Outforia Quicktake: Key Takeaways
- The Areca palm is native to Madagascar and has various names, such as butterfly palm, golden feather palm, and yellow palm.
- It is an air-purifying plant, absorbing toxic gasses like toluene, acetone, formaldehyde, and xylene. NASA has recommended it for indoor use.
- Areca palms grow well in bright, indirect sunlight, with moist soil and a temperature of 18-24 Celsius (64-75 Fahrenheit).
- It is a popular houseplant, and also believed to bring luck and positivity in Chinese Feng Shui.
- A variety of Areca palm, Areca catechu, is used in making betel nut paste which has cultural significance in Asia despite health risks.
Areca Palm is just one of over 2,500 different types of palm trees. It is a palm of many names! Areca palm is also known as “butterfly palm”, “golden feather palm”, “golden cane palm” or “yellow palm”. Confusingly, in some areas it is known as Dypsis lutescens or Areca lutescens! This is because areca palms belong to the Dypsis genus.
Areca palm comes from the Aceraceae group of palms. There are 51 members in the Areca family.
It looks like a butterfly because there are 6 to 8 green-yellow leaves on long petioles that curl upwards. Just like a butterfly’s wings! Petioles are stalks that support a leaf.
What does Areca palm look like?
Here’s how to recognise an Areca palm.
- Pinnate (divided) leaves 5 to 7 ft (1.5 -2.1 m) long
- Each leaf has 90 to 110 leaflets arranged in a V shape
- Up to 20 ft (6 m) tall
- Mature trees have ringed, cane like trunks
- Clusters of multiple trunks that look like bamboo
- Small bright yellow flowers in late Spring to early Summer
- Light yellow, oval fruits 1 inch (2.5cm) long that turn orange
Where can Areca Palm be found?
Areca palm is native to the tropical regions of Madagascar. Madagascar is a large island off the coast of South Africa. It is well known for its incredible endemic flora and fauna as well as for being a haunt of pirates!
Areca palm is now naturalized in a wide range of subtropical and tropical parts of the world. Some of these are the Canary Islands, Puerto Rico, the Andaman Islands, Haiti, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, as well as the Leeward Islands.
Areca palm is endangered in its native habitat. In Madagascar it grows in woody areas and in sandy soil near the coast.
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Habitat and climate zones
Areca Palm is hardy to 20 Fahrenheit. The US Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zones class it as Zone 10 to 11. However, it is often planted in zone 9 areas. This means it is suitable for areas that are warm and humid all year round.
A mature, established Areca palm can often tolerate cold snaps in the 20 F range. They are susceptible to frost damage though. This makes them a great indoor plant!
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How important is Areca palm?
Areca palm is sold as a popular houseplant. It is also sold as an outdoor garden palm if you live in a warm climate!
Here are some of the uses of this lovely decorative palm.
Absorbing toxic gasses
Areca palm is especially desired in homes and offices as it is said to purify the air, absorbing toxic gasses. According to the NASA Clean Air Study, indoor plants like Areca palm can remove toluene, acetone, formaldehyde, and xylene from the air in your room. Which is handy!
- Toluene is used in paints, dyes and solvents. It can cause tiredness, irritation, dizziness, nerve damage, insomnia, liver and kidney damage.
- Acetone is an irritant and can cause hepatotoxic effects. This means it can harm your liver.
- Formaldehyde is a preservative that can be breathed in from tobacco smoke, vehicle exhausts, and wood and paraffin burning stoves. This is to name a few! It can cause leukemia and other rarer cancers.
- Xylene is a solvent used in rubber, leather and printing industries. It can cause headaches, dizziness, confusion, loss of coordination in muscles, and in high enough doses, death.
Areca palm can absorb these airborne pollutants through the natural process of photosynthesis.
These studies mimic the actions of the outdoor biosphere when inside a sealed environment. NASA have been studying this to try and develop closed systems for use off planet. We can use their findings to make home and office life more healthy!
One variety of Areca palm, Areca catechu, is also useful as its Areca nuts are used as “betel nuts”. Betel nuts are not exactly ‘edible’. You can’t eat them! They can be used to make betel paste. This is put into leaves and chewed in parts of Asia.
This Indonesian woman is chewing betel nuts. It’s a habit like chewing tobacco. Find out more about this fascinating cultural practice further down the page.
The Areca palm is considered to be a lucky plant in Chinese Feng Shui. It cleanses the energies and purifies. It attracts positivity, wealth, and peace.
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What the Areca Palm needs to thrive!
Here’s a handy guide to what your Areca palm needs to stay healthy.
- Bright, indirect sunlight
- Moist soil (but not waterlogged)
- Humidity – mist leaves a few times a week
- 18-24 C temperature
- Out of draughts
Check out the video below to learn how to the secrets on keeping your areca palm green and lush.
If your Areca Palm has yellowed leaves, it means it either hasn’t had enough water or it has had too much direct sunlight.
Brown leaf tips mean the area is too dry or too cold. Brown patches can be caused by “sunburn”! Yes, plants can get it too! Drooping or cracked leaves mean the palm needs more water. Dull leaves mean you need to moisturize the air with a mister.
