Red Leaf Palm Information – Learn About Growing Flame Thrower Palms
By: Teo Spengler
Images of palm trees are often used as symbols of relaxing beach life but that doesn’t mean the actual tree species can’t surprise you. Flame thrower palms (Chambeyronia macrocarpa) are exotic and beautiful trees with new leaves that grow in scarlet. Red leaf palm information tells us these trees are easy to grow in warm climates, cold hardy to below freezing, and considered a “must have palm” by many homeowners. If you’re thinking of growing these trees read on for information including tips on red leaf palm care.
Red Leaf Palm Information
Chambeyronia macrocarpa is a feathery palm tree that is native to New Caledonia, an island near Australia and New Zealand. These extremely attractive and ornamental trees grow to 25 feet (8 m.) tall with leathery leaves some 12 feet (5 m.) long.
The claim to fame of this exotic palm is its eccentric coloration. The new leaves on many specimens grows in vivid red, remaining red for up to ten days or longer as the trees get older. Their mature leaves are deep green and arch dramatically.
Crown Shafts of Flame Thrower Palms
Another ornamental feature of these palms is the swollen crown shaft sitting above the ringed trunks. Most crown shafts are green, some are yellow, and some (said to have the “watermelon form”) are streaked with yellow and green.
If you wish to grow these palm trees for the red leaves, select one with a yellow crown shaft. From red leaf palm information, we know this type has the highest percentage of new leaves that are red.
Red Leaf Palm Care
You don’t have to live in the tropics to start growing red leaf palms, but you do have to live in a mild to warm region. Flame thrower palms thrive outdoors in USDA plant hardiness zones 9 through 12. You can also grow them indoors as large container trees.
The trees are surprisingly cold hardy, tolerating temperatures down to 25 degrees F. (-4 C.). However, they won’t be happy in hot dry conditions and prefer warm coastal areas like Southern California to the arid Southwest. You can do well growing red leaf palm trees in full sun on the coast but opt for more shade the farther you are inland.
Appropriate soil is an important part of red leaf palm care. These palms need rich, well-draining soil. In full sun the palms need irrigation every few days, less if planted in shade. You won’t have many pests to deal with when you are growing red leaf palm trees. Any scale bugs or whiteflies will be kept in check by predator bugs.
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Rhapis palms: the elegant ladies of the palm world
Few palms are more prized around the world for their beauty as indoor house plants. They are also excellent landscape palms as well. This article serves as an introduction to some of these highly ornamental palms.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on February 8, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
Rhapis is a small genus of palms containing perhaps 12 species--all from Asia, including South China, Thailand and several islands. These are mostly undergrowth palms, not known for their love of full sun, and are palms that tend to grow in high rainfall and moderately tropical situations. Despite their tropical origins, most of the commonly grown species are amazingly tolerant plants, surviving frosts, droughts, high winds and even some direct, hot sunshine. However where they excel the most impressively is in low light, indoor situations where they seem to be the perfect houseplant palm.
All Rhapis are fan (palmate) palms with typically deeply divided leaves. The leaves are so deeply divided that the leaflets look like separate entities and create the illusion of fingers off a hand. This appearance of slender fingers is where the common name Lady Palm comes from. The reed-like stems of these palms are where the other common name, Bamboo Palm, comes from. This is an unfortunate common name, however as there are literally dozens of other palms also referred to as Bamboo Palms which continues to cause endless confusion among inexperienced palm and houseplant collectors (nearly all the other species called bamboo palms also tend to make decent house plants just adding to the confusion.) Rhapis palms are the only palmate bamboo palms all the others are pinnate species, and nearly all are Chamaedoreas. Rhapis palms are also sometimes refered to as dwarf fan palms, which is also the common name for a similar looking species, Guiahia argyrata.
Rhapis excelsa outdoors and typical fan/palmate leaf
one of the many 'Bamboo Palms' of the genus Chamaedorea Guihaia argyrata, or 'Dwarf Bamboo Palm' Rhapis excelsa growing right above a Guihaia in my garden showing how they look similar
Rhapis is a suckering species, spreading via underground runners (rhizomes) several inches to feet in all directions, but is slow to do so. Some species are more active spreaders than others. Some consider this an invasive group of palms, but in most gardens their spread is slow enough to easily control. In pots this spreading nature is obviously hindered, but eventually these potted plants become very root bound eventually necessitating their dividing, or at least moving up to a larger pot size. The dwarf cultivars are so slow growing that this eventuality takes decades to realize. The stems of these palms are either covered with a dense mesh of fibers or are partially naked, and are very stiff and straight, but only fractions of an inch in diameter.
