A Bamboo Palm is one of the top air-purifying plants for indoors

Image created by FreepikImage created by FreepikThis graceful multi-stemmed palm has a soft, leafy appearance which will enhance indoor spaces, and is a lovely addition to tropical and subtropical gardens. It is known to be one of the top air-purifying plants for indoors, and a natural humidifier, improving the air quality of your home or office, as well as adding a relaxing tropical feel.

In the garden it can be sited in semi-shade or full sun - in the sun its leaves take on a lovely yellowish colour, but in semi-shade they are a lush forest green, making the bamboo palm very versatile in the garden, adding great contrast in colouring as well as form.  Another common name for this palm is “Golden Cane Palm” in reference to its yellow stems.

The bamboo palm is native to the Comoro archipelago situated in the Indian ocean northeast of Madagascar and consisting of four main islands, as well as Pemba Island and Madagascar,  although in Madagascar is has sadly become rare and endangered.

In subtropical and tropical regions, the bamboo palm can grow to a height of 6 to 9m or more, with a spread of 3 to 4m, with its clusters of stems becoming very dense. Small, inconspicuous white flowers are produced all year round on long stalks among the leaves, and these are followed by small, oblong, black fruits which ripen all year round.

In the Garden & Home:

The bamboo palm remains popular for indoor culture because it blends effortlessly with all styles and colour schemes, from classical to modern, adding a sense of elegance to any room.  If it is grown in a large pot, it can attain great heights indoors, but if space is limited, cute little specimens are available at retail outlets, which if cared for correctly can live for a long time, rather like a little bonsai.

If it is happy in its location, the bamboo palm is fast growing, and because it transpires one litre of water every 24 hours, is fantastic for cleaning indoor air. This exceptionally high transpiration rate makes this plant among the best for removing benzene (found in varnish) and chemicals found in plastic toys. It also effectively removes xylene and toluene (both found in paint.) Even a baby specimen can make a big difference to air quality in a room.

Outdoors it is perfect for frost free regions, and a moderately salt tolerant palm for coastal gardens, but does better well where it is sheltered from strong winds. In the garden it is good to plant reasonably close to swimming pools, because the surface roots are usually not a problem. However, falling fruits can be messy. If planted closely together the plants will make an excellent screen.

Cultivation/Propagation:

Indoors:

If you are growing a bamboo palm indoors, it will grow beautifully when surrounding temperatures hold around 18 to 22°C, and if it is placed in moderate to bright light. Even some direct sunlight won’t harm it, but be careful as too much direct sunlight indoors, especially if the plant is close to a window without lace curtains or blinds, may burn the fronds.

Because the bamboo palm won’t cope well with cold and lack of light indoors, if you live in a house that is quite dark, and perhaps also cold in winter, avoid purchasing a bamboo palm unless you can provide grow lights, which will help growth and also increase the temperature slightly.
These palms also dislike fluoridated water, so try to water with rain water or purified water whenever possible.

Watering correctly is very important for bamboo palms, and commercially grown potted specimens are cultivated in extremely well-drained potting mixtures, which may contain quite a lot of bark etc. because growers know that most indoor plants are killed with kindness i.e. normally they are drowned with too much water. In summer, potted specimens must be watered regularly, allow the potting soil to almost dry out before watering thoroughly again, but never allow the soil to dry out totally. This is where a moisture meter would come in very handy. In the hotter, frost-free regions of the country it is necessary to water well throughout the year, but in cold regions your palm tree will not be growing much, if at all in winter, so water moderately, and less often. Palms do well in self watering pots, which will keep the soil lightly moist and reduces the need for you to monitor your palm constantly.

Generally potted bamboo palms will only need repotting in spring every 2 or 3 years, but if re-potting isn't an option, give your plant a top-dressing of potting soil, and in summer, feed with a liquid fertiliser for leafy plants about every two to three weeks, taking great care to moisten the soil beforehand. Do not feed in winter.

