Kentias prefer indirect sunlight. Although they easily can grow in spaces with less exposure they do require some natural light. Their growth is gradual but if they are in a room with considerable growth their development will be enhanced. The ideal situation for plants is near a north or east window. A little direct sunlight in winter will not harm the plant, but direct sunlight must be avoided during the hot summer months to prevent sunburned leaves. Also avoid exposing the palm to cold drafts or very low temperatures because the leaves may become burned in these conditions. Kentia leaves or fronds are endangered if they touch windows when the temperature is very low. Distancing the pot from air or heating vents will protect the palm from becoming too dry. Leaf polishing sprays are not needed on Kentia Palms. Some of the ingredients contained in such commercial products are very harmful to Kentias and will damage the leaves. Like all palms, Kentias can not be pruned from the center. New growth comes from the central spike in the middle of the plants. Their shape and developments do not allow for cutting in the center. However, trimming the tips of the leaflets on the fronds will not damage the tree. Damaged outer fronds may be removed if needed. Place Kentias in corners or isolated areas you wish to enhance, or position where they help to screen an unsightly background. Locate palms where they will not be touched or constantly brushed against by individuals in high traffic areas. Before watering, the surface of the soil should feel dry to the touch. The amount of water and frequency of watering varies according to seasons and conditions such as temperature and humidity. Potted Kentias may require a leaching of accumulated salts from the pot at least twice a year. This can be achieved by placing the palms outdoors in mild rainy weather or by heavily watering the palms while allowing full drainage. Kentia Palms will require a fertilizer periodically. Liquid fertilizers work well. A slow dry fertilizer at recommended application rates can also be used. Under indoor conditions the leaves of the Kentia Palm will require occasional cleaning of dust. This can be done with a soft cloth and warm water.
The biggest problem with germinating Kentia Palm seed in raised beds was that each time a picking occurred then all the planted seed in the bed was disturbed. At the end of the picking we had to go through the bed and virtually replant all the leftover seed again, and then make sure that seed that had just begun to germinate, and showing a very small spike, was placed in the correct upright position so that it could then develop through the mixture covering. This was very time consuming but needed to be done, so at the next picking the spikes of the seedlings would be vertically developed instead of having developed under the mixture sideways or downward. Over the years we tested other methods of seed germinating by using plastic tubs and polystyrene boxes, and these helped to eliminate the full process of replanting a raised bed after picking. It was much easy to just rearrange the seed after an initial picking in individual tubs or boxes. The last seed germinating exercise I did was with flute cardboard boxes and this method of germinating proved to be the best. We also changed our planting medium mix for the flute boxes by using cocopeat, which was a natural fibre made from coconut husks. The germination rate achieved with this mixture constantly was always well above average, and the seedlings of a high quality.
Germinating Kentia Palm seed is fairly easy but you must have patience as the seed can take up to 12 months to germinate. If you have access to your own Kentia Palm tree always pick the lower seed hands on the tree as they are the mature ones to be used for germinating. A mature Kentia Palm tree normally has three crops of seed on it at various stages of growth. The second seed hands above the lower light yellow color mature seeds are next years crop that are developing, and then the flowering spikes protruding from the center of the tree are the formation of the third year’s crop.
The hand seed in this picture shows the second year’s crop, and just under that you can see some lower hand seeds which are the mature seed ready for picking and germinating.If you don’t have access to your own Kentia Palm seed you can always purchase some from a reputable seed distributor. Your seed should be similar in color to this picture.
Notice that there are some reddish color seed but they are fine. Red seed is actually seed that has been growing on the tree for four years. Some pickers let the seed develop for four years, and that is why you have a difference in color with mature seed.
To germinate your own Kentia Palm seed at home I would suggest getting an 8 inch nursery pot and three quarters fill it with a mixture of 2 parts potting mix and one part perlite. Water lightly. Spread 8 to 10 seed on the top of the mixture and mist the seed. Cover the seed with about two inches of your planting mixture and then once again water lightly. Cover the top of the pot with plastic so that the potting mixture is airtight. This procedure will ensure that the pot has the ideal temperature in it for the seed to germinate. Place your pot anywhere in your home where it will not get any direct sunlight. You will see some condensation appear under the plastic and this is good. You can monitor the pot regularly, and if you see little condensation then undo the plastic and very lightly sprinkle the top with water. Cover the pot again with the plastic.
