The cat palm is a lush, green houseplant that is a tad smaller than most other palms making it perfect for your apartment or workspace. It is renowned as a tricky and finicky houseplant to grow, however, we’ve provided the perfect guide to care for this plant.
In this care guide, we’ll discuss the cat palm’s various characteristics, care requirements, and how to revive one should it begin to die.
The cat palm’s botanical name is chamaedorea cataractarum, hence the shortened nickname ‘cat’ palm. It’s also known as the cascade palm and the cataract palm too. This plant belongs to the Arecaceae family just like the majesty palm.
The cascade palm thrives in tropical conditions since it’s native to southern Mexico and Central America. It has vibrant green leaves that add a tropical feel to any room it’s in, however, be careful as many newbies mistake this houseplant for the areca palm.
Not only does this plant have stunning green fronds but it produces clusters of white or yellow flowers which may be replaced with fruits. Additionally, it must be noted that the cataract palm requires a lot of TLC to flourish.
Fun Fact: In Victorian times a palm was equated to one’s social status so the more palms you owned the wealthier you appeared to be.
The cat palm can grow up to 3 to 6 feet (0.9 – 1.8m) tall indoors, and its leaves can grow about 1 foot (30.5cm) in length.
Outdoors the palm typically reaches heights of around 6 feet (1.8m) and 8 feet (2.4m) wide.
This houseplant is known to be a slow grower as it can take up to 10 years for it to reach its mature size. Typically, it will grow under 10 inches (25.4cm) a year.
On average the chamaedorea cataractarum will live for up to 15 years in your home.
Is It Toxic to Cats, Dogs and Humans?
The chamaedorea cataractarum is not toxic to people and is pet-safe too. Although, you may find that your cat has a new playmate as it swats the fronds back and forth.
Cat Palm Care
Let’s take a deep dive into the specific care requirements for a thriving and lush chamaedorea cataractarum. Below, we’ll discuss how often to water, prune and repot the plant as well as the optimal environmental conditions.
How Often to Water It
The cat palm thrives in moist potting soil, however, like with most houseplants such as the Yucca, it doesn’t do well in soggy conditions. It cannot withstand dry soil either, therefore, it is all about maintaining a balance.
Typically, one should water the plant every 5 to 7 days depending on the weather. In spring and summer, you will water it more whereas, during the cooler winter months, you will decrease the number of times you water it.
If you’re concerned that you haven’t quite got the watering schedule down to a fine art then consider watering it once the soil’s top inch (2.5cm) is dry.
When you water it make sure to do so evenly in order to reach all of the roots. Ideally, you want to use distilled water or rainwater as the palm is sensitive to the chemicals and salts in tap water.
Drainage is important for this plant to thrive as although it loves a moist environment it can’t survive when left to sit in a puddle of water.
Poor drainage can cause a plant to become waterlogged which severely limits the amount of nutrients the roots absorb and it prevents proper air circulation around the root ball.
An overly moist potting mixture can further cause fungi or bacteria to build up and infect the houseplant.
To ensure that your chamaedorea cataractarum has a good drainage system you can plant it in a pot with numerous drainage holes and use light, fluffy soil.
Top Tip: Layering the bottom of the pot with gravel is also a great way to enhance drainage.
How to Trim
As the cat palm is a slow grower, it isn’t necessary to frequently prune the plant. Typically, it only requires to be trimmed back to maintain its size, health, and appearance.
When getting rid of a diseased frond, you’ll need to wait until the entire leaf has become brown or yellow as pruning too soon may irritate the chamaedorea cataractarum causing further damage.
It is super simple to prune this houseplant as all you need to do is get out a sterilized pair of pruners or shears and cut the leaf at its base. You want to trim it as close to the trunk as possible.
How to Repot It
Ideally, you should only repot it during the springtime every 3 years as it enjoys being snug in its container. Once you notice that the roots have begun growing through the drainage holes then you need to transplant is as soon a possible.
Simply slide it out of its container and then wash off the soil still attached to the roots. Next, you will need to find a slightly larger pot, about one or two sizes up from its current container size, and repot it in some fresh, nutrient-rich soil. Before you place it back in its sunny home, give it a deep watering.
Below, we’ll guide you through the optimum environmental conditions so that your chamaedorea cataractarum will prosper.
Much like the Bromeliad, this houseplant thrives in bright, indirect sunshine too. It can tolerate a few hours of full sunlight, however, it won’t tolerate prolonged periods of direct light.
Ideally, you should find a home where it will receive around 4 to 6 hours of bright sunlight a day. It’s best to also rotate the palm throughout the day so that the entire houseplant receives all that good sunshine.
The most important consideration to keep in mind when choosing the right potting mixture is that it needs to be well-draining. It prospers in fluffy, lightweight soil that is slightly acidic with a pH level ranging from 6.1 to 7.5.
An African violet potting mix is perfect for this houseplant. You can take a look at more ideal potting mix recipes below.
- 1 part loam + 3 parts African violet
- 1 part all-purpose soil + 1 part cactus soil + 1 part perlite
- 1 part sharp sand + 1 part bark + 1 part peat moss
Additionally, avoid any heavy potting mixtures or ones that contain clay as they’ll retain too much water.
The cascade palm flourishes in a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer such as 10-10-10. As it doesn’t need heavy feeding, it is best to dilute the fertilizer to half its strength.
A general rule is that during the spring and summertime, you should feed the plant once or twice a month whereas during the autumn and winter months you can refrain from fertilizing it.
When it comes to feeding the cat palm, you need to be careful as it is sensitive to over-fertilization. If fertilizer salts have begun to build up in the soil then simply flush these out under a cool stream of water.
