The World’s Easiest Houseplant?

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Heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum). Photo: http://www.crocus.co.uk

Which houseplant is the easiest of all to grow? Well, that’s debatable, but for my money, the winner could easily be the heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum). I can’t think of any other plant that has been so thoroughly tested under the most adverse of conditions. Even the worst black thumbs manage to keep it alive and, in fact, it often thrives in their care.

This aroid (member of the Araceae family) is widespread throughout the New World tropics. It was introduced to culture by Captain William Bligh (history buffs will remember him as a survivor of an infamous mutiny) who brought a specimen from the Caribbean to Kew Gardens in London in 1793. But it was in 1936 that the heartleaf philodendron was introduced to the general public when the Woolworth’s stores started selling this philodendron at 5¢ apiece, thus launching the very first houseplant craze.

If this plant’s botanical name (P. hederaceum) seems unfamiliar, that’s because there has been a lot of confusion about its true name over the years. For a long time, it was sold under names like P. oxycardiumP. scandensP. cordatum or P. micans. However, P. hederaceum was the first valid name published for this variable plant, way back in 1829, and therefore has priority. This situation was officially confirmed in 2012, so … correct your plant labels!

A Liana

Heartleaf philodendron in the wild, climbing up a trunk. Alex Popovkin, Wikimedia Commons

The heartleaf philodendron is a climbing plant in nature: a liana if you prefer. Its long stems carry, at each node, one dark green heart-shaped leaf and several small adhesive aerial roots that allow the plant to climb up tree trunks. And that explains its botanical name. Philo means which love while dendron means tree; thus the name means tree-lover. Even its epithet is appropriate: hederaceum means “ivy,” again a reference to its climbing nature.

Philodendron grown as a hanging plant. Photo: plantify.co.za

In our homes, where trees are scarce, the heartleaf philodendron s usually grown in hanging baskets where it trails gracefully downwards, sometimes to the floor. If you place your heartleaf philodendron near a wall, though, it will eventually cling to it thanks to its aerial roots and will start to clamber up to the ceiling. (Yes, it will literally climb walls if you let it!)

If you let your philodendron trail, however, you’ll notice an interesting phenomenon: its leaves will become smaller and smaller. If you allow it to climb (for example, you can let it root onto a moss stake), the leaves will get bigger.

That’s also what happens in the wild. In fact, fully mature leaves are huge: by the time the liana has reached the top of its tree host, they sometimes measure 20 inches (50 cm) long and 14 inches (35 cm) wide! It’s only then that the heartleaf philodendron blooms, with greenish inflorescences that resemble small jack-in-the-pulpit blooms (Arisaema triphyllum). As far as I know, lacking 100 foot (30 m) trees to climb, heartleaf philodendrons never bloom indoors.

Popular for Two Reasons

The heartleaf philodendron is certainly a fairly attractive houseplant, but there are many prettier ones. Why then was this plant for many years the most popular houseplant in the world and why does it still remain one of the mostly widely grown? There are really two reasons:

Heartleaf philodendron trained to grow up a trellis. Photo: alchetron.com

First, the heartleaf philodendron is incredibly easy to grow. Place it in the shade or in the sun, water it a lot or almost never, fertilize a lot or not at all … and it keeps on growing. In two words, it’s nearly indestructible. I only know of two ways to kill one: put it outside in the winter in a cold climate (being a plant of tropical origin, it wont’t tolerate cold) or cook it in the microwave.

The other reason is that it’s so easy to multiply. Remove any stem section with at least 2 nodes (points where leaves were attached) and insert the cut end into moist potting soil. In less than a month, it’ll be rooted and growing. So, the philodendron is incredibly easy to share with friends and relatives. 

