Cat Palm Tree

Botanical Name: Chamaedorea cataractarum

Cat palm tree makes a dramatic house plant and is easy to grow if you give it what it needs.

This lush, tropical palm will thrive in bright light. If you have a sunroom or a sunny window, keep it there. Give your palm a quarter turn once a week so that all sides are exposed to sunlight. A large plant can be placed on a plant caddy to make it easy to move.

Cat palm trees grow in stemless clumps. The pinnate leaves have leaflets that will reach up to 1 ft (30 cm) long and 1 in (2.5 cm) wide. Keep palm fronds clean by gently wiping them with a damp cloth.

This palm needs more moisture than some. Water enough to keep the soil evenly moist, but never soggy. Palms are not desert plants as some people believe. Regular watering will help to prevent fronds from turning brown.

Brown leaf tips can be caused by dry soil, dry air or tap water that contains fluoride. Increase humidity around the palm, if the air is too dry. Use distilled or rain water to water your palms.

Flush Salts: Palms are sensitive to salts that accumulate in the soil. This build up of soluble salts come from the chemicals in tap water and fertilizers. They can damage foliage and roots. Fortunately, getting rid of excess salts is easy. Place your palm in a sink or take it outdoors on a warm day. Slowly pour tepid water over the potting mix. Allow water to drain out the drainage holes of the pot. Pour more water through the pot, then empty the drainage tray. Flushing salts a couple times a year will make your palm healthier and takes only minutes to do.

Repotting your palm is needed only every 3 years or so. Keeping the roots crowded helps to limit the plant's size, so use a pot that's only 1 size larger than the old pot. Don't pot the palm too deeply -- try to keep it at the same depth as it was in the old pot. Also, don't try to spread out those roots. Palm roots are brittle, so keep the root ball intact as much as possible.

Cat Palm Tree Care

Buy Cat Palm Tree

Origin: Southern Mexico

Height: Up to 6 ft (1.8 m) indoors

Light: Bright light

Water: Keep soil moist all year long. Put it in a pot with drainage holes to prevent soggy soil. Palms don't like their feet wet.

Humidity: Moderate humidity. If the relative humidity drops below 50%, use a humidity tray or room humidifier. Cat palm also loves to be misted.

Temperature: Average room temperature 60-75°F/16-24°C year-round.

Soil: Use a peaty mix that drains well. Mix 1 part sand to 3 parts African violet mix.

Fertilizer: Feed once in spring and again in summer with a time-release fertilizer. I like to use Jobe's Indoor Palm Fertilizer spikes. It contains the micronutrients that palms need to keep them lush and green.

Propagation: Palms can be grown from seeds, but seeds are slow to germinate and seedlings so slow-growing, you'll wait several years for them to grow into trees. Although Cat palms grow in clumps, I wouldn't try to divide them. Cat palm tree roots are fragile and are easily damaged by pulling apart the root ball.

Green Thumb Tip

Palm fronds tend to be dust-catchers. Wipe them with a damp cloth to keep them clean.

Or clean the foliage with a warm shower: move your plant outdoors on a warm day and spray it with tepid water, keeping the palm out of direct sunlight. Allow it to dry outdoors in a shaded spot, protected from wind.

Buying Tip

Cat palms are among the most common palm house plants. You'll sometimes find them for sale with the tag "Indoor Tropical Palms" stuck in the pot.

Look for the botanical name Chamaedorea cataractarum to be sure you're getting this palm.