Rhapis excelsa roots spreading under thin layer of asphalt Single Rhapis excelsa spreading and being invasive
This is a dioecious genus of palms, meaning there are male plants and female plants, with no individuals producing both sexes of flowers. Some species can only be found in one sex. Rhapis humilis are all male and Rhapis laoensis are all female. These two species obviously have to be divided to be propagated, though division is the most common method of making more plants in all these species of Rhapis. The rest of the species can also be reproduced via seed production and germination as well. Seed germination is how the ‘sports' (variegated and unusual leaf forms) are created: amongst thousands of germinated seedlings a few oddballs develop and these are then grown up, divided and propagated for the nursery trade.
Rhapis excelsa lime colored plant with flower Rhapis humilis flowers- all male
In general Rhapis are very easy to grow plants, requiring little fertilization, just water, soil (acidic is preferred), bright light (though many will tolerate very low light levels for prolonged periods of time), warmth (again, many will briefly tolerate temps well below freezing) and moisture. Most of the Rhapis species are also quite resistant to insect predation, another reason some make such exceptional house palms (no spider mites!)
This genus is not indestructable, and hot dry winds along with underwatering will kill it
The most commonly grown species of Rhapis in cultivation is easily Rhapis excelsa, or the Lady Palm. This plant can be found at nearly every garden outlet center as well as most of the larger nurseries throughout the U.S., and perhaps around the world. The reason for this is it is such an easy plant to grow and maintain, with excellent cold tolerance (down to about 20 F), low-light tolerance, modest drought- and wind- tolerance, and amazing pest-resistance. And it is one of the most ideal potted palms in cultivation. It is an easy plant to propagate both by division and seed production. Of course, it is also a beautiful palm in all, an excellent starter palm or houseplant for those with little experience.
Outdoor and Bonsai Rhapis exclesas
Rhapis excelsa can be identified by its typical leaflets which end bluntly or raggedly, unlike most of the other common Rhapis that have pointed leaflets. Rhapis leaves typically have less than 8 to 10 leaflets per leaf (compared to Rhapis humilis or multifida which usually have more than 10, or Rhapis laoensis which usually only has 2 or 3.) These delicate, deeply split fan leaves droop from very thin petioles along most of the stem length making these palms look luxuriously bushy. If not watered sufficiently, the leaves start dying from the bottom up. Some landscapers trim the bottom leaves anyway exposing the stems for a more elegant look. The leaves often brown tip, for a variety of reasons, and landscapers will often keep cutting the tips back a bit with pinking shears to maintain the wonderful jagged look of the leaflets.
Rhapis excelsa leaf showing typical jagged/premorse leaf ends
Stems are heavily clothed in dark brown fibers and are about one-half inch in thickness. Sometimes stems are thinned out as well by landscapers and nurserymen to also increase elegance and beauty of the palm.
stems clothed in dark, tough fibers outdoor landscape plant with lower leaves cuta way to expose stems
Outdoors this is an excellent garden palm, and very easy to grow: just add water. It can tolerate full sun, but is happier and greener with some shade. If not contained, an individual palm can spread out over time covering many yards in all directions. Some plants at the Huntington Garden palm garden look like they extend over 30 feet wide. Grown in shadier conditions, these palms can get up to 8 feet tall or more, but tend to stay under 5 feet in full sun. These tolerate a variety of soils and grow fine for me in my heavy southern California clay soils. Cold tolerance is 18 F to 20 F, but much colder freezes will often only kill the above ground parts, and the plants will grow back in the spring, as long as the soil doesn't freeze as well.
Plants for sale in two different nurseries in southern California
Rhapis excelsa is the only palm species that has dozens of named cultivars, both variegated and not, and these are prized plants for pot culture all around the world, most notably in Japan. Some of these cultivars, most dwarf in size, can cost a huge amount of money. But plants, if taken care of properly, can survive several generations and be passed down in wills along with other family treasures. For an excellent coverage of the Rhapis cultivars and much more about this species, and some of the other Rhapis as well, visit the Rhapis Gardens website.