Treat It Well

If allowed to trail, a heartleaf philodendron will eventually reach the floor. Photo: http://www.gardentags.com

Although the heartleaf philodendron does tolerate shade and irregular watering, that’s not what it likes. It will, in fact, grow much better under good lighting—at least a few hours of indirect sunlight per day—and with regular, thorough waterings when its soil feels dry to touch. Maintain normal indoor temperatures at all times: 60–75 °F (16–24 °C). And even if it tolerates the low humidity that reigns in most homes during the winter, it will be much more attractive when if you can supply it with an atmospheric humidity of 50% or more.

Any potting soil for houseplants will suit it perfectly, but if you want to, you could also grow it in an orchid mix. As with many indoor plants, repotting it into fresh growing mix every 3 to 4 years will help maintain healthy growth.

Fertilizer is optional. If you fertilize it (use the fertilizer of your choice at a dilute rate during its spring to early fall growing season), it will simply grow faster. If you want to slow its growth down, stop fertilizing it. 

Pinch or prune your philodendron occasionally to keep it from becoming straggly. If it becomes overgrown, don’t hesitate to cut it back severely: it will simply resprout from the base. If you never pinch or prune it, the stems will simply get longer and longer and longer. A specimen grown in Amhurst, Massachusetts, USA, was once featured in the Guinness book of world records. It was 1,114 feet (339.55 m) long after 33 years, running many times around the room where it was grown … but such a specimen won’t be very attractive: old leaves eventually drop off, leaving a long, bare stem with leaves only near the tip, which is not very stylish. It’s better to prune it regularly, keeping the plant shorter, denser and prettier.

In exchange for proper maintenance, the heartleaf philodendron does an excellent job of cleaning the air of its impurities and will actually, like a living vacuum, filter dust out of the air. 

Poisonous or Not?

You’ll often see the heartleaf philodendron listed as a poisonous plant, so classified because plants of the Araceae family all contain various levels of oxalic acid which can be toxic at high doses. However, this toxicity has been called into doubt by toxicologists. No cases of poisoning are known in humans and it would appear that claim it is toxic to cats has either been exaggerated or misrepresented. Apparently (no, I did not try it myself!), its taste is so unpleasant that the victim spits it out rather than swallowing it, avoiding any poisoning. Nevertheless, it would still be wise to keep this plant out of reach of children and pets.

Different Varieties

The heartleaf philodendron is very variable in nature and has also given, through mutation, several horticultural forms.

P. hederaceum oxycardium is the form usually grown, with dark green heart-shaped leaves. Oddly, this form can be hard to find in garden centers: it’s simply so long-lived in homes and so easily shared that there no longer much of a market for it.

Philodendron hederaceum ‘Brasil’. Photo: zimmerpflanzen-faq.de

P. hederaceum ‘Brasil’ has an irregular yellow blotch in the center of a dark green leaf. It’s currently very popular.

Philodendron hederaceum ‘Micans’. Photo: http://www.cultivatepropagate.com

P. hederaceum ‘Micans’ (P. micans) is a juvenile form with leaves that are velvety on top, and reddish below. If it’s grown for a long time, it will lose its juvenile color to become entirely green. To maintain its juvenile appearance, cut it back from time to time.

Philodendron hederaceum ‘Aureum’. Photo: archiwum.allegro.pl

P. hederaceum ‘Aureum’ produces chartreuse-yellow leaves and stems, eventually turning lime green. New leaves are often orange.

Philodendron hederaceum ‘Variegatum’. Photo: http://www.glasshouseworks.com

P. hederaceum ‘Variegatum’ offers leaves streaked with cream. For best variegation, grow it on the cool side.

Not to Be Confused With…

Heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum) (left) and pothos (Epipremnum aureum) (right). Photo: pinterest.com

Note that the heartleaf philodendron is often mistaken for a rather distant relative, also a popular houseplant: the pothos (Epipremnum aureum), a liana native to French Polynesia. Pothos leaves are thicker, with less distinctly heart-shaped leaves and thicker stems and petioles. Its leaves are often streaked with yellow or white. The two may seem somewhat similar in photos, but when you place them side-by-side, they are quite different.


By growing a heartleaf philodendron, you’re perpetuating a nearly century-old tradition. Share a cutting of yours with a friend today!

