Possibly the World’s Worst Houseplant

décembre 29

These days you may see a curious houseplant on sale in box stores and garden centers: a baby coconut (Cocos nucifera), freshly germinated, its huge nut still visible, very tightly packed into a pot and probably with roots coming out of the drainage holes. This really is a coconut palm… but it is not  a good houseplant!

Although the idea of growing a coconut tree in the house may seem very attractive, in fact, it is almost impossible to grow this plant indoors. First, it requires very intense light, being intolerant of shade even on the tropical beaches on which it grows naturally. It is essentially impossible to obtain so much light between 4 walls, even in a greenhouse and especially outside of the tropics. Secondly, it needs air high humidity, otherwise spider mites will devour it. And thirdly, temperatures need to stay above 75?F (24?C) all year long or it will slowly die.

décembre 29-2
Coconut palm under happier conditions.

Of course, do you even have enough room for a plant whose fronds reach 13 to 20 feet (4-6 meters) long and whose (trunk), up to 100 ft (30 m)? Anyway, the plant will not live long enough to form a trunk… especially in the small pot in which it is sold.

Just to give you an idea, even the great botanical gardens of the northern hemisphere (Kew, Montreal, Berlin, New York, etc.) are not able to cultivate this large palm tree other than for very short periods and focus instead on more cooperative palm species. Do you think you have more than horticultural skills than they do?

I suggest you simply avoid purchasing this plant. If you want to grow a palm tree indoors, there are many other species that grow there easily and are found without difficulty in garden centers. So why waste your energies on a plant that will likely survive only a few months, going downhill all the way?

If ever it’s too late and you’ve already bought one, at least repot it into a bigger pot. When you see plants with abundant roots reaching out of every drainage hole, that the plant is already suffering from the lack of space for its roots. You’ll have to cut the pot off, though: there’s no other way to extract the poor dying palm without seriously damaging it.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

10 comments on “Possibly the World’s Worst Houseplant

  1. Pingback: Success With the World’s Worst Houseplant – Laidback Gardener

  2. Damien Lekatis

    7 years ago I spotted a coconut with a pathetic sprout shooting out of it, resembling the Charlie Brown Christmas tree, in the “as is” section of my local Ikea in Montreal. Sale price was 4$. I felt compelled to buy it and try to save it. You say impossible? I have a 9 ft coconut palm living ( I should say more like taking over ) in the corner of my loft. It’s been in the same spot all these years, centred in front of a large 5′ x 8′ window that gets direct light almost all day long. A old school hot water radiator at the foot of the window. and I have a ceiling fan that is on all the time, circulating the air and provides movement for the branches. If I could post a picture to show you the condition of this tree , I think you’d be impressed. Recently a friend came over to visit and brought a friend with him who just happens to be a horticulturist for the Montreal Botanical Gardens. He was amazed and couldn’t believe that I had what he described as a very healthy tree and kept telling me that he’d never seen one survive indoors longer than 1 year. He said whatever it is that you’re doing, keep it up. About 1 month ago I sold my loft and will be moving to another loft and it won’t get the same direct sunlight, I’m worried that just moving it will be traumatic for it and the change of environment may not give it what it needs to survive. Wish me luck

  3. I live in Florida and have several coconut palms in my back yard. The current temperature is in the 50s and even dips to freezing once or twice a year, yet my palms continue to flourish. Though I do agree that it would be nearly impossible to grow one indoors, they certainly can thrive in temperatures below 75 degrees.

    • True enough… outdoors in full sun. Indoors, where the coconut palm is already stressed by insufficient light, it needs really warm temperatures to stay alive. The few public greenhouses that succeed in growing one have to truly give it “hothouse conditions”! It’s one reason why you so rarely see coconut palms outside of the Tropics, even in botanical gardens.

  4. Samuel Moran

    What about tree ferns (Cyathea and Dicksonia species) as houseplants?

  5. Samuel Moran

    Can you name some more palm species that make terrible houseplants?

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