Rhapis excelsa, the bamboo palm that fits right in your home

Rhapis excelsa leaf, the bamboo palm

Whether you showcase it in your house, garden, or lean-in, Rhapis excelsa (or bamboo palm) will definitely find a place at home.

Key bamboo palm facts
Botanical nameRhapis excelsa
SynonymsRhapis flabelliformis, Chamaerops excelsa
Common names – Rhapis, bamboo palm
Family – palm, Arecaceae
Type – Tree, palm

Height – 6 to 12 feet (2 to 4 meters)
Width – 6 to 12 feet (2 to 4 m)
Exposure – part sun
Soil – Humus-rich, well-drained, neutral to acidic pH

Hardiness – Not hardy (minimum 60°F or 15 °C)
Growth – Slow
Foliage – evergreen
Flowering – Summer

Description of Rhapis excelsa

This species belongs to the vast palm tree family. Rhapis excelsa is a smallish tree with large fan-like evergreen leaves. These are a deep green color, and the slats are divided into narrow, oblong lobes. Each leaf opens up at the tip of long upright stems (stipes), each of which can measure 16 feet (4 meters) long. They look like canes. In summer, bamboo palm occasionally sports small yellow flowers grouped together in clusters called panicles. Rhapis excelsa is a dioecious palm, meaning each specimen is either male or female. It’s quite rare for one to actually bear fruit.

Planting bamboo palm

Rhapis excelsa isn’t hardy at all, so it can only survive outdoors in mild-wintered areas. Anywhere else and you’ll have to grow it in pots, as a houseplant, and you’ll have to bring it indoors during the cold season. Outdoors, bamboo palm requires a particular setting:

  • part shade;
  • soil with lots of humus, well-draining;
  • shelter from wind and both summer heat and winter cold.

Indoors, it’s pretty easy to satisfy all these conditions. However, the main enemy of Rhapis excelsa in this case is dry air.

How and when to plant Rhapis excelsa ?

Since bamboo palm fears the cold so much, the best season to plant it is in spring.

Growing outdoors, in the ground:

Once you’ve found the ideal spot, all you need to do is:

  • Outdoor bamboo palm in potsDig a planting trench that’s wide and rather deep (20 inches or 40 cm).
  • Spread a layer of gravel or clay marbles at the bottom of the hole.
  • Amend the dirt with soil mix and eventually sand, in order to increase both nutrient content and drainage.
  • Tease your Rhapis excelsa out of its pot and break the root clump up delicately.
  • Place the tree in the hole, and backfill the rest of the pot, pressing the soil down around the base.
  • Water abundantly.

Rhapis excelsa in pots:

Single rhapis plant in a beautiful pot with man behindThe most important factor is choosing the container itself. It must be large enough to give the roots a lot of space, and at the same time be very stable, especially if you want to move your top-heavy bamboo palm in the garden during spring, summer and fall. Another point that’s important: make sure the container or pot has drainage holes for excess water to drain away. Got the right container? Next steps:

  • Layer gravel, clay pebbles or shards of broken pots thickly along the bottom, without clogging up the drainage holes.
  • The substrate we recommend is soil mix with clay pebbles or perlite mixed in.
  • Fill the pot up and, inside, prop up your Rhapis excelsa.
  • Press down on the soil mix as you backfill and water abundantly.

Caring for Rhapis

There’s no need to prune or trim bamboo palm. Simply remove dead leaves when they’re all dried up, slicing them off at the trunk.

During the growing phase, from spring until the end of summer, be particularly diligent when watering: frequent with only little water is better than deep soakings. Reduce your watering in fall, and nearly stop watering during winter. When in pots, bring outdoor specimens inside long before the first frosts hit.

Watering bamboo palm is important, and misting its leaves is tooIndoors, Rhapis excelsa is vulnerable to lack of air moisture, usually brought upon by the various heating elements in the house. The solution? Spray leaves with rainwater from time to time. Avoid using tap water: as it dries off, tiny calcium deposits appear and block the pores on leaves. Best, again, is either rainwater or demineralized water.

Because this plant is a slow grower, re-potting only needs take place more or less every 3 years. In the meantime, whether your bamboo palm is in the ground or in a pot, go ahead and topdress every year with fresh soil mix.

Propagation

Since it’s difficult to get seeds through fruits, sowing isn’t the quickest propagation method. Better is to separate offshoots that pop up around the base of the plant, and transplant them into new pots.

Another option is to divide the clump once you’ve got several stems growing together. Do this at a time when you’d normally repot to minimize stress.

Diseases and pests

Though it is not vulnerable to disease, Rhapis excelsa nonetheless is the target of many pests such as mites (red spider mite in particular) and scale insects. This is even more the case if the palm is grown indoors.

Uses of Rhapis excelsa in landscaping

As you’ve seen, it’s probably easiest to just place your bamboo palm inside the house. The growing environment is easier to get right. However, in the garden, it will definitely bring on a wonderful exotic touch to a shrub bed if you place it under a taller tree that will protect it and give it shelter.

Landscape full of rhapis bamboo palm

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Image credits (edits Gaspard Lorthiois):
Pixabay: yunnmia099
Unsplash: Severin Candrian, David Clode
CC BY-SA 2.0: Dinesh Valke
CC BY 2.0: Jungle Rebel