What type of plant do I have?

HillaryG88March 21, 2013

We received this plant (see attached photo) as a gift recently but it unfortunately had no tag describing how to take care of it or what it even is. I suspect it is some type of palm but I am really not sure (I definitely did not inherit my grandmother's very green thumb). I would very much appreciate some advice as to how to keep this beautiful green alive!
Thanks so much!

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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Appears to be Chamaedorea elegans, Parlor Palm.

By the way, green thumbs are EARNED, not inherited. :-) Hopefully, you've developed your grandmother's keen interest.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2013 at 6:32PM
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Parlor palms are one of the easiest palms to grow. I keep mine in the house all year and it gets partial sun, mine started to burn up when I had it in full sun, I only water when the top 2 inches of dirt feels dry they dont like sitting in water, so make sure you have good drainage in the pot. Good Luck she is a beauty...

    Bookmark   March 21, 2013 at 7:28PM
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wndy_gardenweb(USDA z4b)

Welcome Hillary!

I agree with Rhizo on the identification (it is usually sold in stores as a "Parlor Palm" or "Neanthe Bella Palm" (that's why scientific names are so great, no confusion there!)

I am no expert btw, so keep that in mind when reading what I write :-) Since I don't know where you live, I'm going to give you some general advice on keeping the plant alive. Having the plant thrive is another matter, and I've never figured that one out!


If you live in Florida or anywhere warmer, you may plant this palm outside. Otherwise, it's a houseplant that you can set outside during the summer. I think anything below 55F is bad.


As with many palms, it likes bright light, but not direct sun. What latitude you live at will affect the hours of light in the day (duh!) and also the quality of the light. I live in northern latitudes, and so I allow my palms to have DIRECT light (even though this is a no-no) because the angle of the sun is so low, that the light is not as strong, so it doesn't harm the plant. In the summer, my palms go outside on a covered deck, and get only indirect light. So, basically, understand how your latitude affects your light. One person's "my plant is in indirect light" is another person's "direct light."

If you don't get much light in the winter, or have only a north-facing window, you may use supplemental lighting--this need not be expensive, nor complicated. I have a floor lamp with a "spotlight" or reading light, and I put in a CFL (must use CFL or LED... incandescents are too hot). I leave that on from sunset (5pm) till I go to bed many hours later. That one, single bulb helps a lot. You can place it very close to the plant, maybe 6" or more I think.


A fast-draining soil is best for your palm, although right now it is most likely not in that kind of medium (soil). There is a lot of stuff on GW about soil/medium... if you have time, it will be worth your while to read it. Here's a link (sorry, I don't know how to make it a hyperlink) to a long thread about potting medium: http://forums2.gardenweb.com/forums/load/contain/msg1221344425812.html "Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI" Basically, the standard MG potting soil you might buy is waaaay too peat-y and water-retentive for a palm (and most houseplants). I am still working on making a good soil mix, but for now, I add lots of perlite to stuff to help water drain better. To change your soil will require repotting your plant, and that's a whole 'nother thread! :-)


A fast-draining soil is preferred, as stated above. Most likely, your plant is not in a fast-draining soil. I am going to *assume* your soil is like *most* soil that comes with houseplants... peaty :-D So, if you have a peaty soil, it will retain moisture for a long time, and potentially cause your roots to rot. For this situation, I recommend taking your palm to the shower and watering it there. Water until it comes out the bottom, then wait 10 minutes, then water some more (I find with peat soils, it gets so dry that it doesn't absorb water easily, so I find the double-watering to be helpful). After you've watered it twice, tip the pot it on its side to drain it (I am assuming your pot has drain holes at the bottom). Once no more water comes out the bottom, put the plant back where it was.

Do NOT water on a schedule. The amount of water your plant goes through will depends on how much light it is getting and other factors (mine goes through a lot more water when outside). So, stick a finger in the soil, and water when it's dryish 1-2" down. I'm not really sure about this, so others can chime in with regards to watering peaty soils. If you had a fast-draining soil, you would water a lot more often because the soil would dry faster :) Perhaps twice a year you will want to take your plant to the shower/outside, and water it a LOT to sort of "rinse" the soil and leach out accumulated salts and whatnot. The buildup of those can harm your plant.


