Caring For Cat Palm | Chamaedorea Cataractarum

There aren’t many indoor palms that are easy to grow and don’t require a lot of attention, but those from the Chamaedorea genus are perfectly suited to life indoors.

They introduce a lot of greenery to soften any space while being fairly slow-growing, so there isn’t a lot of attention needed.

While this plant is not as easy to look after as the Parlor Palm (Chamaedorea elegans), the Cat Palm is still a great option, and it’s perfect if you’re looking for something a little different.

Not sure if the cat palm is for you? Here’s everything you need to know.

The Cat Palm At A Glance

The Cat Palm, Chamaedorea cataractarum is a striking plant with densely packed fronds, and this stemless perennial palm will look great in any room that has a lot of bright light but very little (if any) direct sunlight.

While it is a slow-growing plant, it can eventually reach between 3 and 6 feet tall, though the former is more likely indoors, and the latter outdoors. 

Is The Cat Palm Safe For Pets?

There is no specific entry in the ASPCA that refers to Chamaedorea cataractarum, but the Parlor Palm, Chamaedorea elegans is considered non-toxic, so it is probably similar.

However, that doesn’t mean you should keep your palm within reach of pets. Even if a plant is non-toxic, if it is ingested it can still irritate and stomach upsets!

Where To Grow The Cat Palm

Sunlight And Position

Unlike the Parlor palm, Cat Palm plants need a little more sunlight, and won’t do well in areas with very little natural light.

That’s not to say that these plants will be happy in windows that are sun traps. Aim to give your Cat Palm enough sunlight to keep the growth healthy, but not so much that the delicate leaves burn.

Eastern-facing or Northern-facing windows are best for these palms, within a foot or two of the window. 

Eastern-facing light in the Northern Hemisphere will give the plant the light it needs, with gentle morning sunlight, avoiding any fierce afternoon sun and the damage that would follow.

If Southern-facing windows are all you have, you could always put the plant behind a sheer curtain, which will help diffuse the fiercest rays. 

Ideal Temperatures And Humidity

As long as you are comfortable, your Cat Palm will be, too. Average indoor temperatures will be just fine, provided that your plant is not in the path of heat sources or drafts. 

In terms of humidity, it’s a good idea to place your palm in a room with more humid air such as a kitchen or bathroom, as the increased humidity helps the plant grow better.

It will also stop the leaves from crisping up at the edges and brown spots from forming, too. 

If you prefer, a pebble tray filled with water will do the trick, but make sure the water cannot wick up into the soil, otherwise, you will have a different problem entirely!

Do not mist your plant to create more humidity, as this only works for a few seconds, and more often than not, your plant will suffer from fungal infections from the increased moisture.

Cat Palm Soil And Repotting

What Soil Does The Cat Palm Need?

In terms of soil, Cat Palms don’t do well in boggy compost, but neither do they do well in dry soil, either.

They need plenty of drainage so that water doesn’t pool around the roots for too long, but not so much that the compost dries out so quickly that the risk of dehydration is very high.

Peat moss isn’t ideal as it is wasteful from an environmental perspective. Houseplant compost mixed in with one or two parts perlite will help sharpen up the drainage, as well as give the plant all the nutrients it needs.

You could use an African Violet compost mix if you don’t fancy mixing up your own, as the process can be messy.

When To Repot The Cat Palm

The Cat Palm is a slow-growing plant, so don’t be tempted to repot your plant until the roots emerge from the drainage holes and the plant has outgrown its pot.

Depending on your growing conditions, and how long the plant has been in the pot, this could take anywhere from a few months to several years!

If you notice that you’re struggling to keep the plant hydrated, but nothing has changed in the growing conditions, take the plant out of the pot and have a look at the roots. Chances are your plant needs a bigger home.

Only repot one size upward, and only lightly run your fingers down the root ball to loosen up the root system, as it is quite delicate.

When To Water Chamaedorea Cataractarum

Similarly to the plant’s soil needs, when it comes to watering you need to strike a delicate balance.

The plant needs to be in damp soil all the time, but not wet or boggy compost, as this can rot the roots.

If you forget to water the plant, and it does get too dry, the fronds will start to yellow at the very tips.

Water once the top two inches of compost have dried out, and then repeat. This allows part of the soil to dry out, stopping the roots from becoming damaged, without leaving the plant thirsty for too long.

Always check the soil with your finger before watering, putting it about 2 inches deep so that you can gauge how much moisture is left in the soil.

Notice how I did not write water X number of days. Exactly when your plant will need watering depends on a fair few factors in the growing conditions unique to your home. 

Checking the plant regularly is the best way of getting it right, preventing any damage before it can occur, as the plant’s growing conditions may change, and if you don’t adjust the water levels, the plant will die.

Should You Feed A Cat Palm?

Cat Palms are not hungry plants. However, it’s a good idea to feed the plant every fourth watering or so in the growing season, using a houseplant feed, following the dosage instructions.

You may need to flush the soil occasionally during the growing season with distilled water to wash out any salts that may have built up in the soil, preventing root burn.

How To Propagate The Cat Palm

Can You Grow Chamaedorea Cataractarum Plants From Seed?

Plants from the Chamaedorea genus are notoriously difficult to raise from seed. 

This is only done by professional nurseries, and even then, most growers prefer to propagate the Chamaedorea plants they have by division as it is much easier.

Should You Divide The Cat Palm?

Just because you can do something, doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Dividing the whole Cat Palm in half isn’t a good idea, as it has a delicate root system.

However, this plant does produce offsets, and you can separate these from the main plant using a sharp knife, which means you don’t touch the roots.

Pot up plantlets separately, in nutrient-rich compost that’s already damp.

Only divide your plants when they are actively growing. Dividing a Cat Palm out of its growing season may cause it to go into shock, which can kill the plant.

Growing Chamaedorea Cataractarum: Problems To Watch Out For


For the most part, Chamaedorea cataractarum is a pretty resilient plant, but unfortunately, it is not entirely immune to pests.

One of the most likely bugs you’ll see setting up home in your Cat Palm is spider mites. 

These tend to move in when the humidity is too low for your tropical leafy plants, so keep your palm somewhere warm and humid, with plenty of airflow.

Don’t mist the plant in an attempt to deter spider mites, as this can cause fungal problems. Instead, invest in a humidifier, or group plants with similar needs together.

Cat Palm Yellowing Leaves

If the leaves on your Cat Palm are turning yellow, this suggests that something is very wrong. 

This might be because moisture levels in the soil are dramatically different from where they should be – either too dry or too wet – or the plant is in light that’s too bright for it.

It’s also worth flushing out the soil with distilled water to make sure this is not fertilizer burn.

Leaf Tips Going Brown

If the Cat Palm’s leaf tips are going brown, this suggests that the plant needs more moisture. 

This might be in terms of upping the watering regime, as the plant has been drying out too quickly, or, it can mean that the air is too dry, and the plant needs a more humid environment.

Leaf Spot On A Cat Palm

Leaf spot causes black, brown, or yellow spots on the leaves. Use an appropriate fungicide to treat the plant as soon as you see these spots on the plant.

Should You Prune A Cat Palm?

Unless there is something wrong with the fronds, no. These palms rarely need pruning. 

However, if the fronds have turned brown, fix the cause first before you go ahead and prune the affected parts from the plant.

Final Thoughts

The Cat Palm is a beautiful plant that can be a little fussy, but it is no worse than the Parlor Palm, provided that you give the plant the light it needs to thrive and some humidity.

This plant is perfect for spaces where you don’t want something that will outgrow the space quickly, as it is slow-growing and easy to maintain.

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