Areca palm: care, propagation & diseases


I study landscape ecology and through my studies have discovered a love for plants. Plants are not only beautiful, but also have countless fascinating survival strategies. To bring a bit of nature into my home as well, I nurture my houseplants and herbs on every possible windowsill.

Favourite fruit: rhubarb and all kinds of berries
Favourite vegetables: onions and garlic

The areca palm is not only a beautiful, tropical evergreen but an effective air-purifier. What is more, caring for a butterfly palm is remarkably easy, and it even grows well in water – here is how!

Areca palm plant indoors
The areca palm is a popular houseplant from Madascar [Photo: Pixel-Shot/]

The butterfly palm, also known as areca palm (Dypsis Lutescens), is a popular house and office plant. And no surprise! This feather-leaved palm is an effective air-purifier that grows well in both soil and water. Read on for tips on areca palm care and how to avoid common mistakes.

Areca palm: flowers, origin and characteristics

The areca palm belongs to the palm family (Arecacea) and originates from the tropics of Madagascar, where it can reach a height of up to ten meters. Known as the ‘yellow palm’ and ‘golden cane palm’, this evergreen produces light yellow flowers and golden yellow fruit. As a houseplant, however, the areca palm will not grow taller than three meters and almost never comes into bloom. Nevertheless, its evergreen, feather-like leaves and upward stretching, fountain shape is very attractive. It is also known to effectively purify the air and produce plenty of oxygen, which is why it is especially popular in offices.

Tall areca palm trees in Madagascar
In its native country, the areca palm grows much taller than in our homes. [Photo: Onkar gawade/]

Top tips for planting an areca palm

The butterfly palm prefers bright, warm conditions with moist to wet soil. In spring, plant your palm in a pot with some all-purpose soil. Our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost is a great choice. It supplies plenty of nutrients and is slightly acidic – perfect for the Areca palm. So that the soil can drain properly, mix in at least 30% sand or pumice.

Furthermore, it is important that excess water can drain out of the pot, as your butterfly palm will not tolerate water stagnation. The pot should be as deep as possible, because the areca palm forms a taproot, which requires a lot of room to spread downwards.

Organic All Purpose Compost, 40L
Organic All Purpose Compost, 40L
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  • Perfect for all your house, garden & balcony plants
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Place your evergreen in a bright spot. It should be out of direct sunlight, warm and humid. In winter, butterfly palms tolerate lower temperatures, but make sure it is between 15 and 24°C.

Areca palms grow well hydroponically. This means they do not require any soil, only water or a nutrient solution. There are many benefits to hydroponic plants, not least: your plants will enjoy the humid conditions and you can water them in advance! To grow your palm hydroponically, fill a container with expanded clay or some other growing medium (this will support the plant and provide enough air for the roots), before pouring in the water. It is a good idea to use a water-level meter and hydroponic fertiliser. 

Areca palm in bright room
The areca palm should be kept a bright place free from drafts [Photo: Aquarius Studio/]

Areca palm care: the key steps

Areca palms are undemanding, but they do need regular attention. Because it is a tropical plant, that has evolved to expect wet and dry seasons, high humidity and warm temperatures, the golden cane palm requires specific care in summer and winter.

Watering Dypsis lutescens

It is important that your areca palm never dries out and is never left in standing water. This might take a bit of practice. It will depend on your plant’s size and the volume of the container. In general, it is best to water little and often. The soil should remain moist, so as soon as the upper layer of soil is dry, water it again. Use slightly acidic, low-fluoride water like rainwater, distilled water or mineral water without fluoride. In winter, areca palms stop growing and will require less water. But never let the root ball dry out completely!

Tip: Since the butterfly palm needs humid conditions, it is a good idea to regularly spray it with water. In winter, you could also place a bowl of water on the radiator.

