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"Something like a pet parrot." That's a dwarf rhapis palm.

Why bother with dwarf rhapis palms? They're expensive, slow-growing, and a bit temperamental. But they're also beautiful and long-lived: century-old speciments are not uncommon. "It's something like deciding to have a parror for a pet," says one grower. "It requires constant attention, but will likely outlive you and you'll grow to be crazy about it."

Through available only recently in this country, dwarf rhapis palms have been cultivated extensively in Japan, where they were developed. Varieties such as 'Daruma', 'Gyokuho', 'Kotobuki', 'Tenzan', and 'Zuikonishiki' offer a range of heights, foliage densities, leaf forms, and colorations (including variegated).

Average maximum height is 12 to 48 inches, depending on the variety. Each plant develops only one or two new stems a year, and a 10-year-old specimen requires only a shallow 12- to 14-inch pot.

Care in Containers. Unlike some popular house plants such as sansevieria and aspidistra, these palms won't tolerate neglect--let them go dry too long or too often, and they'll die; overwater them, and they'll rot. But their other requirements are quite reasonable.

Plant in a rich, loose, sterile potting mix. If the mix is too loose (soil should compact a bit if you squeeze it in your hand), you'll have to water more frequently; if it's too heavy, stir in a few tablespoons of coarse builder's sand.

Good drainage is a must. Choose a pot with a drain hole, rather than putting drainage material in the bottom of a solid pot. Water well, then let the topsoil dry to the touch before you water again. Most growers prefer glazed ceramic or plastic pots, which keep soil moist longer.

Place in strong indirect sunlight (an easto-or north-facing window, or near a south-or west-facing window). Out of direct sun, your plant should not need more than one watering a week.

At first, give little, if any, fertilizer. After a year in new soil, give half-strength quarterly or bimonthly applications of a complete liquid plant food such as 10-10-10.

Propagation. A good time to propagate a dwarf rhapis is when you report it. Let the plant go a bit dry, then remove it from its container. Gently shake off all the soil. Look for offsets that have developed on single fleshy roots running out from a parent stem. Choose one that has a well-established network of roots and is no longer dependent on the runner. Sever the running root midway between the parent stem and this offset. Trim lower leaves from the offset, leaving only three or four top leaves. Pot old and new plants, then water throughly.

Where to find them. Few indoor plant shops carry dwarf rhapis palms. Don't mistake small standard rhapis palms, which eventually grow 12 to 15 feet tall, for dwarf kinds.

One mail-order specialist carries eight dwarf varieties, with prices ranging from $10 to $200; Rhapis Gardens, Box 287, Gregory, Tex. 78359; catalog $1. Endangered Species (12571 Red Hill Ave., Tustin, Calif. 92680) lists 13 kinds, at $40 to $500; four quarterly catalogs cost $5. Rhapis Palm Growers (Box 84, Redlands, Calif. 92373) has plants that range from $34 to $952; catalog $2.
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Nov 1, 1984
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