Stinky cat palm

lauraeli_July 2, 2014

Just bought this cat palm a week or two ago. It is in one of those plastic pots where the drainage holes are like two inches from the bottom so water sits in there. The thing smells like rotten eggs. Yuck.

I removed the pots, suspecting rotting roots, but they are all healthy. In fact, the bottom, where the water sits, is completely clogged with roots. I guess it really likes water.

I would love, LOVE to rinse the potting mix (what is left of it) off this plant and repot it in a pot of similar size but better draining.

Trouble is, I know this palm really dislikes having its roots disturbed. What to do?

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I've never heard Chamaedorea elegans being referred to as 'Cat Palm' (that's a new one!), but I believe you could just rinse the soil off without disturbing the roots (they don't appreciate being separated, is what I've read). I believe unless you sit there and tease the roots apart, their rootball stays in the shape of the pot, so you could just sit it in a new pot (or the existing pot) and fill in/around the root system with new soil. Perhaps there's a better way, but that's just my two cents.


    Bookmark   July 2, 2014 at 5:38PM
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It is Chamaedorea cataractarum. Similar, but not the same.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2014 at 5:42PM
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Wow, the seedlings do look a lot alike. How do you tell the difference? I've never heard of a 'Cat Palm' before, is their care the same as that of the 'Parlor Palm'? Are they as suspectible to spider mites? Now I have to add this to my list of wanted plants.

I'd imagine repotting would be the same for both though.


This post was edited by plantomaniac08 on Wed, Jul 2, 14 at 18:42

    Bookmark   July 2, 2014 at 6:41PM
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By the tag, i have no idea, and i have no idea. I read to spray the leaves with weak coffee to discourage pests.

This is my first palm. Besides low humidity and underwatering what causes continuous browning of the leaf tips?

    Bookmark   July 2, 2014 at 6:50PM
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Haha, okay. Coffee? That's interesting. I don't know of any other causes other than low humidity and underwatering.


    Bookmark   July 2, 2014 at 8:18PM
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The rotten egg smell, I read, is from anaerobic bacteria, which I'm sure were all-too-happy to take advantage of those horrible 10 inch grower pots that hold a couple inches of water in the bottom.

Anyway, I pulled it from the pot and doused the bottom of the root ball with hydrogen peroxide. It crackled like rice krispies, I tell ya. I cant imagine any anaerobic bacteria surviving an H2O2 treatment. No real info on whether or not it harms roots, but I will find out, I'm sure, in the next day or two.

I stuck it in a pot that is the same size, but has drainage holes on the BOTTOM instead of the side.

I THINK that will solve the problem of the smell. Hopefully it will also solve the browning tips on the leaves.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2014 at 1:07AM
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Okay, let us know how it reacts. I'd have to do something (anything) in your case as well; a rotten egg smell is a bit overwhelming.


    Bookmark   July 3, 2014 at 7:42AM
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Cataract Palms are rheophytes, they normally grow in streams (not just along side). They're used to being often covered in flood waters. So of course they don't understand the notion of "too much water". A bit of stagnant water doesn't faze them, although indoors it might the other occupants of the house. You need to keep the moisture up to them.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2014 at 9:45AM
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I was planning on watering about twice a week, or twice as often as my other large houseplants.

Any info I could find on cat palms only specified 'plenty of water' whatever that means. So that pretty much means i have to guess...

    Bookmark   July 3, 2014 at 12:48PM
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garyfla_gw(10 Florida)

you might google Chamaeodorea. Most sources list over 100 species but all are cultured similarly. All that I've seen are VERY similar until maturing They grow very easily IME tolerating all kinds of abuse ,lol Good choice for "Hoseplant palms." They do tend to lose old fronds quickly
particularly while adjusting to new conditions . gary

    Bookmark   July 3, 2014 at 5:50PM
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paul_(z5 MI)

I wouldn't worry about breaking up the rootball a bit. Better that than having the roots strangle each other because of being too tightly intertwined.

If this palm is that much of a water lover, a compromise might simply be to set the pot in a deep saucer/bowl/container which also provides sufficient clearance with the sides of the pot and let it sit in an inch or so of water. Then either rewater as soon as the reservoir "runs dry" or simply dump the water out once or twice a week to keep it fresher. This would, I suspect, allow you to use a coarser media mix that would also allow more air amongst the roots.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2014 at 8:46PM
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No signs of stress from the peroxide treatment.

The sniff test turned up little-to-no rotten egg smell. I thought I smelled just a hint for a second, but all I can say for certain is, it smelled like wet soil. And I have an excellent nose.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2014 at 10:34PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Lots of people think coffee and tea are "tonics", but they would be wrong. Forum discussions frequently center on the question of adding dilute coffee/tea or grounds to plants as a 'tonic', but Arabica (coffee) and Camellia (tea) are known for their toxic alkaloid (caffeine) content and their allelopathic affect on plants as well as autotoxic (poison to their own seedlings) effects on future generations. Caffeine interferes with root development by impairing protein metabolism. This affects activity of an important bio-compound (PPO) and lignification (the process of becoming woody), crucial steps for root formation.
We also know that the tannins in both coffee and tea are known allelopaths (growth inhibitors). There are ongoing experiments to develop herbicides using extracts from both coffee and tea that cause me to want to say they might serve better as a nonselective herbicide than as a tonic. I would not use either (stale coffee or tea) by applying directly to my plants - especially containerized plants; nor would I add tea bags/coffee grounds to my container soils.

When you ask a plant to live under saturated soil conditions, it complies by forming an airy light root tissue called aerenchyma instead of the parenchyma we usually find when roots are grown in a healthy, well-aerated medium. Problems arise when the plant is put in a position where it's required to go back and forth from 'soggy when the soil is full of water' to well-aerated conditions as the soil is allowed to dry down to the point it again becomes well-aerated. 1 tissue type will serve you well under 1 set of conditions, but poorly when asked to play a dual role. That fact is where growers who expect the plant to do well when transitioning back and forth because, "..... after all, the plant DOES grow well in the riparian settings where it naturally occurs." Overlooked is the fact that Mother Nature doesn't ask in situ plants to adjust to soggy conditions one day and dry the next.

A heavy soil in a pan of water that keeps the bottom several inches of soil continually saturated will work, as will a well aerated soil you can keep damp but not soggy - one that can be used to provide a continually damp but well-aerated home for a happy root system, but a heavy soil that goes from soggy for days to almost dry and then back again, will work poorly; this, because the plant isn't programmed with the ability to transition back and forth between both sets of conditions.


    Bookmark   July 3, 2014 at 10:42PM
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Paul is right, if the pot is kept in some sort of a reservoir which can be renewed regularly the plant will get the water it needs and there won't be any stagnant/smelly water laying around.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2014 at 12:39AM
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