Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Rhapis humilis

Common Names: slender lady palm, dwarf lady palm
Family: Arecacea/Palmae (palm Family)

Resembling its close cousin Rhapis excelsa, this lady palm has thinner stems and drooping leaf segments that give it a more graceful appearance. It grows slowly to form large clumps of densely packed stems that reach heights of 6' to 8'. The slender stems are wrapped in tightly woven light brown fiber and are topped with clusters of 5 to 10 leaves.

The palmate leaves are medium green, held on 12" petiols and grow from 2' to 3' in diameter. Leaves are deeply divided into 1" wide segments that droop downward. Male flowers are dirty white and borne on 2' branched infloresences. Fruits are never seen as no female plants of this species remain.

Slender lady palm is thought to be native to southern China but has disappeared from nature. All existing specimens are derived from a single male plant. Every plant in the world ultimately came from this single specimen.

This plant is adaptable to most well drained soil types. It does not like rich soils so provide only light feedings twice a year in spring and summer.
Light: Plant in shady or partly shady sites for best leaf color. It will survive in bright conditions but will look yellowish and faded.
Moisture: Provide moisture when dry. Does not like soggy soils. Slender lady palm can survive short periods of drought.
Propagation: No seeds are produced. New plants are obtained only by division of clumps.

Although this palm is rather slow growing, it can be used to create attractively dense screens and hedges. Slender lady palm is also exceptional as an accent or specimen plant, expecially when groomed. Since dead leaves often persist on the stems, trim them off so that the graceful clump of slender stems can be enjoyed. Thin out stems to reinforce a far east look.

This little palm can handle interior environments so gardeners in the north should consider growing potted specimens to brighten their homes (move them to the patio for summer vacation).

This is a beautiful palm and has been prized by palm fanciers for centuries. The Japanese are especially fond of the slender lady palm and other species of Rhapis. They have developed dozens of dwarf and variegated selection several Rhapis species.

Slender lady palms tend to be expensive (if you can find them at all) but I think they are worth it.