Areca Palm: a Good Tree Shape without the Stress

If the pothos is my easy-to-maintain recommendation for vines, the areca palm is my go-to for palms and when you want tree-like vertical growth.
Dypsis lutescens, a palm, takes the following names:

  • golden cane palm
  • areca palm
  • yellow palm
  • butterfly palm
  • palmera

Interestingly a palm is not a tree but rather a woody herb. The areca palm shoots out multiple stems from its base, which end in the pinnate arrangement of long leaves (think multiple and consecutive pairs of leaves growing out from a stem) that is typical of palms.

Like the pothos, it is part of NASA’s clean air study, and it is able to filter out xylene (from rubbers and adhesives), toluene (from paints and rubbers), and formaldehyde (from tobacco smoke).

It grows tall and lush

Unlike some trees, the areca palm doesn't grow singular trunks that support leaves in horizontal canopies on the upper parts. Instead, it shoots out stems that arc radially away from the center of the plant. Because the areca palm doesn't mind over crowding, you have several of these stems arranging themselves to form a thick green in both height and width. Because small stems will grow in the bottom, it becomes quite thick.

It takes its growth seriously

You'll get used to overnight growths of long and tall not-yet-unfurled stems: these will usually come from the center. These are the vertical growths as the palm tries to reach the skies. And concurrently, you'll find small growths at the bottom and on the outer circumference of the clump. These are the growths meant to thicken the plant. Given good nutrients, water and sun, the palm does this often and regularly.

To propagate it, wait for one of its stems to grow stable and strong (you’ll see that it separates from the main stems), and separate it with its roots. The areca palm is great because it takes care of stabilizing off shoots, and you should have no problem growing the offshoot. 

It survives

It's a hard plant to kill. Give it indirect but bright light, water accordingly (everyday when outside, between dryings when inside), and it will grow. The easiest plants to grow are those that tell you something’s wrong. The areca palm, because its normal state is to grow, will stop doing so when it lacks water or light. It’ll be some time later that it’ll start dying (leaves turning yellow then brown), but it will survive when its issues are corrected (this can be cold air, or over or underwatering). I once attempted to grow it in an air-conditioned room, and I almost killed it. But that same plant has now grown so large that I had to repot it.

What it is not

The areca palm is not a small plant. It does like to crowd itself, and it will continue to grow in a small pot. However its tendency will always to want to grow as a thick plant via more and more stems, and grow tall. If you are even half-decent at caring for it, the palm will continue to do these. It is best to repot it into a bigger size.

Because of this, the areca palm will not be one of those plants that you put on your desk, nor in any small space. It’s not as adaptable as pothos, and wants to be that plant in a big pot on a corner where it can grow tall and thick. 


■■■■ A good vertical grower

For what it is, a plant with a structure that grows thick and vertically, it does so without much fuss. It can easily survive given a humid and brightly-lit environment, and it is forgiving of mistreatment as long as the poor conditions are corrected in time.

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