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February 13, 2007 > Indoor Palms

Indoor Palms

By Pat Kite

One of the best cures for an ugly window view is fronting it indoors with a few palms. While most folk think of palms as tall outdoor windmills, home to an assortment of pigeons and starlings, there are about 3000 palm varieties throughout the world. Of these, several are shade-lovers and quite content in today's homes. The toughest of the lot for indoor use are the Rhapis varieties. Natives of southern China, these slow-growing palms have shapely leaves perched on stems resembling bamboo canes. The "Lady Palms," also monikered as Rhapis excelsa, are commonly seen. The really small ones, one foot to five feet tall, owe their miniaturization origin to Japanese Samurai breeding.

Another good indoor choice is the graceful Kentia Palm, also known as the "Thatch leaf palm," or Howea forsteriana. This Australian native is often used commercially to give a tropical paradise look to otherwise mundane surroundings. Leaves are a feathery dark green on top of long stalks. If you want a really tropical look to the area, combine this Kentia with a couple of nice-size split-leaf philodendrons.

A third choice, or mix and match, might be the Parlour palm, or Chamaedorea elegans, one of the many Chamaedoreas available. This hardy, slow growing palm is a native of Mexico and Guatemala. Yes, I know these are warm climates, but the Parlour palm comes from a jungle environment, so is quite content in poorly lit rooms.

Palm care for the above isn't complicated. No hot or cold air blowing on the plant. Water regularly, no drowning. If you wish to over water, try a pygmy date palm, native to the swamps of Vietnam. Fertilize during the growing season if you remember. If this sounds too basic, check out the Northern California Palm Societies web site: Better yet, join. Membership is extremely reasonable, and they have wonderful meetings at homes with backyards transporting you to another world.

When researching palm stories, I was amazed how many were related to religion. Palm Sunday is celebrated in memory of the day Jesus entered Jerusalem. At the time, people waved and scattered palms before him. Later, people wore specially designed hats with crossed fragments of palm leaves. The Jews carried palm leaves in processions, a token of triumph in the Promised Land. It is told that Mohammed created the palm, causing it to spring from the earth at his command. Another text recounts how angels brought palm branches to people suffering for their religious choices. Thus the palm tree became a token of martyrdom.

Put some palms indoors. Create an indoor oasis to soothe you from this hectic world. And, as always, springtime is the time to plant.

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