Pests and diseases
Areca Palms can be vulnerable to some pests and diseases. So it’s important to check the foliage regularly for any signs of the following:
- Scale insects – small brown insects that suck the sap from the palm. You can wipe them off with cotton buds or a cloth with a fatty acid containing insecticide. They are about 6 mm long.
- Red spider mite – check for fine webbing on the leaves and stem. The upper surface of the leaves becomes mottled. Underneath the leaves you will find tiny eggs and mites. You can get rid of them with an insecticide containing fatty acids or plant oils. It’s also a good idea to increase air circulation but also humidity.
- Mealybugs – these are white fluffy looking blobs on the underside of the leaves. Use an insecticide a detailed above.
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The Life Cycle of an Areca Palm
Here’s the life cycle of The Areca palm, from seed to 20 ft palm tree!
- Commercially grown Areca palms are grown from seed soaked in hot sulphuric acid for 10 minutes! They are then expected to germinate in six weeks. In nature, animals eat the seed coat and the seed may pass through their digestive system.
- Areca palm seeds will germinate in about 6 weeks. In nature, if you find the seeds have sprouted underneath the parent tree you can scoop them out gently, making sure to catch any roots. They need to be away from the shade cast by the parent palm to have a chance to thrive.
- Animals that will feed on and disperse palm fruit include not just birds and mammals like monkeys, but also insects, bats, reptiles and fish! This means the seeds have a good chance of germinating far from their parent palm.
- Once the seeds have germinated they will grow at a rate of 6-10 inches (15-25 cm) per year. They need to be in well drained soil with a pH of 6 (slightly acidic) with no fluoride in it. Fluoride is toxic to Areca palms!
- The mature Areca Palm will reach 20ft (6m) outdoors. Indoors and in a pot, it reaches around 7ft (2m).
- Areca palms are monoecious. This means there’s male and female parts on the same plant. The flowers arrive in late Spring and are fertilized with the help of pollen from the male parts.
- The female flowers turn into fruits, called areca nuts. These are dropped once they turn orange. The cycle begins again.
Check out the video below on how to grow an areca palm seed.
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Chewing Betel Nut in Asian culture
As said above, a different variety of Areca palm, Areca catechu, is used to make betel nut paste. This is wrapped in a leaf and chewed by people in SE Asia and the South Pacific. It has a stimulant effect and is an important cultural tradition in many places.
The little parcel of powdered nut and leaf is called a “quid”.
I’ve chewed a betel quid prepared by an Asian shop in London. It was great to watch how the colorful mixtures are sprinkled onto the big open leaves. They are then wrapped into a neat little green parcel! You pop this in your mouth and chew it like gum. It tastes sweet.
Is betel nut chewing good for you?
Betel quid chewing isn’t always good for you.
Studies show it can cause:
- mouth, gum and stomach ulcers,
- heart disease
- dependency leading to financial and social problems.
- It may also cause cancer.
On the plus side, it makes users feel happy, alert and relaxed. It also raises their blood pressure and makes them sweat. It’s a cultural activity and used in religious and social gatherings. A bit like how Westerners use tobacco or alcohol.
Betel nuts have historically been chewed for folk medicine.
Some desired effects of betel chewing are:
- vermifuge (removing worms)
- combating anemia
- treating Leucoderma
- Treating leprosy.
Many of these claims have research to back them up.
A study made an extract of betel nut plus three other compounds dissolved in ethanol. This was effective against Staphylococcus aureus, which causes MRSA. Plus several other forms of bacteria.
How betel nut is prepared for chewing
Betel nuts are collected from Areca palms.
Sometimes they are roughly broken up and chewed just as they are. At other times they are crushed into a powder. The areca nut powder is mixed with slaked lime and tobacco, or sometimes just slaked lime.
Catechu is also sometimes added. Catechu is an acacia tree that has medicinal uses such as being antimicrobial.
The mixture is placed in a leaf. This is usually a leaf belonging to the Piper betel plant. This is then rolled up and placed in the mouth like a little parcel. It’s chewed for a while until the effects are felt.
Habitual betel leaf chewers tend to have red teeth and gums as the betel stains them.
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Areca Palm FAQs
Can I keep an areca palm in my bedroom?
Areca palms are great for any room in the house. They’re brilliant for the bedroom as they cleanse the air of harmful pollutants from household and industrial chemicals.
Does Areca Palm spread?
You can spread Areca Palm by taking cuttings from offshoots from the parent plant. You need to make sure the offshoots already have roots. You can re-pot them into separate pots after checking this.
Are Areca palms a good indoor plant?
Areca palm is an excellent indoor plant. It thrives in the temperatures we enjoy indoors. It also cleans the air of some airborne pollutants!
Is Areca palm toxic to pets?
Areca palm is non toxic to dogs, cats and horses. It isn’t exactly edible, but it won’t hurt you!
How much sun does Areca Palm need?
Areca palms like bright light, but not direct sunlight. The best places to put them are South or West facing windows. If the South facing window gets too hot, try using a sheer curtain.
How do you take care of an Areca Palm?
In a nutshell – place your Areca palm in a sheltered, bright area in your home. Keep the air around it moist and water the soil regularly. Check for pests and diseases regularly, and feed it palm fertilizer! Re-pot it when it has grown and change the compost when you do this.