Howea forsteriana: the verdict

Howea Forsteriana, the Kentia Palm, is truly the classic palm tree. With its graceful, arching dark green leaves, it adds elegance and class to any room. That is why you’ll find it in expensive hotels (like the Ritz, pictured below), and why it it was even a feature plant on the Titanic.

Howea forsteriana originates from the semi-tropical paradise of Lord Howe Island off the east coast of Australia. But its is resilience to varied indoor conditions and its ability to purify the air, make it well worth growing as a houseplant. It is pretty easy to care for too, if you follow the care guidance below. But its slow growth rate means that a decent sized specimen can be expensive.

  • Ease of Care: 4/5 – You need to get the light conditions right and not over-water it.
  • Visual Appeal: 5/5 – Stunning classic palm.
  • Value for Money: 4/5 – Initial cost can be high for larger plants. So you need to take care of your investment.
Howea forsteriana - the Kentia Palm

Basic Needs

Light

Moderate

Water: growth period

Moderate

Water: dormancy

Low

Humidity

/ Low to moderate

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4.5 Star House Plant

Pros

Visual impact

Air purifier

Low light tolerant

Elegance and presence

Cons

Slow growing

Sensitive to over-watering

Cost

Can collect dust

Howea forsteriana

Howea forsteriana

Uk

Star Ratings

We rate plants overall from 1 to 5 stars based on individual ratings for ease of care, visual appeal and value for money.

Full details of care requirements for the plant are in the care guide below.

Howea forsteriana in the Ritz Hotel, London
Howea forsteriana in the Palm Court at the Ritz, London by RT6HPU. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Howea Forsteriana quick care guide

The Kentia Palm is not especially hard to look after and it can withstand a range of temperature and light conditions. But you need to take care not to allow the soil to get soggy and waterlogged.

  • Light Requirements: Bright, indirect light; avoid direct sunlight to prevent leaf scorch. Mature Kentia Palms can tolerate full sun, but younger palms should be kept in indirect light.
  • Water Requirements: Water when the top inch of soil feels dry; avoid soggy soil.
  • Humidity Requirements: Prefers moderate humidity; misting or using a pebble tray is a good idea in very dry environments.
  • Temperature Requirements: Ideal range is 65-77°F (18-25°C). Can tolerate temperatures up to 86°F (30°C) and brief periods down to about 50°F (10°C).
  • Potting Soil Requirements: Well-draining, acidic to slightly alkaline soil; a mix of coir, sand, and loam is ideal.
  • Fertiliser Requirements: Balanced, water-soluble fertiliser monthly during the growing season.
  • Propagation: Mainly through seed; division is possible when multiple palms are potted together.
  • Repotting: Every 2-3 years or when roots outgrow the pot, using a pot that allows excess moisture to evaporate.
  • Pruning: Minimal; remove only dead or yellowing fronds.
  • Maintenance: Keep the leaves free of dust. In summer hose the plant down outside. In winter, use a soft brush or cloth.

Read more about house plant care in general in our comprehensive guide to the 7 critical requirements of house plant care here.

Howea forsterian

Howea Forsteriana key facts

Outside, in optimal conditions Howea Forsteriana can grown up to 40 feet (12m) or more, developing a tall thin trunk. They are expensive as house plants because they are slow growing and the export of seeds from Lord Howe Island is tightly controlled.

If you get what seems like a multi-stemmed Kentia Palm, it is really several plants whose seeds have been sown together to create a bushier look.

  • Scientific Name: Howea forsteriana
  • Meaning of Name: Named after Lord Howe Island and the botanists, Johann and Georg Forster, who travelled with Captain Cook on his second Pacific voyage.
  • Common Names: Kentia Palm, Thatch Palm, Sentry Palm
  • Plant Family: Arecaceae
  • Origin: Lord Howe Island, Australia
  • Type of Plant: Evergreen palm
  • Indoor Size: Up to 10 feet indoors (much taller in natural habitat)
  • Foliage: Long, arching, dark green fronds with a lovely sheen to them
  • Flower: Insignificant creamy white flowers; unlikely to flower indoors
  • Fruit: Small oval fruits; non-edible
  • Toxicity: Non-toxic to pets and people

Light

Kentia Palms prefer bright, indirect light but can adapt to lower light conditions. Avoid direct sunlight, which can scorch the leaves.

House plant bright light
Howea forsteriana: ideal location for optimum light

Propagation

You can only divide the Kentia Palm if more than one seedling has been sown in the pot. Beware that if you do divide in that case, your separated palms and going to look a bit sparse.

Otherwise, you have to grow these palms form seed. If you do, you’ll need to be patient as germination can take several months.

Common Problems and Solutions

Howea Forsteriana troubleshooting guide

Leaves and shoots

  • Leaf-spot: Look out for brown or yellow spots on leaves. These can be caused by fungal or bacterial infections, often due to poor air circulation or prolonged leaf wetness.
  • Powdery mildew: This appears as white powdery patches on leaves and stems. Increase air circulation and use fungicidal sprays if necessary.

Pests

  • Spider mites, mealybugs, and scale insects: These can be a problem. Treat with insecticidal soap or neem oil.

Diseases

  • Southern blight: This is a soil-borne fungal disease that causes stem rot and wilting. Repot into fresh soil.

Winter care

During winter, reduce watering as the plant’s growth slows down. Ensure the plant is kept away from cold drafts and maintain indoor humidity.

Read more about how to overwinter your house plants here.

Buy

So, if you’ve got this far and are feeling like you can’t resist this beautiful plant, I’ve listed some buying options below – depending on whether you are US or UK based.

The buy links are affiliate links, which means I’d be paid a (very) small commission if you go on and buy after clicking these links. But that does not affect the price you pay.

Howea forsteriana

US Buyers

Howea forsteriana

UK Buyers

Uk

Other Howea palms

There is only one other species of Howea – Howea belmoreana (the Belmore Sentry Palm or Curly Palm). The leaves are curled as the common name suggests. It is worth seeking out as it does well in low light conditions.

Other great palms

Read our guide to the best indoor palms to grow and our individual guides to caring for these other indoor palms:

Key references and resources

Alloway, Z and Bailey (F). (2018) RHS Practical House Plant Book: Choose The Best, Display Creatively, Nurture and Care, Royal Horticultural Society, UK.

Camilleri,L and Kaplan, S. (2020), Plantopedia: The Definitive Guide to Houseplants, Smith Street Books.

Hessayon, Dr D.G. (1991) The New House Plant Expert, PBI Publications, UK.

Brickell, C. (2016). Royal Horticultural Society AZ encyclopedia of garden plants. 4th Edition Dorling Kindersley.

Squire, D. (2017). Houseplant Handbook: Basic Growing Techniques and a Directory of 300 Everyday Houseplants, CompanionHouse Books.

Nelson, G (2021). Plant – House plants: Choosing, Styling, Caring. Mitchell Beazley. London

Brickell, C. (2011). American horticultural society encyclopedia of plants and flowers. Penguin.

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