Rhapis excesla sports and cultivaras (middle photos is Rhapis 'Nanzan Nishiki'- photo gothqueen )
More Rhapis excelsa variegates (second photo of outdoor plant)
this is a very rare variety called 'Hiroshima' siince the leaves are constantly looking burned
More variegated palms I photographed in Thailand
Rhapis humilis is the second most commonly grown species of Rhapis and is known as the Slender Lady Palm thanks to its more slender leaflets. This species also can be identified by its having ten or more pointed drooping leaflets per leaf and tall, less fiber-covered stems reaching up to 18 feet in some old palms. Grown in the landscape, these spread a bit more slowly than Rhapis excelsas do, and seem to stop at about 8 feet in diameter. Few consider this an invasive species. Probably of all the Rhapis, this one tolerates sun the best, but still prefers some shade protection in hot, inland climates. I have never seen this grown as an indoor palm but reportedly it does very well as one only a high ceiling is needed. As mentioned above, this plant only exists as a male, making many wonder if this isn't just a form of Rhapis excelsa. The ultimate origin of this species is unknown and there are no known ‘native' populations in the wild.
Rhapis humilis in California
Rhapis humilis as landscape palm in Hawaiian mall as landscaping palms in Huntington Gardens, California close up of stems
Another shot of Rhapis humilis in landscape Rhapis humilis in landscape, with a clump of Rhapis excelsa in foreground for comparison
Rhapis multifida is probably the most beautiful of all the commonly grown Rhapis palms and is somewhat of a miniaturized version of Rhapis humilis with numerous very slender, delicate pointed leaflets making up each leaf. It is a shorter palm, normally only about 4 or 5 feet tall. Though plants can grow up to 8 feet in nature, I have never seen any specimen that tall. The stems of this plant are pencil-thin and nearly fiber-free and have a lot of visible green stem showing through. This is my favorite species of Rhapis and I have several growing about the yard. This plant does not tolerate drought and seems to need its roots wet all the time or it does not look good. This species cannot tolerate full sun well, particularly in arid climates. It is also less cold-tolerant, having some leaf damage when temperatures fall to the mid-20s. Some consider this a form of Rhapis humilis and include it in the same species, despite there being females of this ‘form'.
Rhapis multifida as potted plant in Singapore, and two shots of it growing in Hawaii
Rhapis multifida leaf unusual form with only few wide leaflets per leaf stems of Rhapis multifida
Rhapis subtilis is supposedly the dwarf species of the Rhapis (of the commonly grown ones, that is), but I have seen clumps of this plant in Hawaii growing at least 10 feet tall. This species usually has pointed leaflets, but there are blunt-tipped leaflet forms/cultivars. I personally cannot tell these blunt tip forms from Rhapis excelsa cultivars. It is certainly a very slow and somewhat picky grower and I have not had much luck with it myself. Its cold tolerance is about the same as Rhapis multifida, maybe even less so. And it really needs to be kept wet. It is a very variable species with a number of wonderful and unusual cultivars of its own (though I am not sure how many have names). I saw many varieties of this species grown as fantastic potted plants in Thailand (sadly, no digital camera back then.)
two Rhapis subtilis in Hawaii
Several rare cultivars of Rhapis subtilis in Thailand
Rhapis laoensis is another single sex species, only these are all females. This is easily the rarest species of the ‘common' species in cultivation, and is for me the finickiest of them all, never looking good in our southern California climate. It is a relatively small palm, growing maybe 6 feet tall at the most, and only forming narrow clumps of very thin-stemmed plants. Leaves are typically divided into 2 or 3 leaflets (sometimes a few more) with bluntly pointed tips. This species is easily the wimpiest of the above Rhapis in terms of cold tolerance, only barely tolerating temps below freezing. It is also needs water at all times, and develops brown tips if the water quality is poor or loaded with salts.
Rhapis laoensis in California
Rhapis ‘Alicia' is not a separate species, but is an officially named hybrid of Rhapis laoensis and Rhapis multifida. This is a wonderfully ornamental mixture of these two plants, having the sparser, elegant leaflets of laoensis, the narrow, pointed graceful leaflets of multifida and the pencil-thin, barely fiber-covered stems of Rhapis multifida. Its cold tolerance is at least as good as multifida if not even better and it is even a tad sun-tolerant. However it certainly isn't the most wind tolerant Rhapis, and mine tends to look pretty tattered after Santa Ana wind season here in southern California.
Rhapis 'Alicia' in Southern California growing in garden of original hybridizer, Louis Hooper leaf of Rhapis 'Alicia' Flowers of Rhapis 'Alicia'
Seedling in first photo shot of nearly naked stem in second
I know little of the other Rhapis species and have only seen rare examples of any of them in cultivation. Perhaps someday some of these will also be wonderful available palms for cultivation, both indoor and out.
