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Kentia—A Palm for All Seasons

By —— Bio and Archives--October 8, 2017

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It seems that every box store, supermarket along with other retail outlets are featuring palms. Or at least, one kind: The areca, golden cane or butterfly palm, Dypsis lutescens. Under northern home conditions, few survive for long, often succumbing to spider mite attack to which this species seems particularly prone. Of course, it is cheap enough . . .

Not so cheap, harder to find but much hardier is the classic Kentia Palm Howeia fosteriana, also attractively known as Paradise Palm. It originates from a tiny speck of land, Lord Howe Island in the Tasmania Sea east of northern Australia. There it is less attractively designated the Thatch Palm because, well, that is exactly what it traditionally could be used for.

This was the potted palm of Victoria hotel rooms. An excellent choice under such trying growing conditions since the Kentia is a tolerant and easy to maintain palm. Given filtered light, kept evenly moist without overwatering and cool but above-freezing night temperatures, it can be maintained at two or so metres (six to eight feet). Back home on Lord Home Island they can reach an imposing 10 metres or 33 feet. And thanks to a preference for a heavy soil, it is unlikely to come crashing down as the kids chase the pet pooch.

For some strange reason, perhaps known only to the Florida horticultural trade, Kentia palms are cheaper and far easier to find in Europe than North America. As is so often the case, the Netherlands is the principle source of such desirable houseplants on the other side of the Atlantic. Although popular as a street tree in both Florida and California, these often originate from Hawaiian plant nurseries.

The palms themselves though, whether grown on to retail size in Hawaii or Holland, likely originated on Lord Howe Island itself. There the seed trade, and resulting seedlings is tightly controlled. The seeds are collected from wild specimens, germinated and exported as seedlings.

Queen Victoria was so enamoured with Kentia palms that she directed that when she died, the plants were to surround her coffin as she laid in state. During the reign of her successor and son, Edward VII, the elegant Palm Courts of such caravansaries as the Ritz Hotel, London and the Plaza Hotel, New York featured a profusion of Kentia palms. But even one can bring a note of such long-departed elegance to today’s residences at much less maintenance hazards than its plebian relative.

Wes Porter -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Wes Porter is a horticultural consultant and writer based in Toronto. Wes has over 40 years of experience in both temperate and tropical horticulture from three continents.

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