Cat Palm | Plant Care Guide

Cat Palm

As a picture-worthy addition, cat palms bring out a tropical touch to any home. You are sure to fall in love with this plant with summer vacationing vibes and lovely lush green foliage.

Known as a medium maintenance plant, cat palms make an excellent choice for the indoor plant owner. They grow best in bright, indirect light and enjoy humid environments.

Cat palms work as natural air purifiers for your home by getting rid of harmful volatile organic compounds and carbon dioxide.

Here’s a thorough guide that takes you through complete cat palm plant care, the origins of this breathtakingly beautiful plant, as well as the most common concerns around these palms.

Botanical NameChamaedorea cataractarum
Common NameCat palm, cataract palm, cascade palm
Size3 feet tall
DifficultyMedium
Pet FriendlyYes – non-toxic to pets
Air CleanerYes

Cat Palm Origin

Botanically known as Chamaedorea cataractarum, cat palm is a small palm plant belonging to the Arecaceae family. The beautiful species is found along the banks of streams in southeastern Mexico and Central America. Two of the other common names are cataract palm and cascade palm.

In their natural habitat, the cat palm’s roots are submerged in water, and taller, larger trees shelter them. However, the cat palm is one of the few Chamaedorea palm species that can survive indoors. 

The plant does not feature a trunk and doesn’t grow very high. Typically, cat palm reaches a little over 3 feet tall as an indoor houseplant while reaching over 6 feet when in its natural environment.

Green cane-like stems characterize the plant, accompanied by glossy, green pinnate leaves. Apart from the long thin leaflets and lovely hues of green, cat palm is also known for forming very dense and large clumps when it matures.

How to Care for Cat Palm

Light

Thriving in bright, indirect light, the cat palm needs more light than other indoor plants. However, leaving the plant in direct sunlight can lead to the burning of the leaves. It is best to place your plant near a sunny window but out of direct sunlight. 

If you notice your plant’s leaves changing color to a dull yellow or brown, you will want to move your plant to a shadier spot. Partial shade in a brightly lit room is a perfect location for cat palms.  

Temperature

Cataractarum palms grow best in an average temperature range of 70-degrees to 80-degrees Fahrenheit. During the night, the minimum temperature required is 45-degrees Fahrenheit.

Cat palms thrive in humidity. A minimum of 55 percent humidity is the best for cat palms to flourish indoors. In nature, cataractarum palms naturally grow along bodies of water in tropical climates. This explains why these plants like humid air.

Insufficient humidity levels lead to the browning of the leaf’s tips. Maintaining humidity indoors can be tricky. Investing in a humidifier to place around your plant, especially during winter, can work wonders. 

If planting your cat palm outdoors, the plant grows best in USDA zones 10 and 11. Cat palms also thrive in zone 9 if you choose a protected spot in your backyard to plant them. This protected spot should also include well-draining ground and full sun accompanied by partial shade during the day.

If you live in a colder climate, you can grow your cat palm outdoors during the summer but will want to bring them indoors if the temperatures drop below 50-degrees Fahrenheit at night. 

Water

Cataractarum palms require evenly moist soil for healthy growth and do not thrive well in dry potting mix. A good rule of thumb to check whether your plant needs water is by pressing your finger into the soil. If the top two inches feel dry, it is time for a watering session.

To provide your plant with a nice soak: 

  1. Run plenty of water through the pot until you see water coming out of the bottom drainage hole. You can imitate a rainstorm by placing the indoor palms in a water tub or under the shower.
  2. Always use rain, distilled, or aged tap water to get the task done because cat palm is sensitive to tap water solids, including chloramine and fluorides.
  3. If you witness deposits building up on the soil, give the plant a proper flush with some distilled water.

If you live in warm weather conditions, your plant may require water as often as every 5-7 days to prevent the soil from turning arid. However, the indoor palm doesn’t need too much watering during winter. 

Some other factors also influence the watering requirements of a cat palm. Plastic pots or enamel planters tend to trap more moisture as compared to unglazed terracotta pots. You will need to water a cat palm growing in an earthenware pot more often than a plant installed in a plastic container. 

Another factor is if the soil becomes compacted. If you see water pooling on the potting mix’s surface, it’s time to amend the soil to allow for easy drainage.

Fertilization

It is recommended to fertilize your cat palm every four to six weeks during the plant’s growing season (spring to late summer). This plant calls for fertilizer only once in the winter and once in the autumn, as the cataractarum palm is relatively dormant during the chilly months.

The best fertilization solution is an all-purpose fertilizer that has been diluted in half. You can choose a granular mix or a liquid solution, but you will want to avoid over-fertilizing your plant.   

Over-fertilization leads to a build-up of salts and minerals in the potting soil, thereby putting the plant at risk of dying. A few over-fertilization signs include burned leaves and the development of a white salt-like substance that shows when the soil is dry. If you notice any of these signs, you will want to flush out your pot with a lot of water and allow it to drain completely. 

