The Difference Between Parlor Palm, Areca Palm, and All Those Other Palms

updated Sep 14, 2022
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So you’re in the market for something tropical to make your home feel bright and beachy all year round. A palm sounds like it would fit the bill, but what type of palm plants are there? Here’s a breakdown of some of the most common types of palms and how to tell them apart.

Areca Palm

Yellow, bamboo-like stems grow in groups from the base of the Areca palm (Dypsis lutescens/Chrysalidocarpus lutescens), while oversized fronds make it a total show-off. It’s easy to track down at big-box stores and nurseries, and high sun and high humidity are its must-haves.

Good for: Large spaces, rooms with high ceilings
Other names: Butterfly palm, golden cane palm, bamboo palm

Kentia Palm

The tall and graceful Kentia palm (Howea forsteriana) is one of the most popular and easy-to-find indoor palms. It’s a good palm choice for beginners because it’s more tolerant of dry indoor air and lower light than other palms. The fronds sit atop single stems, making for a less full look compared with some other palm species. 

Good for: Floor planters
Other names: Paradise palm

Majesty Palm

Majesty palm (Ravenea rivularis) is tall and regal, exactly like its name suggests. It has a commanding presence in a room, with full, extra-large fronds of the variety that you could cut off and use as a fan. Like all palms, it prefers high humidity and bright light, although it will adapt to lower light conditions if forced to, according to the plant delivery service Bloomscape.

Good for: Large spaces, rooms with high ceilings
Other names: Majestic palm

Parlor Palm

Parlor palm (Chamaedorea elegans) has lacy, compact fronds that grow upright from a cluster of stems, and is a bit stouter than the palms mentioned above. It may reach up to four feet in height indoors, though it can also be grown in a tabletop planter if you get a small one (it’s a slow grower).

Good for: Plant stands, tabletops, floor planters
Other names: Neanthe bella palm, Victorian palm

Ponytail Palm

Ponytail palms (Beaucarnea recurvata) are actually not palms at all—which is why they don’t resemble the other palms on this list. They have a frizzy tuft of slender, cascading leaves that sit atop a bulbous trunk.

Though they can grow over 20 feet tall in their native southeastern Mexico, indoors ponytail palms are grown as bonsai specimens and are happily at home in medium-sized pots. As desert natives, they’re not big on humidity, in stark contrast to true palms, and have similar care requirements to succulents and cacti.

Good for: Tabletops, desks, windowsills

Sago Palm

Sago palm (Cycas revoluta) is another misnomer—it’s not a palm but a cycad, an ancient type of plant that was especially abundant during the time dinosaurs walked the earth. Sago palm has thick, feather-shaped leaves that fan outward from a center trunk that looks a bit like a pinecone.

It also has a very proportional appearance, making it right at home in any type of decor style. And it likes bright light and just enough water to get by, according to commercial houseplant grower Costa Farms.

Good for: Plant stands, groupings with taller plants, corners that need to be filled

Sentry Palm

Sentry palm (Howea belmoreana) is Kentia’s cousin and nearly identical in appearance, the major difference being that its fronds curl at the tips. Like Kentia, it’s fairly hardy indoors and isn’t a drama queen about low humidity.

Good for: Floor planters
Other names: Curly sentry palm