Golden cane palm fruits
Its golden fruits have given the golden cane palm its name [Photo: Explore Reloaded stock/]

Fertilising areca palm 

The areca palm requires a lot of nutrients to grow, so it’s important to use fertiliser. Since golden cane palms are sensitive to chloride and fluoride overdoses, however, avoid mineral fertilisers, as they are made of salts. Our Plantura Liquid Houseplant Food will provide your yellow palm with rich nutrients from plant-based, raw materials. What is more, the fertiliser works well with other green plants. For your palm, fertilise it in the growing season; spring and summer, roughly every two weeks.

Liquid Houseplant Food, 800ml
Liquid Houseplant Food, 800ml
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  • Perfect for a wide variety of houseplants & foliage plants
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Pruning areca palm 

Areca palms need not be pruned. However, do remove yellow, dead or dried leaves. These often appear at the edge, as the plant always forms new leaves in the centre. To remove these leaves, cut them at the base, close to the main stem.

If your butterfly palm is too big, cut off some of the outer leaves at the base.

Areca palm leaves turned yellow
If the areca palm leaves turn yellow, this may be for a number of reasons [Photo: Alohapatty/]

Transplanting areca palm

Older areca palms require new soil every few years, though it is worth replacing the top layer now and then. If the roots of your plant are filling the pot, it is time to transplant your palm. This is best done in spring, just as the plant starts growing. Use a deep pot, with enough room for the roots to spread, and use two-thirds fresh, all-purpose soil with one-third sand or lava granules. The fresh soil provides nutrients, the sand provides drainage and the larger pot allows for water circulation. Make sure your new pot has a drainage hole at the bottom, and place a layer of broken clay or stones over it. Do remember: the palm’s roots are sensitive, so take care!

Areca palm ready to repot
Areca palm should be repotted carefully as the roots are sensitive [Photo: LuxMockup/]

Pests and diseases

The most common areca palm pests include:

  • Mealybugs: form webs over the leaves that look like cotton wool.
  • Scale insects: are very well camouflaged, so regularly check your plant.
  • Spider mites: appear mainly in winter when the humidity in the room is too low.

Why does the butterfly palm get brown tips?

  • Cold, dry air or drafts: cause brown leaf tips.
  • Direct sun: can lead to yellow-brown spots or dry, yellow leaves.
  • Too much or too little fertiliser: can turn the leaves yellow.
  • Excess water: is indicated by palm branches drying up completely.

Tip: Your palm’s leaves may also suffer from chlorosis, which is where they lighten to a yellow colour. This is often caused by iron and magnesium deficiency which is lacking in normal potting soil and many fertilisers. As such, these trace elements should be added separately or provided via repotting.

Areca palm uprooted for propagation
The areca palm is easy to propagate from cuttings [Photo: LuxMockup/]

Propagating areca palm

Areca palm produces offshoots that are easy to propagate. Separate the daughter plants from the mother plant and place them in a separate pot. Do this in spring when the growth phase is beginning. Make sure the offshoot has already formed its own roots and is at least 30cm long. Keep the offshoot above 20°C in a bright location, with moist soil. Initially, it may help to put a plastic bag with some air holes over the plant to increase humidity. Once the first palm leaves have formed, treat the plant like an adult, and, if necessary, transplant your palm again. Fertilise your plant only after the first four months, once the offshoot has time to form roots. 

You can also propagate areca palm from seed, but it takes longer. Sowing is best done in spring. Soak the areca palm seeds in water for about two days, before placing your seeds into all-purpose soil and lightly covering them with a layer of compost. Place the pot in a warm, bright place, and keep the soil moist and the temperature above 18°C. To increase humidity further, cover the pots with cling film or a plastic bag with a few small air holes. The seeds will only begin to germinate after about 40 days – so be patient!

Person holding areca palm grown from seed
The areca palm can also be grown from seed [Photo: ADI Stock/]

Is Dypsis Lutescens poisonous?

Butterfly palm is non-toxic. In fact, all it does is help to purify the air! Why not learn more about the effects of houseplants on indoor climate?