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The Kentia palm is a graceful, hardy, ornamental palm that is suited for use either indoors or outdoors. It grows naturally on the Lord Howe Island group located near Australia in the Tasman Sea, but it has been a favorite of fashionable hotels and homes since the mid-1800s. In its natural environment, it can grow up to 60 feet (18.3 m) tall. Its botanical name is Howea Fosteriana, with its genus name coming from the islands on which it is found and it species name honoring Henry William Foster, a legislator who helped women gain their civil rights in Australia. The plant derives its common name from Kentia, which is the capital city of Lord Howe Island.
The palm stands upright and has long, green, downward sloping, feather-like leaves growing from fronds that begin to fill out at the base. Depending on the environment in which it is grown, four to 12 fronds can stem from the trunk. The trunk is swollen at the base with raised rings around it. It produces an arrangement of white, male and female flowers on three to seven spikes below the leaves. When the palm reaches a maturity of approximately 15 years, it produces a reddish-brown oval fruit that is about 2 inches (5 cm) in length.
The Kentia palm is quite easy to care for. Younger palms require bright indirect sunlight for optimum growth. It can tolerate lower levels of light but produces fewer fronds in these conditions. The palms take about five years to mature enough to withstand direct sunlight.
Indoor palms can grow from 5-12 feet (1.5-3.7 m) high, making them a focal point in any room or landscape. If one is planting a Kentia palm outside, it is important to remember that they thrive in moderate temperatures and coastal regions. Temperatures below 25 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-4 degrees Celsius) and frost can damage the palm.
These plants thrive in moderately moist soil. It is important for growers to not let the soil of the palm become completely dry. If the Kentia palm is not watered enough, the tips of the fronds will turn brown. If it receives too much water, the tips will turn yellow first, then turn brown.
Overwatering a Kentia palm causes phytophthora, a fungal disease that affects the palm’s roots. Using untreated water for the palm is best, because it is sensitive to chemicals found in treated water. Palm-grade fertilizers can enhance the palm’s growing time. Magnesium and potassium should be added to the soil of older plants occasionally to keep the plant healthy.
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