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 are among the most popular indoor palms. The pinnate leaves have leaflets that will reach up to 1 ft (30 cm) long and 1 in (2.5 cm) wide.
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.
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.
How to flush salts: 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.
Keep it clean. 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.
Something bugging your palm? Dry indoor air sometimes attracts spider mites to indoor plants. These pests are about the size of pepper flakes, so you'll likely only notice their fine webbing between fronds and stems. Isolate any infested plant to prevent them from moving on to your other plants and treat it right away. Raising the humidity around Cat Palm in winter helps to prevent them.
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 a couple inches (5 cm) 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 to prevent stem rot. Also, don't try to spread out those roots. Palm roots are brittle, so keep the root ball intact as much as possible.
Cat palms are among the most common palm house plants. If you can't find them locally, you'll find Cat palm trees for sale online. You'll sometimes find the tag "Indoor Tropical Palms" stuck in the pot. Look for the botanical name Chamaedorea cataractarum to be sure you're getting this palm.
Origin: Southern Mexico
Height: Up to 6 ft (1.8 m) indoors
Light: Bright, indirect light, year-round. Keep it shaded from hot, direct midday sun in summer. Give your palm a quarter turn once a week to expose all sides to sunlight. Chamaedorea cataractarum responds well to artificial light, if you don't have room near a window.
Water: Keep soil lightly moist all year long. Put it in a pot with drainage holes to prevent soggy soil. Palms don't like their feet wet. Tap water sometimes contains fluoride, chlorine or other chemicals that damage palms, so it's a good idea to use distilled or rain water to water your palm. Always use tepid water when watering your tropical house plants because cold water is a shock to them.
Humidity: Tropical Cat palm tree likes moist air. If the relative humidity drops below 50%, use a cool-mist room humidifier. Cat palm also loves to be misted.
Temperature: Average room temperature 65-80°F/18-27°C year-round. Keep Chamaedorea cataractarum away from cold drafts from doorways and heat/AC vents.
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.