Even if you live in a cold or temperate climate, you can add a tropical touch to your interior decor with the addition of a potted palm (family Arecaceae). Although an indoor palm tree isn't at the mercy of the same conditions that can damage outdoor palms, such as strong winds or heavy rains, it faces other types of hazards.
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Inquisitive or energetic children, a lively pet or even an accidental bump from your vacuum cleaner may result in a broken palm. Whether you'll be able to repair your broken palm tree or not depends on the type of palm you have as well as where the break occurred on your plant.
Single-Stemmed Palms vs. Multistemmed Palms
Trunks are vital parts of a palm tree. Because of their botanical dissimilarities to broadleaf and coniferous trees, palms may not be able to survive certain injuries by regenerating growth when their trunks are severed. Some types of palms have single trunks, which are actually elongated stems, while other types are multistemmed.
These multistemmed types are called clustering palms because of the way multiple stems, which are called lateral meristems, grow outward at soil level to form a cluster. All palms have another type of meristem, called an apical meristem, which is at the very top of the plant from which the foliage grows.
If a single-stemmed palm suffers a complete break, the plant cannot recover. It will not send up new growth from soil level in the form of suckers, and the broken trunk will not resprout. If one or more stems on a multistemmed palm is completely severed, the stem stumps will not flush new growth, but any remaining stems will continue to grow, and the plant will also continue to produce lateral meristems at soil level.
Repairing a Broken Indoor Palm
If either a single-stemmed or multistemmed palm has simply a broken leaf or leaflet, also called a frond, you can probably remove the broken frond without compromising the plant's health. Don't remove all the fronds, however, because the palm needs as much foliage as possible to photosynthesize and produce nutrients.
If you have a single-stemmed palm with a broken stem, you'll unfortunately have to discard it. Since it cannot recover from this type of injury, the palm will die. If you have a multistemmed palm with a partially broken stem, go ahead and trim away the stem at the base of the plant without cutting into the other stems.
Before making any cuts on your palm, sanitize your handheld pruners by wiping the blades with ethanol or isopropyl alcohol (at least 70 percent). This is an important part of caring for a palm because it helps to prevent the spread of disease from potential pathogens that may be lurking on dirty shears.
Choosing Indoor Palms
When considering the purchase of an indoor palm or replacing one that didn't make it, you may decide in favor of a multistemmed palm over a single-stemmed specimen. This way, if the plant suffers a calamity at the hands of a child or encounters a brush with a wayward vacuum cleaner, it will have backup stems to ensure its chances of survival.
A lovely multistemmed choice is the lady palm (Rhapis excelsa). Although it's a perennial in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 through 11, it is an excellent potted plant for indoors. Another multistemmed palm recommended for growing indoors is the European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis, USDA zones 9-11). Although each of these palms has a potential mature height of 15 feet when grown outdoors, both typically reach only 6 feet when grown as potted plants indoors.
Victoria Lee Blackstone is a horticulturist and a professional writer who has authored research-based scientific/technical papers, horticultural articles, and magazine and newspaper columns. Her writing expertise covers diverse industries, including horticulture, home maintenance and DIY projects, banking, finance, law and tax. Blackstone has written more than 2,000 published works for newspapers, magazines, online publications and individual clients.