Almost all of the Kentia Palms that are sold in North America are field grown. Unlike Kentias grown in an enclosed environment in Europe, field grown Kentias take a long time to reach a height suitable for sale to the consumer. North American Kentia Palm growers will also endure the possibility of weather extremes like frosts, heatwaves and tropical storms from time to time that will affect their crop’s growing development. From the time small Kentia Palm seedlings are potted up, and grown until they reach a saleable height of five to six feet tall, the grower has had a substantial ongoing investment of time and money in his growing venture of almost six years, and even longer for larger size Kentias. Prior to selling their Kentias to the public or chain stores, the grower acclimates the potted Kentia Palms in a fairly shaded area in his nursery, so that when a saleable product is placed in an indoor home setting, it will enjoy a similar growing environment as the nursery, and not be shocked by the location transfer. Kentia Palm growers provide their product in a variety of sizes. There can be a single specimen Kentia that looks charming in its own container, but normally the growers group between four to six Kentias in a pot for resale. So when you see a nice potted Kentia Palm plant for sale, with four to six plants in the pot, and you think the selling price looks expensive, remember all the time, effort and finance it took for the grower to grow each individual Kentia Palm!
For almost a century and a quarter Kentia Palms have been displayed in hotels that have a designated eating area known as the “Palm Court”. One of the most famous Hotels in the world is the Plaza Hotel in New York. Morning and afternoon tea have been a “signature” event at this hotel since the early 1900’s. Kentia Palms were, and still are the featured plant elegantly displayed throughout the room’s surroundings.
Europe has always been the largest importers of Kentia Palm seedlings from the South Pacific. Over the years as the seedling imports have increased, the manner in which Europeans have grown their Kentias has changed dramatically. With more seedlings growing in their greenhouses, growers now put more finished product into a saleable pot, which means there could be at least 10 Kentia Palms in one pot. As the Kentias have been grown in an enclosed environment of a heated greenhouse they have a more upright appearance.
The look is attractive and suitable for small areas in a home or office.
In the early Victorian era Kentia Palms were the most sought after plant to have growing in a home garden conservatory. Usually the Kentia was a “single” potted one so that it would display elegance when it canopied out. The age of these Kentias ranged from about five years to eight years old when installed. Today tall single Kentias can be seen in lots of conservatories. These age from about twelve to fifteen years old before installation, and can be very expensive to purchase. Here are some pictures of Kentias in home and business conservatories. I really like the one of the two Kentias in the Garden Conservatory Skywalk at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee!
Norfolk Island and Lord Howe Island are two of my most favorite places in the world. When I lived on Norfolk Island I established a Kentia Palm seedling export business, and have been in love with the Kentia Palm ever since. In the late 1980’s an Australian named Ted Egan visited the Island and produced a very interesting documentary. He did a segment of the documentary about the Kentia Palm, and the involvement of my business partner Sid Cooper, and myself in the palm seed industry. Click on the link below and it will begin at the segment of us picking Kentia Palm seed. The whole documentary is very interesting and well worth viewing.
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!