In a Rosslyn bistro every table boasts a small, dark green potted palm. It is Chamaedorea elegans, the Parlor Palm.Often sold under the erroneous name Neanthe bella, this graceful dwarf species from Mexico and Central America is well suited to dim light and does not resent being dried out once in a while. It is a slow-growing palm and will remain an attractive 12 to 18-inch plant for a long time.
As a houseplant, the Parlor palm is used in every kind of container - small seedings in terrariums or dish gardens; older plants as single or multiple specimens in pots. Eventually a potted plant may attain a height of 4 feet with arching, spreading fronds as long as 3 feet. The larger plants make handsome floor specimens.
A surprise comes wit this palm. It produces flowers when only a foot tall or smaller. The flowers are borne in yellow clusters and often rise on stalks above the feathery foliage. Male and female flowers appear on different plants; to get seeds there must be plants of both kinds.
You can bring a tropical element to your home when you add this palm to your indoor garden. Give it an eastern or western exposure, winter and summer. Do not place it in direct sun or the leaves will burn. It will thrive in the bright, indirect light of a shadowless north window. In summer, you can place it outdoors in light shade, sheltered from damaging winds. Feed it every two months from March to October with a general houseplant fertilizer diluted to one-quarter the strength recommended by the manufacturer.
Young plants need to be repotted every year in the next larger size pot. Older plants prefer to be somewhat potbound and can remain healthy for 10 to 15 years in the same pot with only an annual top-dressing of fresh soil.
Palms collect dust. The fronds should be washed or wiped with a moist cloth once a month to keep the pores from clogging with dust and to emphasize the dark green color.
Chamaedorea elegans has a leaf and growth pattern to be found in few other houseplants. It adjusts well to the indoor environment, particularly air conditioning and dim corners, and grows well in artificial light. The restauranteur chose well when he added the charm of this miniature to his turn-of-the-century decor.
Is it any wonder that Chamaedorea elegans is characterized by some palm fanciers as a "horticultural gem?"