Rhapis excelsa: how to care for the the stunning Lady Palm

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Written By Martin Cole

Plantsman, gardener, plant-obsessive

Rhapis excelsa - Lady Palm

Rhapis excelsa: the verdict

There is something delicate and refined about Rhapis exclesa, which probably gives rise to its common name of the Lady Palm. Its leaves are palmate, but deeply divided, and the fronds are short, giving a compact appearance to its foliage.

Rhapis excelsa is a clumping palm. This means it grows multiple stems, giving it a bamboo-like look. But, don’t treat it like bamboo. Do not cut the stems back hard expecting replacement stems in the following season, like bamboo will give you. If you do this, as my wife once unfortunately did, you will be severely disappointed. And your spouse might be even more upset, if my reaction is anything to go by!

  • Ease of Care: 5/5 – Tolerates a range of light conditions and requires minimal maintenance.
  • Visual Appeal: 5/5 – Lovely unusual foliage and clumping habit makes this palm a show-stopper.
  • Value for Money: 3/5 – Slow growing, so initial cost can be high for larger plants. So take care of your investment and refrain from reckless pruning.
Rhapis excelsa

Basic Needs

Light

Moderate

Water: growth period

Moderate

Water: dormant period

Low

Humidity

/ Low to moderate

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4.5 Star House Plant

Pros

Unusual visual impact for a palm

Air purifier

Low light tolerant

Elegance and presence

Cons

Slow growing, higher cost

Sensitive to over-watering

Clumping habit can can cause congestion

Can collect dust

Rhapis excelsa

Rhapis excelsa

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.

Rhapis excelsa quick care guide

Rhapis has been cultivated in South-East Asia, where it originates from for centuries. This gives you a clue that the plant is pretty easy to care for and well adapted to being grown as a house plant.

  • Light Requirements: Bright, indirect light; avoid direct sunlight to prevent leaf scorch. Can be grown quite comfortably in lower light conditions.
  • Water Requirements: Moist but not wet soil with adequate drainage. Allow the top few inches of soil to dry out before watering.
  • Humidity Requirements: Prefers moderate, normal household humidity; mist the plant or use a pebble tray in very dry environments. Do not position too close to heaters or radiators
  • Temperature Requirements: Ideal range is 60-80°F (15-27°C). Can tolerate higher temperatures and down to about 50° to 55F (10 to 12°C).
  • Potting Soil Requirements: Well-draining; a mix of coir, sand, and loam is ideal.
  • Fertiliser Requirements: Rhapis is nota hungry palm. You only need feed it once or twice a year with a balanced, water-soluble fertiliser during the growing season (or if you notice a slight yellowing of the leaves.
  • Propagation: Division by offsets is the way to go as this is a naturally clumping plant.
  • Repotting: Every other year, in spring, or when the pot is congested with stems.
  • 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.

Rhapis excelsa foliage
Rhapis excelsa foliage

Rhapis excelsa key facts

Rhapis exclesa is one on the smaller, lower-growing palms. In the wild, it reaches no more that 13ft (4m) high, but only grows up to 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide indoors. This is one of the reason it is such a valuable house plant and is one of the best indoor palms to grow.

It has glossy green fronds with five to eight narrow segments. While it rarely blooms indoors, mature palms can produce small, pink ornamental inflorescences. It is slow growing, so it can be expensive, but over time, as it develops new stems you will be able to divide to get new plants for free.

  • Scientific name: Rhapis excelsa
  • Meaning of name: ‘Rhapis’ comes from the Greek word ‘rhapís,’ which means ‘needle’ or ‘rod,’ referring to the slender, rod-like stems. Excelsa means ‘lofty’ in latin, which the plant isn’t. So it is though this refers to the palm’s upright habit.
  • Common Names: Lady Palm, Bamboo Palm, Fan Tufted Palm.
  • Plant Family: Arecaceae.
  • Origin: Southeast Asia.
  • Type: Perennial palm.
  • Size (Indoors): Up to 6 ft. tall, 4 ft. wide.
  • Foliage: Fan-shaped, glossy green leaves.
  • Flower: Rare indoor blooming; pink inflorescences when it occurs.
  • Toxicity: Non-toxic to humans, cats, and dogs.

Light

The Lady Palm prefers bright, indirect light but the beauty of this palm is that it is highly adaptable, thriving even in shaded areas. Ideally place it near a north or east-facing window. Protect from direct sunlight to prevent leaf burn.