As we previously mentioned the chamaedorea cataractarum loves a snug fit so it’s ideal to plant it in a container that is 2 inches (5cm) wider than the rootball.
As for the container’s material, any will do but it must have ample drainage holes. If you do decide to plant it in a terracotta pot then it may require frequent watering as moisture is easily absorbed and drained in clay pots.
The cascade palm flourishes in temperatures ranging between 45 to 80°F (7 – 27°C). During the day it prefers temperatures between 70 to 80°F (21 – 27°C), while during the cool night it can survive a temperature no less than 45°F (7°C).
It will not survive frost and may even wither away in cold temperatures so if you live in a particularly cool region then find a warm area for the plant.
The chamaedorea cataractarum loves a humid environment since it is native to tropical regions. The ideal humidity level is between 50 to 70%. Anything lower than 50% and your poor palm may not survive.
Top Tip: To increase humidity levels you can plant it on wet gravel, or place an electric humidifier in the same room as the plant.
Can It Live Outside?
If you live in USDA hardiness zones 10 or 11 then you can grow it outdoors all year round, however, if you live in a cool area then it may only be suitable to grow the cat palm outside during the summer.
If you decide to grow it outdoors then make sure to keep it out of direct sunshine and once the temperature drops below 45°F (7°C), you must bring it indoors.
How and When Does It Bloom?
The chamaedorea cataractarum sprouts stunning clusters of bright yellow or white flowers in the late winter or early spring months. They can grow up to 1 inch (2.5cm) in size and may even be replaced by little blue berries that will cascade from the stems. Once they begin to die off they will turn a black-brown color.
The best way to encourage these blooms is by ensuring that the plant gets plenty of moisture and sunshine. Additionally, don’t be tempted to overfeed it as this will cause fertilizer burn.
How to Grow It
There are a few ways to multiply your cat palm collection. You can propagate them by division or through offsets, and you can grow one from a seed.
It is vital that no matter what method you choose, the soil must be well-draining and all of your tools must be sterilized to prevent the spread of bacteria or disease.
You can propagate it in soil using its offsets or root division. It is best to propagate the chamaedorea cataractarum during the spring or summertime when it is actively growing.
Offsets are also known as suckers, pups, or shoots, and they are produced by the mother plant. Propagating these is an extremely efficient method.
- First, remove the palm from its container by loosening the soil or gently sliding it out.
- Dust off all the excess soil clinging to the roots and locate the largest pup.
- Use a sterilized blade to cut off the shoot as close to its base as possible.
- Fill a new pot halfway with some fresh soil and then place the offset in the center of the container.
- You can place more soil on top to ensure that the roots are fully covered.
- Finally, you must water the pup thoroughly and position it on a sunny windowsill. It will most likely take a month for the roots to establish themselves.
- Slide the plant out of its pot and dust off any soil still attached to its roots. You can also rinse the rootball under some water if necessary.
- Inspect the rootball to check for any damaged roots, and then slice it in half with a sharp blade.
- Prepare two new pots with fresh potting soil and plant the divisions.
- Water each division well and position them in indirect sunshine.
Growing a cascade palm from a seed is an unreliable method as it can take a long time to germinate and is often not successful. The only way to cultivate one from seed is by harvesting the fruits, so make sure to save the seeds during its flowering season.
Follow the simple steps below:
- Prepare a tray with peaty soil and moisten it.
- Get out the seeds and sprinkle them evenly across the tray and lightly spritz them with water.
- Place a plastic cover over the tray to lock in any moisture and warmth, and find a sunny home for the seeds.
- Make sure that the peaty mix is consistently moist and in about a month or so you may notice new growth. When this occurs it is time to remove the plastic wrap.
- Once the seedlings are large enough, you can repot them in their very own containers. Then you may care for them as you would a mature cat palm.
How to Revive It
When it comes to maintaining the perfect environment for the cat palm, it can be a little tricky and you may run into some problems. Below, we’ll discuss what may be affecting your plant’s health and how to revive it.
Why Are the Leaf Tips Turning Brown?
Brown leaf tips are caused by a lack of humidity or improper watering. If the soil is dry then this means your cat palm needs to be watered more often, however, if the soil is soggy then refrain from watering it until it is dry.
A dry environment is not ideal for the cat palm so if your household’s humidity level is not high enough then you should consider placing a humidifier close by.
Why Are the Leaves Turning Yellow?
The yellowing of leaves is caused by a few things; a lack of moisture, tap water, or a fertilizer overdose.
It is imperative that the chamaedorea cataractarum is never left in dry soil as it loves a moist potting mixture. You may need to water your palm more frequently in the future.
We previously mentioned that this houseplant is sensitive to the chemicals in tap water so it is best to use distilled water. If you don’t have any distilled water on hand then place a container of tap water outside overnight so that any chemicals can evaporate.
Be careful when fertilizing the plant as too much will not increase its growth rate but will severely harm its roots. You will have to flush the fertilizer salts out of the soil under a gentle stream of water.
If its leaves have become droopy or limp then you are most likely overwatering your chamaedorea cataractarum.
This is easy to rectify as all you have to do is adjust how many times a week you water the plant. Before watering the palm again, wait for the topsoil to dry out slightly.
The most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to the cat palm is that it needs plenty of bright sunshine, distilled water, and be cautious when it comes to fertilizing the houseplant.
Although at the beginning it may seem as though the cat palm is difficult to care for, however, our guide makes it easy. Eventually, you’ll have developed the perfect care routine and you’ll see your plant thriving in no time.