15 Easy Houseplants for Beginners

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Start with easy houseplants before you move on to the more complicated ones. Source: Darlene Taylor, YouTube

Why do novice gardeners always seem to start with the most complicated houseplants? Gardenias, bonsais, carnivorous plants, living stones and, in fact, flowering plants in general (hibiscus, azaleas, etc.) are the ones even the most experienced gardeners often struggle to grow. Ideally, if you’re a beginning gardener, you’d start with easy plants, ones that can put up with both a bit of neglect and overly enthusiastic care.

Once you’ve successfully kept a few easy plants alive and in reasonably good shape for a year or so, consider your thumb to be getting green. Then you’ll be ready to move on to more difficult varieties.

The following 15 plants are about as close to unkillable as any plant could be and will succeed in almost all indoor conditions. In particular, they’ll tolerate low light and irregular waterings, always the leading causes of houseplant death, and will also put up with dry air, another major problem in many homes.

  1. Aspidistra or Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior)

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Aspidistra (Aspidistra elatior). Source: www.palmaverde.nl

This old-fashioned houseplant is back on the market. It gets the common name from its cast-iron constitution. Or maybe it’s slow growth is what gives the impression it’s made of cast iron. In fact, though, it does grow, only very slowly. An aspidistra looks rather like a giant clump of lily of the valley, but without the flowers. Its dark green leathery leaves are sometimes spotted or striped yellow or white. It’s very tolerant of low light and in fact, doesn’t much appreciate full sun.

  1. Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema)

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Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema). Source: http://www.homedepot.com

This is an upright-growing plant with short, thick stems and fleshy lanceolate leaves, often marked with silver and sometimes, in newer cultivars, with pink or red instead. Its growth is extremely slow … but it tolerates all but the darkest corners! It may even bloom one day and produce attractive red berries … but that can take years! It’s best to consider it as being a foliage plant.

  1. Dieffenbachia or Dumbcane (Dieffenbachia)

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Dieffenbachia (Dieffenbachia). Source: www.homedepot.com

This is a strongly upright growing plant erect with a thick “trunk” and huge broad leaves usually spotted with white. When it reaches the ceiling (and it will over time), just cut off the top and reroot it as a cutting. A new stalk will also appear from the base of the mother plant. The name dumbcane refers to the fact that it’s toxic sap can render the chewer temporarily incapable of speech, but don’t ever chew on this plant, even as a joke: it’s poisonous! This is an old-time favorite, often found in dark churches and office hallways where it has apparently been growing since forever.

  1. Dracaena or Dragon Tree (Dracaena spp.)

20180126E Dracaena fragrans 'Massangeana' www.homedepot.com

Dracaena (Dracaena fragrans ‘Massangeana’). Source: http://www.homedepot.com

There are several species of Dracaena, but the easiest to cultivate is the so-called corn plant (D. fragans), the one with a thick, woody trunk and large, arching, lanceolate leaves, sometimes with a yellowish band in the center. It does indeed look like a corn plant! D. deremensis, often just called dracaena, is similar and indeed, is now considered simply a variety of D. fragrans (yes, change your plant label!). Just as easy to grow as the original D. fragrans, it has narrower, darker green leaves, sometimes striped white or yellow.

  1. Dwarf Schefflera or Dwarf Umbrella Tree (Schefflera arboricola, syn. Heptapleurum arboricola)

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Dwarf Schefflera (Schefflera arboricola). Source: http://www.plantandpot.nz

Much easier to grow than the other commonly grown schefflera, the one with larger leaves (S. actinophylla), the only truly dwarf thing about the dwarf schefflera is its leaves, as it can become quite a sizable indoor tree over time. It has dark green palmately compound leaves, definitely a bit umbrella like. In some cultivars, they are variegated with white, cream or yellow markings. Its branches tend to arch out at awkward angles: don’t hesitate to prune them back to stimulate denser, more attractive growth. A classic plant for banks and malls because of its indifference to neglect.

