While helpful, plant nicknames can sometimes lead to confusion. Take the bamboo palm, for example. So-called due to its remarkable resemblance to bamboo, it’s not actually a type of bamboo! Rather, bamboo palm (or Chamaedorea seifrizii) is a type of palm.
It might surprise you to learn that the bamboo palm isn’t a true bamboo, given the similarities in appearance between the two. In particular, the stems of bamboo palms resemble those of bamboo culms. You can use this to your advantage, though, and add bamboo palms to your home as an alternative to real bamboo, which can be difficult to grow indoors.
While bamboo palms can be grown outdoors in warm climates, they make for great, beginner-friendly houseplants. Today we’ll look at the differences between bamboo palm and true bamboo, why they are often mistaken for one another, and how to identify a bamboo palm plant.
What is a bamboo palm?
The bamboo palm is a member of the palm genus Chamaedorea. It belongs to the Arecaceae family, and grows natively along the tropical forest floor in Central America. Reaching no more than 7-10 feet (2-3 m) tall, it isn’t the tallest palm (that would be Ceroxylon quindiuense, which can grow up to nearly 200 feet (61 m) tall!). However, the delicate stature of bamboo palm makes it a beautiful addition inside the home.
While bamboo palm is the most popular common name of this plant due to its bamboo-like appearance, many also call it “reed palm” or “cane palm.” Bamboo palms are most popularly grown as houseplants, but they also make ornate additions to outdoor landscaping in the right environment.
Fun fact: the genus name Chamaedorea is a combination of the Ancient Greek words chamai, which means “on the ground,” as well as dorea, meaning “gift.” This is often considered to be a reference to the Chamaedorea‘s availability of fruit within reach due to its smaller growth. Bamboo palm, Chamaedorea seifrizzi, is named after botanist William Seifriz.
What does bamboo palm look like?
The bamboo palm is fascinating because it embodies all of the tropical palm-like characteristics, but at the same time it’s as elegant and minimal as bamboo. The bamboo palm earned its nickname due to its striking similarities to real bamboo.
Bamboo palm is an evergreen plant. It has slender, upright stems with prominent nodes that strongly resemble bamboo culms. Along the stems are pinnate fronds with symmetrical leaves on either side. The leaves are linear, giving the bamboo palm a delicate feathery appearance.
A mature bamboo palm might bloom during the summer, producing dozens of small, yellow flowers.
How are bamboo palms similar to true bamboo?
In addition to similarities in appearance, bamboo palms share several other characteristics with true bamboo. Bamboo palms spread by way of underground rhizomes, known as runners, much like running bamboo.
However, unlike running bamboo, the rhizomes of bamboo palms don’t have a tendency to spread fast or far, making them much less likely to become invasive or outgrow their container.
How are bamboo palms different from true bamboo?
In addition to being genetically different plants, bamboo palms and true bamboo have a few other notable differences.
For one, bamboo palms are much slower growing and less prolific than bamboo, so they are not considered invasive. Indoors, you may get only a few inches of growth each year, depending on your light and humidity levels. This is quite different from bamboo, which is considered one of the fastest-growing plants on the planet.
There are noticeable differences between their care needs as well. While bamboo is revered as a hardy plant with many frost-tolerant species, bamboo palms are more particular about their growing conditions. They prefer warm conditions between 65-80°F (18-26°C), humidity levels above 50%, and moist, well-draining soil.
Additionally, the stems of bamboo palms are more tender and fleshy, unlike bamboo culms which are often very sturdy.
Can you grow bamboo palms outdoors?
Bamboo palms are hardy in USDA zones 10 and 11. They are very popular outdoor plants in areas like Southwest Florida, where they can be grown as a privacy screen or added to the garden as ornamental landscaping. They can be planted outdoors in containers or directly into the soil.
The fronds of bamboo palms are sensitive to frost damage, so they will not survive outdoors in climates colder than zone 10.
However, potted bamboo palms can be moved outside in these regions for the summer, after the danger of frost has passed.
Can you grow bamboo palms as houseplants?
Bamboo palms make excellent houseplants and will grow quite well indoors. In most cases, bamboo palms are sold as small, tabletop-sized plants. Indoors they may only grow up to 3-5 feet (1-1.5 m) tall since it’s more difficult to replicate those tropical, humid conditions in an average household environment.
To grow a full, bushy, healthy bamboo palm indoors, provide them with plenty of bright, indirect light and humidity. However, they will also do well in low-light conditions.
By contrast, growing true bamboo indoors is more difficult, even for those who are experienced bamboo growers. For those looking to replicate the aesthetic of a feather bamboo plant indoors, the bamboo palm is an excellent alternative.
Are bamboo palm houseplants beginner-friendly?
Beginner growers will be happy to hear that bamboo palms have a reputation for being more tolerant of an everyday indoor environment than most palm species. For best results, avoid keeping your bamboo palm in dry places, such as near a vent or air conditioner, and supplement with humidity if you live in a particularly dry environment.
The biggest hurdle that bamboo palm owners deal with is pesky houseplant pests. Bamboo palms might attract red spider mites, scale, and thrips due to their tender foliage. Check your bamboo palm regularly for pests so you can treat them before they become out of control. You can also use yellow sticky traps to trap adult insects and prevent them from multiplying. I am using these because they look a bit more ornamental – you can order them from Amazon!
The best way to combat houseplant pests is to give your bamboo palm the conditions it needs to thrive, such as bright indirect light and humidity. You can also rinse off the fronds in the sink, which will knock off any individual pests and remove dust on the leaves. If needed, you can treat your bamboo palm with an insecticidal soap.
FAQs about bamboo palms
Are bamboo palms related to lucky bamboo?
Bamboo palms and lucky bamboo are not related. Lucky bamboo, or Dracaena sanderiana, is a member of the Asparagaceae family. This means that it is actually a closer relative to asparagus than it is to either bamboo or bamboo palms!
What bamboo palms do have in common with lucky bamboo is their striking similarity to true bamboo, despite not being related to it. Bamboo palms and lucky bamboo also have very similar care needs and make great beginner houseplants.
Do bamboo palms clean the air?
Like other plants, bamboo palms photosynthesize, which not only converts carbon dioxide to oxygen, but also removes toxins found in the air. In fact, NASA listed bamboo palms as the third most effective when it comes to filtering toxins from the air, including formaldehyde, ammonia and benzene. They gave bamboo palms a score of 8.4, ranking just behind the Lady palm (Rhapis excelsa) and the Areca palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens).
It’s worth noting, however, that a review of the NASA study and others determined that the laboratory results were hard to replicate in real life scenarios, such as inside the home.
Do bamboo palms need pruning?
While pruning isn’t necessary for the growth of bamboo palms, you can prune your bamboo palm if it grows unruly. Occasionally, they may develop brown tips (typically when there is a lack of humidity), which can be trimmed off for aesthetic purposes.
Instances of some browning or yellowing is not usually a cause for alarm. However, if you notice either symptom occurring frequently in your bamboo palm, you will want to check that it doesn’t have a pest or that you aren’t dealing with an overwatering or underwatering issue.