Houseplants Palms

Success With the World’s Worst Houseplant

Underpotted sprouting coconuts sold as houseplants were all the rage 6 or 7 years ago. Photo: gardengoodsdirect.com

Back in 2014, I wrote a blog which I entitled Possibly the World’s Worst Houseplant, in which I suggested the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) might just be the worst houseplant ever. It was, at the time, being sold as an easy-to-grow houseplant in the form of a sprouted coconut with a few grasslike juvenile leaves.

Sprouting coconuts generally decline very quickly under average indoor conditions. Photo: Capnspleen, reddit.com

My experience is that such plants inevitably fail fairly quickly, unable to thrive under the poor light, insufficient heat, dry air and subsequent spider mite infestation (spider mites, Tetranychus urticae, come out in droves on palms grown in dry air) that occurs in the average home. Besides, who has the room for a plant with 13 foot (4 meter) fronds? Even botanical gardens fail with this species in their tropical greenhouses. What hope could such a plant possibly have in the average home?

Damien Lekatis’ happy coconut palm. Photo: Damien Lekatis

Well, wouldn’t you know someone would prove me wrong? Damien Lekatis, of Montreal, recently sent me a picture of his 7-year-old coconut palm, repotted into a large pot, obviously doing very well, with fronds even starting to split and look palmlike. 

Daniel attributes his success to watering with aquarium water, then adds. “I think that the constant movement caused by the ceiling fan (it’s on all the time) and the humid heat from the old-school radiators are helpful. Electric radiators would probably dry it out.” He lives in Montreal, Quebec, Canada where “our winters are crazy brutal and last about 5 months. Summers are humid and hot.”

I’d like to add the huge sunny window likely didn’t hurt, either, nor did removing it from the confinement of a small pot and replanting it into large tub! 

Three-year old coconut palms in the tropics typically have fully formed pinnate fronds and have started to form a stipe. Photo: http://www.touristmaker.com

Do note the palm has remained in its juvenile form. The original coconut is still visible at the base and the fronds, which start out simple on a sprouting coconut and should be fully pinnate at seven years, are just transitioning to that form. Plus, there is no visible stipe (trunk) while a coconut palm of age of 7 years growing on a sunny tropical beach would normally have a thick stipe some 6 feet (2 m) high and would likely be producing a few coconuts. 

So, Damien, you have proved me wrong. But I still don’t think that coconut palms make good houseplants. Damien has been very lucky and proven himself very skillful!

The period when sprouted coconuts in pots were being sold cheaply everywhere seems to be over. If you want to try Daniel’s method without breaking the bank, you might have to obtain a still-husked coconut and sprout it yourself.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

7 comments on “Success With the World’s Worst Houseplant

  1. Gads! These are still available. They sometimes get planted outside here. Even in our mild climate, the winters are too cool for them.

  2. I’ve got one too. 2 years old. The Netherlands.

    I could not show you pictures in this post, but here is the link with my pictures:
    https://www.palmtalk.org/forum/index.php?/topic/59398-cocos-nucifera-indoor-winter-experiments/&do=findComment&comment=962825

  3. I’m curious to know what happened to his plant after he moved. Do we have a follow up?
    Being from a beachy city in the tropics and living in Europe, I got a little pang of homesickness when I saw one in the garden centre, leading to an impulse buy. Looking up care instructions post purchase got me quite worried, but these stories have given me hope. It’s spent the few days since being bought out in the garden in full sun and inside for the evening. It will be reported once acclimatised and hopefully I’ll be able to provide it enough light and warmth over winter. Any thoughts on the aquarium water, though? We do have a fish tank but I worry about introducing harmful bacteria.

  4. Damien Lekatis

    Happy to report that Coco is doing well. Had a rough move and one of the branches broke during the move but it survived and thrived, even in my new loft . It doesn’t get as much direct sunlight or for as long but I’m thinking it’s adapting.
    Here are some updated pics I took this past winter.
    I have plenty of plants growing out of my aquarium filters. All thriving and doing very well. I personally think that the tannins and bacteria from a properly cycled aquarium are definitely a plus. I have a 120 gallon discus & planted aquarium. Run a UV sterilizer . so the water doesn’t have any harmful bacteria or parastes.
    Thanks

    Damien

    https://pin.it/1fc3SmT

    https://pin.it/15SrObz

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