The Two-Faced Lady Palm

Rhapis excelsa: the Palm Tree that
Moonlights as a Hedge

The lady palm, Rhapis excelsa, grows thickly enough (when left to her own devices) to be planted as a hedge. When the lady is pruned so as to expose her slender canes, she takes on a whole different character.

Planting Japanese Rhapis palms in the landscape and in pots.

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Lady palms used as a hedge at the Naples Zoo in Florida.

Rhapis excelsa used as a hedge at the Naples Zoo.

The bright green foliage of Rhapis excelsa, is very dense.

This growth habit makes it one of the few palms that is suitable to use as hedging material.

Being slow growing and fond of shade makes the lady a good palm to use as an indoor houseplant or to plant in a container. It needs light, but does not require any direct sun.

In fact, it is best to keep it shaded and moist as too much direct sun can bleach the leaves.

Japanese Rhapis palms are small palm trees which will only grow to 8 or 10 feet.

There is a variegated RhapisR. excelsa var. foliis-variegatis which displays cream-colored stripes along its leaves. This cultivar is exceptionally slow growing to 2 feet. It may be worth searching for if you want an unusual palm to adorn a small space.

In fact, there are more than a hundred variegated cultivars being sold in Japan where they are often used as bonsai trees. Alas, these types are hard to find in the U.S.

A youp lady palm tree.

The fan-shaped leaves of the lady palm are divided into 7-10 finger-like segments.

Rhapis is a Greek word which means needle.

The genus is thought to have been called this in reference to the narrow, pointy leaf segments.

This southern China native will lend an Asian air to any environment in which it is grown.

The lady palm’s main stems are brown and hairy but not usually visible on a specimen that has been allowed to grow naturally as the foliage is dense enough to completely conceal them.

You can, of course, prune it to expose the stems. They can be quite attractive. Especially on potted palm trees.

A lady palm growing in a container with her canes exposed.

You can see, here, how dainty and ladylike she becomes when handled in this fashion.

In this next photo she’s her full-figured self again.

A lady palm hedge at Bok Tower Gardens.

This lady truly has 2 faces and they are both ravishing.

Planting Lady Palms in the Landscape

Clumps of nealtly trimmed Rhapis palms share a front yard landscape with a pair of dwarf dates.

Three clumps of neatly trimmed Japanese Rhapis palms share a front yard landscape design with a pair of dwarf date trees.

It is easy to see why meticulously groomed lady palms are sometimes confused with bamboo palms, but these are a different species: Chamaedorea microspadix or seifrizii.

When planting Rhapis palms outdoors, choose a partly shady location.

This is a clump forming, moderately drought tolerant palm that is hardy down to 20 degrees F.

It will bloom in the spring on short stalks which emerge from the leaf sheaths. The blush-colored flowers are pleasantly fragrant and followed by cream-colored round fruits.


Male and female plants will need to be planted in close proximity for fertile seed to be produced.

Although variegated cultivars may arise from seedlings, they must be propagated by division.

To propagate R. excelsa, plant the ripe seeds or divide the clumps.

The fresh seeds sprout easily but, because this palm grows so slowly, it is almost always propagated by division.

Dig up suckers once they have been growing long enough to have established a good root system of their own.

A Note On R. excelsa as a Houseplant

Palms of the Rhapis genus make unsurpassed houseplants as they can grow and thrive indoors without the need for frequent outdoor vacations.

This is a rare and very desirable quality in a houseplant.

Additionally, their pokey growth will allow them to remain in the same pot for several years before they need shifting into larger quarters.

Buy Large Palm Trees Here

This is a fantastic, low maintenance palm tree both in the garden and in containers. Keep its turtle-like growth habit in mind when purchasing plants and order the size closest to what you ultimately want.

The slow growth tends to make these plants a bit pricey. You will find your best bargains below:

3′ Lady Palm Tree – $74.95
from: Real Palm Trees

6′ Lady Palm Tree – $329.95
from: Real Palm Trees

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