By Chris Freeburn, Master Gardener
The Philodendron is a tropical plant found in South and Central America and the Carribean. It is the second largest group in the Araceae family. This family of plants includes Pothos (which are often confused with Philodendron), Alocasias (Elephant Ears), Monstera (this plant is its own genus), Aglaonema (Chinese Evergreen), and ZZ plants. There are many different varieties of Philodendron from vine types to large tropicals which grow at different height levels in the jungles of their tropical homes. Many vine type species live as epiphytes in their native environment, growing like air plants and climbing up their host plant to reach more sunlight. Most have large heart shaped leaves that grow alternately on stems.
Philodendron and Pothos are often difficult to distinguish. When you look closely at the base of the leaves, philodendrons will have a covering or sheath, called a calaphylls, over the leaf which form where the stem and petiole (leaf stem) attach.
(Philodendron showing cataphylls, and pothos showing no cataphylls)
P. Hederadeum is the most common species available as a houseplant. Heartleaf will trail or can be trained to grow up a trellis.
Upright or bush philodendrons also can have aerial roots similar to orchid roots which grow above the soil. These roots form because the plants originally grew in tropical jungles where philodendrons grow into the trees.
If you are looking for an easy to grow houseplant, try the philodendron. Or if you want to increase your houseplant varieties, there are many different varieties to choose from.There are upright types like ‘Birkin’ which has dark glossy leaves with white streaks in the veins. Many varieties have dark green leaves while others have chartreuse leaves like ‘Moonlight’ or ‘Mekloni Gold’. Growers have introduced cultivars named ‘Prince of Orange’, ‘Ceylon Beauty’, Black Cardinal’, Narrow Escape’ and ‘Brazil’.
(“Imperial Red”, and “Birkin”)
In our homes, philodendron are one of the easier houseplants to grow. They prefer bright indirect light, but will tolerate lower light. Do not over water. Let the soil dry out between watering.
Fertilizing with a 20-20-20 solution in spring and summer is okay, but let your plant rest in the fall and winter, watering less as well. Philodendrons rarely have pest or disease problems. They contain calcium oxalate which is poisonous to humans and pets if ingested.
Philodendrons that vine tend to be slower growers but shouldn’t get pot bound. Repotting your houseplant when roots fill the pot with fresh potting soil will make your plant happier. You may also need to wipe dust from the shiny leaves by using a soft damp cloth.
I saw an article on a website recently where people were talking about the beauty of tropicals in their native environment. They wondered about bringing them home to Canada. Please remember that transporting living plants into other countries is not legal. Also, that gorgeous gigantic tropical would not be happy in your home. The plants that are for sale in Canada have been bred to be in your home, but will never get as lush as those that grow in hot humid countries. Enjoy them while visiting in their environment and love their hybridized cousins in your home.