From my understanding, if you have a fast-draining soil (unlikely), than you can have a bigger container and not worry about root rot so much. The roots will grow and fill out the container. BUT, if you have what I think you have, a peaty soil, then you will want a container that's not much bigger than the root mass. Why? Because the soil will take a long time to dry, and if there is a lot of soil around the roots it will keep the soil around the roots very moist, potentially causing rot. Your plant looks like it is in the right sized pot for peaty/slow-draining soil.. just a guess though:)

Another feature of your container should be draining holes. You want the water to be able to exit the soil. If your container doesn't have holes, and you can't make them, repot it ASAP in my humble opinion.


Spider mites, mealybug, and scale can be a problem. I have struggled with both spider mites and scale in the past, so I spray my plants now and then to keep things under control. Your plant may be pest-free, but I recommend getting familiar with the leaves and the undersides, so you know what "healthy" looks like, so you can see the symptoms of these bugs.

Scale shows up as little brown spots that you can scrape off easily (sometimes it almost seems like they are connected to the plant with a bit of syrup).. kinda sticky. Other times they just come off with barely a touch (I think this is when they are dead). Scale crawl around and then hunker down and make a protective coating (that's the brown spot you see). They don't really get hurt by pesticide sprays much, I don't think, but when they are in "crawler" stage they are affected more, so that's why if you have scale, you spray every 2-3 weeks for awhile, I think.

Spider Mites are not insects, but arachnids. You can sometimes see their webbing on the plants, and especially on the underside of leaves. If I look closely at an affected frond, I can actually see them moving. Often you won't see them at all, and maybe not even the webbing. The first/clearest sign is on the leaves. They go from being a nice solid green, to darker and lighter green..kind of speckled or flecked. Basically, as they damage and kill cells, the leaf gets a tiny speckled look to it. Be on the look out for this, it may be your first sign. Spider mites like hot & dry air...which is many a house in winter!

Well, that's about all I can think of right now. There's a lot more info on the forums if you do a keyword search. And again, I'm just a beginner, so hopefully others will correct me if I gave you bad advice :-) I just shared what I have learned so far, and what my experience has been. I used to always kill my palms, but now my chamaedorea cataractarum seems to be doing better than ever--yay!

Good luck with your beautiful palm and don't hesitate to ask more questions--lots of really knowledgeable people on these forums!


    Bookmark   March 21, 2013 at 8:07PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Hillary, beautiful palm! It does look like C. elegans, comparing it to mine.

Please excuse me for using your message for another purpose in paragraphs below, but it IS about a palm.

Siobhan, got your email but due to your Gardenweb settings, was unable to respond. Amazing palm tutorial, btw. Here's what I typed before I realized that:

Heythere! Thank you so much. I'm glad you reminded me that I still don't know what palm that is. It has flowers on it now. I'll take s'more pics & add them to an old "what palm is this?" discussion I did on it last summer. My neighbor gave me that. It could be decades old, she sure is! LOL! I love all palms! Don't want them all in my house, but love the right palm, right place. Oh yeah.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2013 at 5:27PM
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wndy_gardenweb(USDA z4b)

Ah, I tried to include my email at the bottom of the message, but looks like that didn't work. I'll update my settings as I don't have a top secret email hehehe.

I was wondering if it was a chamaedorea tepejilote (Pacaya palm). I really have no clue, as I've only seen a few palm species in person (the usual suspects). But I looked on the web and thought it was somewhat similar. Apparently the Pacaya palm's flowers are eaten, so there are lots of pics on the web which might quickly rule out the species as being your palm or not, perhaps.

I thought they were similar-looking, based on the rings on the trunk, kinda of "bamboo like," if you will. Also by the way the leaves kind of "pop out" of the "trunk", but maybe a lot of palms with trunks do this?

Your palm is very pretty regardless :)

Here is a link that might be useful: Pacaya photo

    Bookmark   March 23, 2013 at 6:01PM
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