Kentia Palm seed can take from 8 to 12 months to germinate. The first appearance of germination will be small pointed spikes coming through the mixture. There is no need to take the plastic off the pot until the spike is about an inch tall. Once that height is reached, take the plastic off and let the seeds continue to grow to a swallowtail height like the next picture.
You can then harvest the seedlings and pot them up singularly into six inch pots.
The unique thing about Kentia Palm germinated seedlings is that the seed attached to the spike or seedling has enough nutrients in it to supplement the growing needs of the plant for at least two years.
So it is imperative that when you harvest your seedlings that you be careful to ensure that the seed is still attached before replanting.
Last Sunday I was checking out the Sunday Mass from St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and there behind the altar were two Kentia Palms in all their glory. Immediately I wondered where these plants originated from, and thought it was extremely likely that they came from seeds or seedlings grown on Lord Howe Island or Norfolk Island.
It’s amazing to think that these majestic palms displayed within many famous establishments throughout Europe and other parts of the world, can actually trace their ancestry back to tiny Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island.
Kentia Palms are unique, and they have a fabulous history associated with them surrounding their discovery, and how they have become the world’s supreme indoor foliage plant over the last 150 years. All because of Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island!!
The afternoon tea party was a feature of great houses in the Victorian and Edwardian ages in the United Kingdom and the Gilded Age in the United States. Of course it was fashionable to enjoy your tea with a Kentia Palm decorating the party’s surroundings!
When I began germinating Kentia Palm seed at my nursery on Norfolk Island in the mid 1980’s I did it the old fashion way. I had three greenhouses built, using green color woven plastic as the exterior lining, then covered the lining with shade cloth. Inside the greenhouses we built raised timber beds. We planted the Kentia seed in a mixture of peat and perlite in the beds. Lightly watered the mixture, and then covered the beds with plastic. This old fashion way of seed growing needed us to regularly check the top moisture content of the potting mix. We did this by rolling back the plastic and gently spraying a fine water mist on the mixture. The inside temperature of the greenhouses could get hot in the summer months, even though Norfolk’s average summer temperature very rarely exceeds 85F. The unique thing about Kentia Palm seeds are that they just don’t all germinate at once. Kentia Palm seed picked from local trees has the reputation of providing a very good viability rate of almost 80%. My experience from growing Kentia seed is that you could probably expect a germination rate of between 60% and 65% in the first 10 to 12 months from planting. The balance could germinate anytime over the next eighteen months. By using the expected 60% to 65% germination rate, you could then estimate how many seedlings you would probably have for sale 10 to 12 months from planting. So if you had planted, say 100 bushels, which is probably around 450,000 seeds, you could probably negotiate with European buyers a selling price for 270,000 seedlings, because that would be the germinated number you could expect to pick once you started picking. A normal shipping consignment to a single European buyer was 25,000 seedlings. Once the beds looked like there were enough seedlings germinated for a consignment to be shipped we would start picking. Each picker could pick about 800 seedlings an hour, and with three other pickers and myself we could pick a consignment number in one day. Once picked, the seedlings were washed and the dipped in a fungicide mixture. They would be left to drain overnight in large plastic bins with small holes in the bottom. The following day the consignment would be packed, and then inspected so that an approved agricultural certificate could be issued to comply with entry into the European buyer’s country. The consignment usually left Norfolk Island by air on a Sunday, and would be at a buyer’s greenhouse in Amsterdam within three days.
