Houseplants Tropical Plants

How Well Do You Know Your Philodendrons?

By Julie Boudreau

Philodendron is the name on everyone’s lips. In recent years, they have gained great popularity among houseplant lovers. They have become collector’s items. You can spend (or invest, some would say!) a hundred dollars to get your hands on some unique varieties of philodendrons, like ‘ Strawberry Shake’ or ‘Florida Beauty’.

All the same, philodendrons are not that new. They have been grown as a houseplant since the dawn of time. They were coveted in the Victorian era (around 1850) and philodendrons have seen many waves of popularity since. The arrival of new varieties, in particular ‘Pink Princess’, ‘Orange Marmalade’, ‘Prince of Orange’ and ‘Red Emerald’, gave birth to a surge of passion which has spread to all philodendrons.

Lose Your Mind or… Lose Your Latin!

The philodendron genus is huge! Depending on sources, there are between 489 and 616 species, almost all native to Mexico and the tropical regions of South America. After anthuriums, it is the second largest genus of the Araceae family. There are so many species of philodendrons that we haven’t discovered them all yet! Take note, botanists looking for adventure: Only in 2022, in the remote regions of Panama, seven new species were discovered!

Selloum Philodendron (P. bipinnatifidum) perched on a tree releases adventitious roots from its head. Somewhere in Argentina. Photo: Dick Culbert on Wikimedia Commons.

As for houseplant lovers, they have access to around thirty species which are subdivided into hundreds of cultivars! There is no shortage of options. Choose from philodendrons as huge bushy plants, climbing plants or beautiful hanging planters.

In general, philodendrons live up to their name. In Greek, philus means “loving” and dendro means “tree”: plants that love trees. It is a perfect name for these plants which cling to the tall trees of tropical forests to capture the light in the higher strata. Thus, among philodendrons we find climbing plants rooted in the ground, called terrestrial philodendrons. Some are epiphytic, meaning they grow on the branches of large trees. And other philodendrons are hemiepiphytes, meaning they produce long adventitious roots that extend from the stems down to the ground.

Needs That Reflect Their Natural Environment

Being native to warm and humid regions, it is no coincidence that philodendrons prefer warm temperatures, between 65 to 75F (18 and 24°C), and high humidity all year round. There is no real dormancy period necessary for philodendrons. In fact, you should avoid growing them at temperatures below 13°C. As for humidity, that of house interiors is quite suitable. But their favorite room in the house is the bathroom, because the steam from a nice hot shower reminds them of their sweet tropical America.

Another great advantage of philodendrons is that some tolerate low light. This is the case for Philodendron hederaceum. It’s not always easy to be a climbing plant in search of light. That said, in general, philodendrons prefer good light, but not direct sun. This is particularly true for plants with golden, variegated or colored foliage, because it is the light that intensifies the colors.

Good light is important, especially for varieties with golden, variegated or colored foliage, like this philodendron ‘Brasil’. Photo: Feey on Unsplash.

Water and Potting Soil: The Secrets to Keeping Philodendrons Alive

So far, so good. We can say that the conditions of an ordinary home are suitable for philodendrons. However, it’s when it comes to watering that things get tricky. Philodendrons are very susceptible to root rot. But at the same time, the potting soil must remain constantly moist. How to get there? The secret is to let the soil dry on the surface, but never wait until the soil is completely dry. Also, water must not stagnate at the base of the plants, which can happen when the plant is placed in a decorative planter. To prevent this inconvenience, you can place a few balls of clay or pebbles at the bottom of the plant pot. Once you have mastered the art of watering philodendrons properly, growing them becomes very easy. When in doubt, remember that death by drowning is easier to come by than death by drought.

You can also get better control over watering by using specialized soil for philodendrons. Indeed, potting soil is too dense and it retains water longer. You can therefore make a homemade mixture based on bark, horticultural sand and potting soil. A classic recipe is to create a mixture of one third orchid substrate, one third perlite and one third potting soil. Regardless of the final recipe, the result is a light and airy substrate, both moist and draining.

A good light substrate and packed roots in the pot: happiness for philodendrons. Photo: Feey on Unsplash.

It is also good to remember that philodendrons like to be root bound. They are at their best when the roots invade the container. We only repot them when the pot is about to explode! Or, when the plant begins to lack stability.

May your heart lean towards varieties to grow in hanging planters, such as the philodendron ‘Brasil’, ‘Lemon Lime’ or ‘Micans’. Whether you’re looking for giants like the selloum philodendron (P. bipinnatifidum) or the Philodendron xanadu. Whether you are an avid collector of the multiple cultivars of P. erubescens. The genus philodendron is incredibly diverse, but so interesting for growing indoors. And now that you know how not to kill them… go for it! Try again!

Philodendron ‘Birkin’ is very popular these days! This cultivar comes from a radiation-induced mutation on the cultivar ‘Rojo Congo’. It must be monitored closely, as it tends to return to its solid green form. Photo: Feey on Unsplash.

Julie Boudreau is a horticulturist who trained at the Institut de technologie agroalimentaire in Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec. She’s been working with plants for more than 25 years. She has published many gardening books and hosted various radio and television shows. She now teaches horticulture at the Centre de formation horticole of Laval. A great gardening enthusiast, she’s devoted to promoting gardening, garden design, botany and ecology in every form. Born a fan of organic gardening, she’s curious and cultivates a passion for all that can be eaten. Julie Boudreau is “epicurious” and also fascinated by Latin names.

1 comment on “How Well Do You Know Your Philodendrons?

  1. Thank you for this informative article.

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