Other species of Rhapis I have seen (from left to right): Rhapis robusta, Rhapis micrantha, and recently this last plant, Rhapis 'Nova Laos' has become available out of Hawaii
Care for a Red Dracaena
Red dracaena are known for their striking red coloring, which can vary from pink to deep red. Some varieties sport a red leaf edge, while others have leaves that are entirely red. While red dracaena is most often used as a houseplant, they are suitable for planting outdoors in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 9 to 11. Plants are available in all sizes starting at 3-inch pots and grow to 10 to 15 feet tall with good care and room to grow.
Place red dracaena in a bright area, out of direct sunlight. Supply additional lighting with plant lights or compact fluorescent lights in areas with dim lighting. The appearance of fading and dying leaves is a sign of too little light, while dry brown leaves signal sunburn caused by direct sunlight.
Water red dracaena whenever the soil surface dries out. Water thoroughly until water runs out the drainage hole. Use a tray to catch excess water or water at the sink or tub. Do not allow red dracaena to stand in water.
Mist the red dracaena leaves two to three times a week, more often when the air is dry. Red dracaena enjoys a humid environment. The leaf tips dry out and turn brown when not enough humidity is present.
Dust leaves regularly with a damp cloth to prevent buildup of dust on the broad leaves.
Fertilize red dracaena in the spring with a time-release houseplant formula.
Inspect the leaves for evidence of mealy bug, mites and scale. Watch for small webs, spotted leaves or holes in the leaves. When insects are present, spray with a pyrethin-based insecticide suitable for houseplants.
Repot red dracaena in the spring. When new growth appears, turn small pots upside down, holding the plant between your fingers and exposing the root mass. A solid root mass indicates the need for repotting. Look for signs of root crowding in larger plants. When re-potting is needed, move the plant to a pot that is 1 to 2 inches larger in diameter. Add additional potting soil to the bottom and sides of the pot, keeping the plant at the height it was originally planted. Tamp the soil around the plant and water immediately after re-potting.
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Chambeyronia Species, Blushing Palm, Flame Thrower Palm, Houailou Red Leaf Palm, Red Feather Palm
|Family:||Arecaceae (ar-ek-AY-see-ee) (Info)|
|Genus:||Chambeyronia (kam-bey-ROH-nee-uh) (Info)|
|Species:||macrocarpa (ma-kro-KAR-pa) (Info)|
Tropicals and Tender Perennials
Average Water Needs Water regularly do not overwater
Requires consistently moist soil do not let dry out between waterings
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 °C (25 °F)
USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 °C (30 °F)
USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 °C (35 °F)
USDA Zone 11: above 4.5 °C (40 °F)
Where to Grow:
Soil pH requirements:
This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:
CARDIFF BY THE SEA, California
Fallbrook, California(5 reports)
Huntington Beach, California(2 reports)
Rancho Cucamonga, California
Santa Barbara, California(3 reports)
Cape Coral, Florida(2 reports)
On Mar 19, 2012, johnchen99 from Livermore, CA wrote:
I have 6 of these palms. They are fairly cold hardy but not sun hardy. Here in the valley, they need sun protection in the summertime and best looking in partial shade.
On Jan 19, 2010, MB_Palms from Winter Park, FL wrote:
A great easily grown palm that usually emerges brightly colored red or pink leaves.
As the palm ages, the newly emerged red leaves will keep their red color longer and longer. We have had a few large palms keep their red color for up to a month.
Most collectors admire the watermelon trunk trait this palm can have. Since the watermelon form is just a trait, it cannot be guaranteed by growers on young seedlings that have not developed a trunk. If you really want a watermelon trunk, we suggest going a nursery and hand selecting one
We have successfully grown them from seed here in Orlando, FL where they have survived multiple freezes and temperatures down to 28. They were covered in nursery grade freeze cloth, and did show some leaf damage afte. read more r a few days to a week, but emerged new healthy leaves in the spring.
On Jun 20, 2007, pinellaspalm from Largo, FL wrote:
I have about eight seedlings growing under porch covering that i have raised from seeds. It has been about a year now and they have produced five leaves with two leaflets.