House plant bright light
Rhapis excelsa: ideal location for optimum light

Propagation

Propagate by dividing the offsets, ideally early in the growing season. Here is a step by step guide:

Step 1: Choose the Right Time

  • When: The best time to propagate by division is during the plant’s active growth period, typically in early spring.

Step 2: Prepare Your Tools and Workspace

  • Tools Needed: A sharp, sterilised knife, with a blade long enough to cut through the rootball (I use an old, but sharp carving knife that I keep for dividing plants). You also need pots for the new plants.
  • Workspace: Choose a clean, well-lit area. Cover the workspace with newspapers or a plastic sheet for easy cleanup.

Step 3: Remove the Plant from Its Pot

  • Gently Loosen: Carefully remove the Lady Palm from its pot. You may need to tap the pot’s sides or bottom to loosen the root ball.
  • Inspect the Roots: Check the root system for any signs of disease or rot. Cut out any dead or diseased areas.

Step 4: Identify Division Points

  • Look for Natural Divisions: Lady Palms grow in clumps, so look for natural separations or offsets (smaller palms growing off the side of the main plant).
  • Choose Healthy Sections: Ensure each section you plan to divide has a good amount of roots and at least one healthy stem.

Step 5: Divide the Plant

  • Cut Carefully: Using your knife, cut between the divisions. Be gentle to minimise root damage.
  • Separate Clumps: Gently tease apart the roots if they are entangled, ensuring each new plant has its own root system.

Step 6: Pot the Divisions

  • Prepare New Pots: Fill pots with well-draining potting mix, ideally formulated for palms.
  • Plant Each Division: Place each division in its own pot. The top of the root ball should be just below the pot’s rim.
  • Firm the Soil: Gently firm the soil around the roots to eliminate air pockets.

Step 7: Water the New Plants

  • Initial Watering: Water each new plant thoroughly, allowing excess water to drain.
  • Moisture Level: Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged during the initial growth phase.

Step 8: Provide Proper Care

  • Light: Place the new plants in a location with bright, indirect light.
  • Humidity: Maintain adequate humidity, especially if the air in your home is dry.
  • Temperature: Keep them in a warm environment, avoiding cold drafts.

Step 9: Monitor Growth

  • Watch for New Growth: It may take a few weeks to see new growth, but a new green leaf will tell you that you have been successful.
  • If you have a multi-stemmed clump, sometimes the outer stems die off because they didn’t get enough roots when you made the cut. Don’t worry about this if the central stems are still healthy. Just cut back the dead stem to soil level.

Common Problems and Solutions

As an easy care plant, Rhapis excelsa won’t cause you too much trouble, as long as you don’t over water it or let it dry out too much between waterings. As with most palms indoors, the main problem is that a very dry atmosphere can help the spider mites, scale insects and mealy bugs to to thrive.

Rhapis excelsa 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.

Pests

  • Spider Mites: These tiny pests can be a nuisance, especially in dry indoor environments. They typically appear as small, moving dots on the undersides of leaves and can cause yellowing or speckling on the foliage. Spider mites often produce fine webs around the affected areas.
  • Scale Insects: Scale can appear as small, brown, dome-shaped bumps on the stems and leaves. They suck sap from the plant, weakening it and potentially causing leaf yellowing and drop.
  • Mealybugs: These look like small, white, cottony masses on the leaves and stems. Like scale insects, mealybugs feed on the plant’s sap, leading to stunted growth and distorted leaves.

Treatment: Prune off any damaged leaves and use insecticidal soap or neem oil to kill the pests off.

Diseases

  • Southern blight: This is a soil-borne fungal disease that causes stem rot and wilting. Repot into fresh soil.
  • Root rot: caused by over-watering and waterlogged soil

Winter care

During winter, reduce watering as the plant’s growth slows down. Reduce watering and protect the plant from cold drafts. Maintain a consistent humidity level, ideally above 50%.

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.

Rhapis excelsa

US Buyers

Rhapis excelsa

UK Buyers

Uk

Other Rhapis palms

There are a number of Rhapis excelsa cultivars that are worth seeking out:

  • R. excelsa ‘Koban’: Wide leaf segments, outward spread.
  • R. excelsa ‘Daruma’: Narrow leaves, upright growth.
  • R. excelsa ‘Tenzan’: Fast-growing with slightly curled leaves.
  • R. excelsa ‘Kodaruma’: Miniature variety, extremely slow growth.
  • R. excelsa ‘Zuikonishiki’: Green and white striped leaves.

Other great palms

Read our guide to the 16 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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