If you wish to re-pot your bamboo palm into a larger container, it is vital that the potting soil has perfect drainage. However, if you find that the soil drains a bit too well and you are continually having to water your plant, the potting soil can be amended to add to its water retention capabilities by adding about one third of compost to the potting mix, and water retaining materials like vermiculite can also be added.

Because most potted plants like being in pots which are more ‘snug’ around their roots, select a pot which is only one to two sizes larger than the one your palm is currently growing in. Remember to check that the pot has drainage holes, and add a good layer of small stones to cover the holes before adding the soil. This will ensure that the roots don’t wallow in water, which could be fatal to your plant.

When repotting be sure that you’re planting it at the same depth it was in the previous pot. If you plant too deeply it can cause serious injury to the plant. The roots can also be very brittle, so make sure that you’re very gentle and don’t even try to separate or spread them out.

Gently pack the soil firmly yet gently around the roots with your fingers and make sure that you don’t break the fragile roots. After you’ve pressed the soil in, water deeply and gently press the soil down again to remove any remaining air pockets, and adding more soil if required.

In the drier regions of the country it is necessary to increase humidity around the fronds, to try to mimic the bamboo palms natural humid growing conditions. A room humidifier would work miracles, especially during cold and dry winters when many homes are heated and humidity is even lower. Keep the leaves away from cold windows, air conditioners, and heat sources.

Mist spraying the leaves down regularly with tepid water is a great way to increase humidity, and will help prevent the tips of the leaves from going brown. It also helps to keep your palm tree clean and healthy. An occasional spell outside in the warm summer rain would also go down a treat. Avoid using leaf shine on palms.

Another useful tip to increasing humidity is to purchase a drip tray larger than the one recommended for the pot you have selected. Fill the tray with fine gravel or small pebbles, or stand the pot on 'pot feet'. Fill the tray with water, ensuring that the pot is standing above the water level on the stones or pot feet. This ensures that roots of your plant won't rot, and as the water slowly evaporates, it will increase humidity.

Outdoors:

Bamboo palms thrive outdoors in the frost-free regions of South Africa. Generally speaking, they do not tolerate cold well and can only take short spells of light frost. They are moderately salt tolerant and do well in sheltered coastal gardens. Outdoors they grow quickly, and can be planted in full sun or semi-shade - in the sun the leaves have a yellowish colour, but in semi-shade they are lush green. As for potted specimens, they require well-drained soil, and regular watering and feeding in summer. Feed monthly during summer with a fertiliser for leafy plants, but do not feed in winter.

Propagation:

These palm are usually planted from seed, and usually many seeds are sown into a single pot. You can germinate them at home by planting them at a uniform depth in seedling soil. Mature orange-coloured seeds have a better germination rate than newer, greener seeds. Germination takes about six weeks under the best conditions, with soil temperatures around 27°C and with relatively high humidity.

Plants can also be propagated by the careful division of smaller plants.

Problems, Pests & Diseases:

Palms, especially those grown indoors can be affected by some pests and diseases. Pests like spider mites, aphids, mealy bugs, scale, and whitefly can be treated by spraying with eco-friendly pesticides.

Yellow to brown leaves indicate that the soil may be too dry. Palms are heavy feeders, and can also develop yellowing leaves in the absence of magnesium, iron, and trace elements. Bamboo palms are also susceptible to fertiliser salts and dislike fluoridated water, which may burn the leaf tips, turning them brown.

Sudden cold spells can bring on dark spots in the leaves.

If the odd leaf turns yellow and dies, this is part of its natural growth cycle, so simply cut them off. However, if no new shoots appear, and your palm tree looks pitiful, check on your watering and drainage, and fertilise every fortnight.

If your palms leaves become twisted, this is undoubtedly due to lack of light or excess water. Position it in more light and ensure you are watering correctly.

Toxicity:

The bamboo palm is listed as non-toxic to humans, dogs, cats, and horses.