  1. False Shamrock (Oxalis triangularis, syn. O. regnellii)

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False Shamrock (Oxalis triangularis). Source: hop.harros-pflanzenwelt.de

No, it’s not a true shamrock (Trifolium), but it does bear three leaflets, each triangular in form. They can be green or purple, often with a silver or pink mark. Oddly, they close up at night. This is probably the easiest houseplant to bloom and indeed, flowers quite readily and pretty much all year, with pink or white flowers. It’s very easy to grow and can go fully dormant if you neglect it long enough, then sprout anew from its underground rhizomes when you start to water again. That said, it’s certainly not maintenance-free, always needing a bit of grooming, as there always seem to be a few dried leaves or dead flowers to remove.

  1. Fiddleleaf Fig (Ficus lyrata, syn. F. pandurata)

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Fiddleleaf Fig (Ficus lyrata). Source: http://www.homedepot.com

Probably the easiest of the many figs or ficuses sold as houseplants, it doesn’t drop its leaves when you move it like the more commonly grown weeping fig (Ficus benjamina). The large dark green leathery leaves are indeed fiddle-shaped, as the common name suggests. It becomes huge over time: don’t hesitate to cut it back when it goes too far.

  1. Heartleaf Philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum, formerly P. scandens, P. cordatum and P. oxycardium)

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Heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum). Source: http://www.amazon.com

This climbing aroid bears dark green heart-shaped leaves. Its shade tolerance is legendary: I know of plants over 50 years old that have not seen a single ray of direct sun since they were purchased! You can grow this plant up a trellis or moss stake or let it dangle attractively from a hanging basket. Note that this plant has gone through several botanical name changes over the years and is now Philodendron hederaceum. Let’s hope this name sticks!

  1. Hoya, Wax Plant or Porcelainflower (Hoya carnosa)

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Hoya (Hoya carnosa). Source: Yvan Leduc, Wikimedia Commons

The hoya is one of the few plants that blooms well even in the shade. On the other hand, the growth of this climbing plant is terribly slow: it can take 5 to 10 years before producing its first umbels of pink or white perfumed flowers, each with a darker crown in the center. In the meantime, fortunately, its foliage is attractive: thick and waxy, sometimes variegated or curiously twisted. It’s a climbing or hanging plant whose stems tend to get out of hand, so you may need to do a bit of pruning.

  1. Ponytail Palm or Elephant’s Foot (Beaucarnea recurvata)

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Ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata). Source: http://www.ikea.com

Succulent plant with a surprising tolerance of dark corners (most succulents require intense light). The trunk of this small tree is swollen at the base, like an elephant’s foot, while its long, narrow, often wavy leaves hang down like a pony tail, the source of its common names. It’s a tough, easy plant, but very slow growing.

  1. Pothos or Devil’s Ivy (Epipremnum aureum)

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Pothos (Epipremnum aureum ‘Marble Queen’). Source: http://www.instagram.com

Very similar in appearance and habit to the heartleaf philodendron, but with leaves not as distinctly heart-shaped and always streaked or marbled yellow or white. Like the philodendron, you can grow it either as a climber or a trailer.

  1. Snake Plant or Mother-in-law’s Tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata)

20180126I Sansevieria trifasciata 'Laurentii' www.homedepot.com

Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’). Source: http://www.homedepot.com

This succulent has long, leathery, lance-shaped, dark green leaves with gray mottling that rise from the soil in tight clumps. There are also both dwarf varieties (bird’s nest sansevierias) and cultivars with various kinds of leaf coloring, from entirely dark green to highly variegated. It’s one of the most shade-tolerant houseplants, although in fact it prefers intense sunlight.

  1. Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum)

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Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum ‘Vittatum’). Source: brightside.me

Always popular, with a rosette of thin, arching, ribbon-like leaves often streaked with creamy white. It’s usually surrounded by countless “babies” on trailing umbilical cords (actually, stolons) and is popular as a hanging basket plant. It will tolerate most indoor conditions, but will stop producing plantlets if it doesn’t receive at least medium light.

