Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Howea forsteriana

Common Names: kentia palm, sentry palm, thatch palm, paradise palm, hotel palm, parlor palm
Family: Arecacea/Palmae (palm Family)

Kentia palm is highly prized for its elegant fronds and slender trunk. Kentia palm has a canopy of about three dozen gracefully drooping leaves which produce an airy and poised look. The leaves are pinnate (featherlike) and grow up to 12 ft (3.7 m) long with thornless 4-5 ft (1.2-1.5 m) petioles (leaf stems). The leaflets are like fingers, 2.5 ft (0.8 m) long and 2 in (5 cm) wide; they bend downward in a graceful fashion. Kentia palm leaflets are dark green on top and lighter green on the bottom. The mature spread ranges from 10-20 ft (3-6 m) across, and the height may range from 15-30 ft (4.6-9 m), and can reach 60 ft (18.3 m). The trunk is swollen at the base and has slightly raised annular trunk rings. The kentia palm produces an inflorescence about 3.5 ft (1.1 m) long which consists of white flowers on 3-7 spikes which are fused at their bases. Male and female flowers are produced in the same inflorescence. Mature fruits are dull red and egg shaped, about 1.5 in (3.8 cm) long.

Kentia palm grows naturally only on the Lord Howe Island group, in the Tasman sea about 500 mi (804 km) off the eastern coast of New South Wales, Australia. The climate on Lord Howe Island is subtropical, warm to cool. Kentia palms grow in extensive colonies at low to moderate altitudes, less than 2870 ft (875 m) above sea level.

Kentia palms tolerate and adapt to a wide variety of soils including those that are neutral, acidic, clayey and slightly alkaline, but they perform best in rich loamy soil with excellent drainage. Kentia palms are traditionally slow growers, however regular fertilization with palm-grade fertilizer promotes maximum growth. A balanced (e.g., 18-18-18) slow-release palm fertilizer with minor elements should be used during the growing season. Magnesium and potassium nutritional deficiencies have been noted, particularly in older kentias. Mineral supplements should be administered in recommended amounts to prevent or treat such deficiencies. Kentia palms in pots or tubs can be left in the same container for many years due to their slow growth. Kentia palm can be attacked by spider mites, scale insects, Cylindrocladium leaf spot, stigmina and other fungal leaf spots. They are also susceptible to lethal yellowing disease. 

Light: Outside kentia palms grow best in 35%-80% of full sunlight, tolerating direct sun only after about five years old. Young kentia need protection from direct sunlight and grow best in shady to partly shady locations. Interior light for optimal growth of Kentia palm is in the range of 75-150 foot-candles, which is the approximate illumination level for casual reading. They are considered exceptional in their ability to withstand low interior light levels. 

Moisture:This palm is only moderately drought tolerant, and should be watered before the soil completely dries. Indoor, potted kentias should not be over-watered. They may contract the fungus Phytophthora, if over-watered. In fact, over watering, and the associated plant weakening, is considered a number one enemy. 

Propagation: Propagated by seeds. Kentia palm fruits mature very slowly, sometimes taking 3-4 years. It is difficult to determine when fruit and seeds are ripe, since the fruits change color slowly from dull orange to deep dull red as they mature. Even fresh seeds germinate erratically, with seedlings appearing as early as two months after planting and then sporadically over 1-3 years. Seeds seem to have maximum viability 8-16 weeks after maturing. Bottom heat and fungicide treatment have been shown to improve germination rates and seedling survival.

The kentia palm is at the same time one of the most elegant and one of the most durable of all indoor palms. They have an awesome track record for surviving low light, dust, central heating, rough handling, drought and general neglect. The Kentia palm may win the all-time award for the most fool-proof indoor palm on the planet! Due to their fairly large size, Kentia palms are often used as the major focal point in interior landscapes. In exterior settings, Kentia palm may be used as a border or foundation plant, in groups, as a patio tree, or as an accent or specimen planting. Kentia palms grow very well in coastal areas and are quite wind resistant.

Kentia palm is the most commonly cultivated ornamental palm species in the world for good reason: it supplies a quintessentially graceful look inside or out with minimal care. You can decorate and landscape with the Kentia palm knowing it has adorned some of the finest mansions, palaces and grand hotels in the world. The Kentia palm has been a true indoor favorite since Victorian times. In the upwardly mobile Victorian society, conscious of every twist and turn of fashion, the lead of the wealthy was eagerly followed. Those were the days when it was not unusual for a London gentleman to have a nursery bill of $3,000 for one month! Virtually every Victorian (and numerous modern homeowners with any pretense to elegance) felt the need for a Kentia palm.
Kentia palm gets its name from the capital city of Lord Howe Island, Kentia, and the genus name, Howea, honors the island. The species name, forsteriana, honors New South Wales Senator Henry William Forster, who was a key in obtaining woman suffrage for Australia. Kentia palms are used in their native habitat for thatch.

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