Flowering

Cat palms produce bright yellow flowers that grow on branched inflorescence. This occurs in late winter or early spring. The flower stalks are either male or female and occur in the same group of plants. 

Followed by the flowering is the production of fruit. The fruit is dark green and turns black when ripe. 

Pruning

Pruning your cataractarum palm plant is essential to remove the dying brown leaves. It enhances the appearance of the plant and keeps the leaves and foliage healthy and luscious. 

First, you will want to grab sharp and clean pruning shears. Remove any dead leaves near the plant’s base. Be careful not to damage healthy stems while pruning away the decayed foliage.  

Repotting

Cat palm is a slow-growing houseplant that you don’t need to repot very frequently. Repotting your cat palm approximately every three years is common. 

Steps to repot your cat palm include:

  • Gently remove your cat palm from the current container and untangle the delicate roots if needed. 
  • Check to see if there are any brown, dead, or mushy roots – cut or remove them.
  • Transfer the palm to a new larger pot and fill it with healthy potting soil.
  • Water the newly potted plant thoroughly. 

Pests and Disease

Incorrect humidity levels may lead to pest infestations and diseases that affect the growth of your cat palm. Below are some of the common pests and diseases that can infect your plant. 

Pests

Spider Mites

Spider mites live on the undersides of the leaves of plants. They create protective webs and harm the plant by puncturing the plant cells to feed. The first sign your plant has a spider mite infestation is signs of webbing under the arching leaf fronds. 

Mealybugs

Mealybugs are related to scale insects and cause damage by sucking out the juice from their host plant. You can spot them by the fuzzy white substance they leave on the foliage. You can also observe them crawling under the leaves and on stems. 

Whitefly

Whiteflies are capable of flying and have wings, but they are not a fly. They are related to aphids and mealybugs. They harm plants by feeding on the plant cells and are usually found on newly unfoiled leaves or around the veins. 

Scale

Scale insects feed on the sap of a plant. They vary in color but most often appear as tiny brown growths on the stamps of the plant.  

There are some steps you can take to prevent and control a pest infestation. 

  1. If only a few leaves are infected, you can cut and discard those leaves
  2. You can wipe the cat palm foliage with a good-quality insecticidal soap
  3. Or you can apply some neem oil to the plant

You want to make sure you eliminate pests as soon as you spot them to avoid yellowing leaves or plant death, in worst cases.

Diseases

Cataractarum palms can suffer from Leaf Spot. Leaf Spot is a fungal disease that appears as small reddish-brown lesions. The leading cause of this is constant dampness or when the plant’s roots stay in soggy soil for elongated periods. 

Fungal root disease can be fatal for the plant. To prevent this, you want to make sure you only water the plant when the soil has partially dried out. Also, make sure your plant is in a pot with good drainage. 

If you witness leaf spotting or yellowing stems, you may have to repot your plant into fresh, non-soggy soil to prevent it from dying. 

How to Propagate Cat Palm

Cat palm grows from seeds that can take a long time to germinate. The seedlings are slow-growing and can take years to grow into a sizable plant. Cat palms grow in clumps, but the tree roots are fragile and can be easily damaged by pulling apart the root ball. It is not advised to try and propagate the plant this way.  

Frequently Asked Questions about Cat Palm

The most likely reason for cat palm leaves turning brown is improper watering, while other causes may include inadequate lighting, over-fertilization, temperature stress, unhealthy soil, or pest infestations.

White deposits in the soil around your plant indicate harsh salts in water and often lead to the browning of cat palm leaves. Leaching out the salts by watering the soil until water drains out the container’s bottom may help. Make sure to use distilled water for misting or watering the plant in the future.

First, you want to inspect the plant to diagnose what the problem is. Signs of overwatering will include browning, dying leaves, or burned leaf tips. If overwatering is the cause, you will need to repot your plant into new soil. 

If water isn’t the issue, look for signs of pests. Depending on which pest is infecting your plant will determine the steps you will need to take to get rid of the said pest.  

Yes, cat palms can thrive outdoors, especially when planted in containers and placed on patios. You may need to bring them indoors during winters as they need warm weather and some bright, indirect light to live. 

The plant derives the name cat palm as a smaller version of its full name, cataractarum.

No. The cat palm is a non-toxic plant making it safe for humans, and it doesn’t exhibit poisonous properties that can harm people.

Yes. Cat palm is safe for pets as the plant does not come with any toxicity hazards. However, it’s always good to try to keep your pets away from all houseplants, even if they are non-toxic. Ingestion of any plant stem or leaf can lead to tummy aches in cats.

Final Thoughts

You will love the tropical essence of the cat palm if you decide to add it to your collection of indoor houseplants. Placing your cat palm in a bright, indirect light location and making sure you don’t overwater will make for a happy plant in your home. 

Cat palms are one of the most common houseplant species and easy to find. You can browse your local nurseries or purchase one online, as this stunning foliage species is readily available out there. 

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