Prior to the “Quarantine” imposed by the Federal Horticultural Board in America in the early 1900’s there was a demand for beautiful single Kentia Palms like the ones in the pictures below. Wealthy Americans emulating rich Europeans wanted them in their mansions, and also high class interior designers wanted them for décor in fashionable hotels and restaurants. The big Kentias were imported from Belgium growers and came sleeved and packed and stored in the ship’s consignment area. Kentias such as the height and maturity of these, did not need any acclimation in grower’s greenhouses prior to sale and delivery to the customer. As mentioned on many occasions I just love these mature single Kentia Palms. They just “make’ any setting!!
In the 1700’s and 1800’s British navel explorers criss-crossed the oceans of the Southern Hemisphere. New territories such as Norfolk Island and Lord Howe Island near Australia were claimed for the British Empire.
Botanists sailed aboard many of these ships. Their duties encompassed descriptions of local wildlife and vegetation with accurate illustrations of their findings. Wherever possible, seeds and living specimens were bought back to England.
Under such perilous conditions few tropical plants survived to grow or germinate in the northern climate of Great Britain. Only the Royal Botanical Gardens at Mew and very few other gardens where researchers conducted plant studies, could expect to receive such precious samples. Tropical and subtropical plants remained rare and costly. To own such plants was a sign of significant wealth and status.
in 1869 Charles Moore, the director of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney, made a brief visit to Lord Howe Island. Moore’s task was to survey the island’s vegetation, including the palms that formed dense forests covering the Island’s lowland area.
Moore singled out two palms that grew in abundance. They were given the botanical names Kentia Belmoreana ( after the Earl of Belmore ) and Kentia Forsteriana ( honoring William Forster, a prominent Senator in. We South Wales, Australia ).
Upon his return to Sydney, Moore sent a small amount of seed from these palms to Sir Joseph Hooker, curator of England’s Royal Botanical Gardens at Kev. Hooker had been a distinguished plant collector. He was well aware of the potential commercial possibilities of successfully introducing into the British market a previous unknown plant from a distant part of the Empire.
As an enthusiastic member of the international botanical fraternity, Moore would have been informed of the changing fashions in England. Moore laid the groundwork for the Kentia’s introduction with several letters published in the “Gardeners’ Chronicle’. This magazine was founded by Joseph Paxton in 1841. By 1870 it was England’s premier gardening journal, with a readers in the thousands. Moore’s later letters advocating the decorative quality and reliability of the Kentia he has identified on Lord Howe Island were read with interest by gardening enthusiasts. Those in a position to afford such luxury, when the plants were available, turned to English nurserymen for supplies of the plant.
Shipping planter box used by botanists in the 1880’s.( picture from book “Seed to Elegance”).
Horticulture Magazines in the late 1880’s attributed the popularity of the Kentia Palms to Queen Victoria. Her stately homes and castles featured Kentia Palms in elaborate urns bringing tropical nature inside these vast chambers.
In many portraits of the nobility in Europe there was often a potted Kentia Palm displayed. On some occasions the potted Kentia Palm might not have been the most elegant choice for its shape or size, but it was a feature. Could this trend be because the Kentias in that area defined good fashion sense and wealth, all because of Queen Victoria’s admiration for the palm?
In 1878 the New South Wales government appointed Captain R.R.Armstrong, R.N. As Forest Ranger to Lord Howe Island. Captain Armstrong is credited with establishing the Kentia Palm seed industry in the Island. The first local Islander to begin exporting Kentia seeds on a regular basic from Lord Howe Island to Australian and European buyers was T.B.Wilson.
T.B.Wilson arrived on Lord Howe Island in 1878 and shortly thereafter was appointed the Island’s first schoolteacher. Wilson bought with him a quantity of Norfolk Island Pine seeds. He had obtained the seeds from Norfolk Island during a brief stop-over en route to Lord Howe Island from New Zealand. In 1881 he and his wife whom he had wed on Lord Howe Island in 1878 went on a visit back to New Zealand. The vessel on which they were traveling made a port call at Norfolk Island. Knowing in advance that this stop-over would take place, Wilson took with him a quantity of Kentia Palm seeds. He used the seeds as repayment for the Norfolk Island Pine seeds he had bought into Lord Howe Island.
This friendly exchange of seeds is the first recorded mention of the introduction of these plants into their respective Islands.