Have you ever been on vacation and wanted a little bit of the beach in your house afterward? Maybe you should consider a fan palm! These palm trees can live indoors. Some people think they bring more inner peace than other houseplants, probably because they remind so many people of faraway vacation spots.
But palm trees are from tropical, coastal environments that are different from your home, right? You may be surprised that fan palms not only stay at reasonable sizes but are often easy to maintain. Here’s everything you need to know about taking care of your pot-sized palm.
What Kind of Fan Palm Do I Have?
There are over a dozen different plants popularly called fan palms, so how do you know which one you picked up? So, let’s look at some of the most house-friendly species of fan palms and the basics of their care. We will only cover 3 fan palms that you can safely keep in a house or another area with environmental control (heating, humidity, and so on).
Livistona Fan Palms (inc. Saribus rotundifolius)
Most fan palms sold at garden shops will probably be some variety of Livistona. This is a wide-ranging genus with many members easily touching the roof of the average household. Most of these fan palms come from Southeast Asia, China, or Australia, with some in Africa. All members are non-toxic, making Livistona palms great for people with pets.
The “table palm” or “footstool palm,” currently Saribus rotundifolius, was once in the genus Livistona but has since been reclassified. Even though the species can grow a whopping 60 feet in its wild home of the Philippines, it remains a very popular houseplant. At home, it usually will not get over 6 feet high. Keep this plant above freezing at all times.
Many other Livistona species, including the Chinese fan palm (L. chinensis), are also popular as houseplants. Please ask the seller for the scientific name of your fan palm before buying.
Ruffled Fan Palm (Licuala grandis)
The ruffled fan palm (Licuala grandis) looks like something from an alien world. It is native to Vanuatu, an island nation off the east coast of Australia. These palms have large, round, pleated leaves that set them apart from other fan palms. Be careful—those leaves are also very sharp! So, this plant can get up to 6 feet tall if kept in a pot, and a little bigger if kept outside.
As one might expect of a plant from an island, the ruffled fan palm is sensitive to water. Water it only when the soil is dry, and the soil must drain well. It also likes slightly acidic (pH 6.0-7.0) soil, so ask your local garden center for some soil around that pH. Surprisingly, mature ruffled fan palms can tolerate freezing temperatures, so keeping one indoors should not be a problem.
European Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis)
We know what you’re thinking: “palm trees from Europe?!” But the European or Mediterranean fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) is exactly what it says: a fan palm native to parts of Europe such as Spain, France, Italy, and Portugal.
This environmental difference is reflected in the European fan palm’s hardiness. This fan palm is relatively cold- and drought-tolerant, but if you worry about pushing your luck, trust your instincts. It also stays small, usually needing only a 6’ x 6’ space.
For your convenience, here is a chart comparing the needs of the three fan palm species above:
|Table/Footstool Palm (Saribus rotundifolius)||Can get up to 60 feet tall in its native habitat; remains a popular table, house, and office plant at 16 inches to start. Usually stays 6 feet indoors.||3 hours of sunlight, ideally in the morning. Does not like long periods of direct sunlight.||Water when top soil is dry.||Slightly acidic; pH 6.5–7.5. Soil must drain well.|
|Ruffled Fan Palm (Licuala grandis)||6–10 feet||Partial to complete shade||Average; water when soil is dry||Must drain well; pH 6.0–7.0.|
|European Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis)||6 feet||Needs at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.||Mature specimens are drought-resistant; make sure the soil drains well. Maintain soil moisture until mature.||Not salt-tolerant. Tolerates poor soil otherwise.|
This is minimal, but we hope you find it helpful!
Depending on the species of palm you have, you may or may not get flowers and fruit. Most palm fruits are not very tasty, and some are toxic, so please do not try them.
Since some species of fan palms can grow more if allowed, you may eventually wish to repot your fan palm. So, do not repot your palms immediately after getting them. Repot roughly every two years, or when you see roots poking out of the drain holes in your pot.
Other Indoor Palms
Many other indoor varieties of palms are not fan palms. Some houseplants also look like fan palms without being palms at all. Here are a few examples:
A slow-growing palm species that looks a lot like the table palm, but is native to Florida. Notably drought-tolerant.
Not a palm, but looks like one! Resembling a fern and a palm simultaneously, the sago palm is more closely related to a Christmas tree than any palm genus.
Another imposter, this “palm” is a succulent. So, it may nonetheless evoke the same relaxed feeling that palm trees do.
Keep your eyes open for palms (and palm imposters) to add to your home. Research their care requirements carefully; some palm genera are widespread.
You can come close to reliving your favorite vacation by bringing home a fan palm. Fan palms are relatively easy to take care of, and we only discussed the species of fan palms that can be kept in your house. If you want to make your backyard look like Jurassic Park, and your environment allows it, why not consider some for your lawn? You might be surprised by what these tropical plants can handle—just do your research first!
Elyssa Goins is an experienced house plant hobbyist who maintains over a hundred plants. She is a gardener, beekeeper, and a proud mother of four. She is a member of the American Horticultural Society, has been published in a Scientific Journal, and loves to talk about her love of plants. For the past twenty years, she’s been all about growing and caring for various fruits, veggies, herbs, livestock, kids, and houseplants. Managing a big garden to feed four growing kids and raising dairy goats has taught her so much about being an excellent plant parent and now is her time to share with you.