Palms are pre-eminently ahead of all others for this purpose. Of the species or varieties adapted to the purpose there is at present not a great number. They must be of fairly quick growth, not easily hurt by a low temperature and able to stand a good deal of rough handling.
The Areca lutescens I place ahead of all as the handsomest. It is light and graceful. Next the kentias, Forsteriana and Belmoreana. These, like the areca, are fine in effect whether used singly or in a group. The phoenix, especially rupicola, comes next, although these do not blend in a group and are best as small or medium sized specimens, where they can show off their graceful outlines. The Latania Borbonica is fine where you can find a suitable place. We are sometimes (in fact often) asked to place a palm in a fire-place, and there is the spot for a latania. Like the phoenix, its spreading growth makes it not so well suited for mixing in with the tall growing palms, however handsome it is individually. The graceful little Cocos Weddeliana is very valuable on many occasions. When two or three feet high and in good order, there is nothing more beautiful.
There are many other palms that are just as ornamental as the well-known kinds mentioned, but their scarcity and value forbid their use. And again, the kentias and arecas have entirely displaced such quick-growing but soft kinds as seaforthia.
Cycas revoluta makes a grand ornament where it can be used in a very large plant vase, perhaps at the end of a room or hall, but should be so placed that its perfect outline can be seen or it will not be appreciated.
As to the hardiness or ability to stand rough usage, of these palms I think there is not the slightest doubt that the phoenix is the best. We have a pair of P. rupicola that in the course of five or six years must have heard the congratulations of the bride's friends, or endured the orchestra's strains, the Easter and Christmas sermons, the orator's eloquence, and the chilly ride to and fro, a thousand times, and still they come up smiling. There is nothing like the phoenix in this respect.
The kentias come next for keeping in fair order, but kentias, grand house plants as they are, do not "like the slightest frost. I have noticed that where latanias and arecas have been carelessly exposed to a degree of frost they will recover, but not so with the kentias. The arecas will answer the purpose for a long time if the leaves are carefully tied when they go out, and this care should also be given the kentias. The latanias suffer most, not because they are more tender, but their broad leaves get more easily broken and become unsightly.
I remarked under the head of decorations that the charge should be about twice as much in January as in June. This is quite true, after May 1 till November 1 it does little harm to palms to give them a day and a night or more in a hall or room, and if the leaves are drawn up and carefully tied with raffia they can be sent out in an open wagon. When the thermometer is 10 degrees De-low zero it is very different. In addition to the wagon that is heated you have to tie up each plant and cover with paper or a bag, for the distance from the curbstone to the door of the house is frequently enough to ruin your palms if not protected. Others use long boxes, each holding a half dozen plants. As these are packed in the warm shed and the tight cover put on, and the box carried into a warm hall or vestibule before they are unpacked, the palms seldom get injured by cold, but careful and thorough tying up of the leaves is more of a necessity even than when sent in a heated wagon. Never scrimp the time in tying up the palms. If you do you will soon have to buy more, because yours will be shabby, and the price of one good areca or kentia six or seven feet high will pay for many hours' labor on the palms.