Howea palm at the San Diego Zoo

Howea Palm (Kentia Palm)

Howea spp.
  • Division: Tracheophyta
  • Class: Liliopsida
  • Order: Arecales
  • Family: Arecaceae
  • Genus: Howea
  • Species: forsteriana and belmoreana



A small, oceanic island between Australia and New Zealand is home to the Kentia palm (also known as the paradise palm or the thatch palm) H. forsteriana and the Belmore sentry palm H. belmoreana. Part of the state of New South Wales, Australia, Lord Howe Island is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, the palms grow in lowlands and foothills. Among the most popular ornamental palms in the world, the feathery palms also represent one of just two significant sources of income for the island. (The other is tourism.) Nurseries collect seeds to cultivate the palms, and trade is highly regulated. While the palms may be planted as a single trunk, it’s common for growers to cluster two to five seedlings into a single pot for a fuller, bushier look.


Dark green, lacy fronds radiate from the trunk, and two-foot leaflets typically droop a bit. As a palm grows, the oldest fronds die and eventually fall off. The slender trunk of a Howea is marked with rings, which are scars left from old fronds. Flower spikes protrude from among the fronds, starting upright and eventually hanging down as the seeds grow heavy. Seeds start out green and turn red or even blackish as they mature.


If you live in a tropical or subtropical region, you may be able to grow Howea outdoors. (They do well Hawaii and California.) But the palms grow slowly, and they won’t grow as large as they do in their natural environment. They prefer light shade, good drainage, and plenty of water (less in winter, when growth slows). Remove dead fronds with scissors—don’t pull on them—and never cut a growing stem (trunk), or the palm with die.

You can also grow a Howea palm indoors. (H. forsteriana generally does better than H. belmoreana.) It will stop growing at about 10 feet. Kentia palms are said to be one of the easiest palms to grow in a pot inside, and they lend a distinctly tropical feel to an indoor space. They need low light, but keep them out of direct sun. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy. Misting the plant will provide humidity.

Kentia Palm

Howea forsteriana

You may find this plant called paradise palm, thatch palm, or sentry palm. It is the most popular potted palm in the world, but it grows outside at the San Diego Zoo.

Belmore Sentry Palm

Howea belmoreana

Not as common as the closely related Kentia palm, H. belmoreana is a bit smaller, and its arching fronds curve more, give the palm an umbrella-like appearance. This variety doesn’t do as well in a pot as the related H. forsteriana.

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Kentia palms were first imported to Europe in mid 1800s and became admired “parlor palms” during the Victorian era. Palm courts filled with kentias became popular; large, luxurious ocean liners—such as the Titanic—had palm courts, too. Kentias are still the palms you’ll most likely find in the palm courts of hotels such as Plaza Hotel in Manhattan.


On Lord Howe Island, the Kentia palm H. forsteriana can reach 40 feet tall and 20 feet wide, with 9-foot fronds, and the related Belmore sentry palm H. belmoreana reaches 25 feet tall and 15 feet wide, with 7-foot fronds.


Early settlers of Lord Howe islands used fronds to thatch their homes, and some people still call it by the name “thatch palm.”


In the wilderness, both species of Howea are categorized as Vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Palm enthusiasts can rest assured, however, that those for sale in reputable nurseries have been cultivated—not collected from the wilderness.


Zoo visitors can enjoy the cool, thick shade of Howea palms as they wander through Asian Passage.


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