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What is a Cane Palm?

By O. Parker
Updated May 16, 2024
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A cane palm is a clumping palm tree. The stems grow from 2 inches to 3 inches (about 5 cm to 8 cm) in diameter, and a single tree has up to 12 stems but no main trunk. This palm tree is often called the golden cane palm in reference to the gold tinge on the trunk and leaves. The scientific name is Dypsis lutescens. Common names associated with this palm tree are the butterfly palm, the Madagascar palm, and the areca palm.

A member of the Arecaceae family, or palm family, this variety is native to Madagascar. In its native region, the cane palm grows along riverbanks and in damp, open forest areas. In Madagascar, habitat destruction is threatening this species in its native range. The cane palm is widely cultivated in tropical and sub-tropical landscapes. In temperate regions, it is grown as a houseplant.

The cane palm grows from 15 feet to 35 feet (about 4.5 m to 10.5 m) tall with a canopy spread of 10 feet to 20 feet (about 3 m to 6 m) wide. The leaves are from 6 feet to 8 feet (about 2 m to 2.4 m) long with a curved, feathery appearance. The individual stems have rings where mature leaves break away from the stem during the growing process. The sections of stems range in color from gold, yellow and orange to pale or dark green in response to sun exposure. New stems grow from the base of the palm tree, giving it a bushy, full look if left unattended. To expose the attractive, multi-colored trunks, the new growth is cut back to the ground.

As a landscape plant, the cane palm can be planted as a screen to hide a structure, define a property line, or enclose a space from both wind and view. The low-growing, feathery new growth will create a visual barrier from the base of the tree to the canopy. As a stand-alone tree in the landscape, the unique clumping trunk, feathery leaves, and slightly gold color makes this an attractive focal point. Suitable for tropical and sub-tropical climates, the cane palm grows well in areas where the annual low temperature does not drop below 35 degrees Fahrenheit (about 2 C).

Cane palms make attractive and hardy house plants. They grow slowly, adding width faster than height as the multiple canes are developed. The tips of the leaves have a tendency to turn from green to copper in color. The bright green can be maintained with frequent applications of fertilizer, though the copper color in the leaves is a natural characteristic of this plant that many growers find desirable.

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