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What is Howea?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 29 October 2016
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Howea, or Kentia palm, is a genus of palm trees with only two species: H. belmoreana and H. forsteriana. Both have a native range limited to Lord Howe Island in Australia, though they are cultivated in other areas as ornamental plants. H. forsteriana grows well in containers and is a popular houseplant, while H. belmoreana does better as an outdoor plant. Common names for the Howea palms include thatch palm for H. forsteriana, and Belmore sentry palm or curly palm for H. belmoreana

In the wild, H. forsteriana grows in lowland forests, particularly in sandy soils, while H. belmoreana grows mainly at higher elevations, with some trees interspersed with the H. forsteriana population. The leaves of H. forsteriana have an elegant, drooping appearance, while H. belmoreana looks more angular. The flowering seasons of the two species are seven weeks apart, with H. forsteriana flowering earlier, so hybrids of the two species are rare in nature.

Both Howea species are cultivated on the nearby Norfolk Island, and Howea seeds and seedlings are an important export for both Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island. Both plants are of vulnerable conservation status. The trade in Howea plants is strictly regulated to protect the genus from overexploitation.

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Howea prefers growing conditions similar to those it enjoys in its natural habitat. It grows best in subtropical climates, with warm temperatures year round, abundant rainfall, and high humidity. Kentia palms also do well in warm temperate climates, and some tropical climates. They do not require much light, and can tolerate temperatures just below freezing as long as they do not persist for more than a few hours.

Kentia palms are grown as decorative outdoor plants, in gardens or along streets. They grow well in southern Spain and the southern United States, where climates are similar to the natural habitat of the Howea palms. In such areas, the trees also bloom and bear fruit.

H. forsteriana can grow to be 60 feet (18 meters) tall, while H. belmoreana is smaller, with a maximum height of 23 feet (7 meters). Though it is smaller, H. belmoreana does not thrive when potted, so is rarely kept as a houseplant. H. forsteriana, on the other hand, has been a popular indoor plant since the Victorian era. Indoor specimens usually grow to be 5 to 12 feet (1.5 to 3.7 meters) in height.

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