On Dec 10, 2006, billowen from Port Charlotte, FL (Zone 10a) wrote:
I've just planted two red feather palms in the ground in Port Charlotte, Fl. I picked them up in Homestead where the climate is a little warmer in winter. I've been told they won't do well in Zone 10a. I don't see many comments from folks in Florida about this palm. I would like to hear more about plantings in south Fl. Update April 2008, I now have four palms, the largest is over eight feet. We had a cold front move thru a couple of months back, down to 27 degrees overnight for several hours, no leaf damage, many other palms in my yard suffered with brown leafs, no problem with these. Seems to be more cold tolerent than many other types of palms grown here, Christmas palms, Coconut palms, Bottle palms, etc.
On Aug 31, 2005, elHoagie from Altadena, CA (Zone 10a) wrote:
Great palm! Only downside is the slow growth. Smaller seedlings in my unheated greenhouse produce 3-4 leaves per year, but my larger Chambeyronia in the ground only gives about 2. Mine is happy with 1/2 day sun, but would probably be a deeper green with more shade.
On Aug 22, 2004, Kylecawaza from Corte Madera, CA (Zone 10a) wrote:
This beatiful palm thrives in the San Francisco Bay area, and survives well inland in the Sacremento Valley. There is a great specimen in Modesto California, although it is still.
On Jun 12, 2004, palmbob from Acton, CA (Zone 8b) wrote:
Probably the best of all the New Caledonia palms for the USA. Not a fast grower, but faster than nearly all the other New Caledonia palms, and relatively easy and hardy. relatively.. .does NOT like desert heat, dry winds (or winds of any variety for that matter), blazing hot inland sun, salty air or soils or severe frosts. Mine always damaged in So. California when temps get down below 30F. Will survive temps down to about 26F but much below that will often kill plant outright unless extremely short period of freeze and quickly warms up well the next day. Relatively common in cultivation now, though still not a palm likely to show up at a garden outlet store.
Prized for its long arching leaves of deep green and wide, oval/lancelote leaflets somewhat leathery in cons. read more istency. The crownshaft is prominent and very ornamental and comes in various colors (see below). And the best thing is the new red leaf for which it gets its silly common names (recent nursery inventions. not 'official' names to be sure).
There are forms of Chambeyronia, that do not spout flaming red new leaves like the 'normal' variety. There is a 'green' form, that looks just like the new red-leaf form, only the new leaves are green. Still an attractive palm, but without that extra bit of fireworks once a year. There is also a yellow trunk/petiole form, called C macrocarpa var. hookeriana. I think that one is described elsewhere, but basially it is the same palm, only having a yellow trunk instead of a green one. THen there are some forms in between. like 'watermelon' variety (has green trunk, speckled with yellow linear dots, making it look sort of like a watermelon rind). And last, but not least, is form Houaliou. This form is unique in its seedling leaf formation having very large, wide, fused leaflets (bifid leaves) with ornamental yellow-gold midrib. Eventually this palm's leaves begin to split with age and it ends up looking a lot like a regular Chambeyronia except with an exaggerated arch or recurving of the leaves. Highly sought after form as it is still fairly rare in cultivation but pretty sure it's just a fad, as soon as folks figure out nothing unique about the look of this palm as a big palm, except NO red leaves.
Does very well on both coasts of the US, and exceptionally well in Hawaii of course (as do about all the New Caledonian palms).
On May 30, 2001, BotanyBob from Thousand Oaks, CA wrote:
This mostly tropical tree is grown for it's very wide 'feather' (as opposed to palmate) leaflets, and brilliant red or pink new leaf, as well as its very tropical looking ringed trunk and smooth dark green or yellow crownshaft (leaf base between trunk and leaves). It is one of the hardier tropicals grown in California and Florida, though I don't know if it's growing in any other states on the mainland. It is also one of the most beautiful palms in cultivation.
It takes cold down to around 28F and has significant leaf damage below that. Temps below 25F will usually kill it outright. High temps will also stress it out, and it cannot grow in climates like Palm Desert or Phoenix. It is mostly untested as a house plant, but is not very tolerant of very low humidity or very l. read more ow light, and it is especially attractive to white fly.
This palm is a slow grower, taking up to 10 years to get to maturity in California, and perhaps 8 in S Florida. It takes a lot of water, though the soil doesn't have to be kept constantly moist. High winds will shred the leaflets, so plant in a protected area.
Varieties of this palm occur: C macrocarpa 'hookeri' is a yellow-trunked form, and there is a 'watermelon' form that has a spotted green and yellow trunk (rare). Most specialty palm nurseries carry this palm, or it can be ordered bare root from Hawaiian nurseries.