  1. Syngonium or Arrowhead Vine (Sygonium)

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Syngonium (Syngonium podophyllum). Source: http://www.homedepot.com

Another obvious philodendron relative, just as resistant to low light. Young plants produce a compact rosette of arrow-shaped leaves sometimes marbled or streaked with cream, pink or red, but the plant completely changes its habit over time, developing long climbing or trailing stems and deeply cut leaves. You can prune it back to keep it in its juvenile appearance.

  1. ZZ Plant or Aroid Palm (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)

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ZZ Plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia). Source: http://www.homedepot.com

This is plant is an aroid (as plants in the philodendron family are called), but it’s a very unusual one and it certainly couldn’t look less like a philodendron! Instead, it bears pinnate fronds with shiny leaflets and a distinctly swollen petiole, making it look like a palm or cycad, but without a trunk. It’s perfectly at ease in the shadiest spots and very tolerant of neglect.

Easy Peasy Plant Care

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Caring for these 15 houseplants is pretty basic. Source: clipart-library.com

Obviously, each of these plants has its preferences when it comes to growing conditions, but all of them are tolerant of a wide range of environments, from full sun to deep shade (with, I hope, at least some light: after all, the plants receive all their energy from the sun)! They also make great office plants, able to grow far from the nearest window, living strictly on light coming from ceiling fixtures. All are perfectly fine with normal indoor temperatures and will tolerate dry indoor air in winter … but most would still prefer good atmospheric humidity if you can supply it.

As for watering, simply apply the golden rule of watering: water deeply, enough to moisten the entire root ball, then allow the soil to dry before watering again. Really, caring for them couldn’t be easier!

You don’t even need to fertilize these plants! At least, not if you’re growing them in low light. Under good lighting, you can simply apply an all-purpose fertilizer at a quarter of the manufacturer’s recommended does from April to October.


And there you go! 15 houseplants that you can place almost anywhere indoors and that will decorate your home for decades. Practice using these very basic, hard-to-kill plants to build up your indoor gardening skills before you start experimenting with more complicated houseplants, such as flowering plants, bonsais, living stones and others.

Have fun!20180126A Darlene Taylor, YouTube

Climbing Plants Like to Climb

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This dangling heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron oxycardium) will produce smaller leaves than a climbing one.

That climbing plants like to climb may seem like a fairly obvious statement, but bear with me: it really isn’t.

You see, we like to grow climbing plants (plants that mount trees, treillises, walls and other tall objects), especially climbing houseplants, in hanging baskets, with their stems dangling downwards. They certainly look pretty enough grown that way… but they don’t much like it.

Many will start to produce smaller and smaller leaves the longer they dangle. That’s the case of most aroids, including philodendrons and pothos, as well as many Cissus. Sometimes they stop producing leaves entirely, producing only a lengthening green stem. Others just stop growing after they’ve dangled for a while or refuse to bloom on any stems that trail. That’s the case for morning glories (Ipomoea spp.), for example.

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Try growing a morning glory as a hanging plant and it will try growing upwards, wrapping itself around its own stems.

Of course, many climbing plants will fight tooth and nail against dangling. The afore-mentioned morning glories will quickly start to twine back up around their own stems in an effort to grow upwards again. If you won’t let them, untangling their stems so they trail further, they will stop growing and certainly won’t bloom.

This reaction is due to hormones called auxins present in their stem tips. They concentrate in the uppermost part of the stem and stimulate growth. When the plant hangs in what is essentially an upside down position, the auxins become diluted and growth decreases or ceases.

Finding a New Support

In the wild, when a hanging plant becomes disconnected from its support, it will often trail downward to the ground, producing increasingly smaller leaves, then its stem wanders off across the soil until it finds a new support it can climb.

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A climbing plant will seek out something dark on which to climb.

At this stage, it will actually grow away from the light, an action called negative phototropism, normally a most unplantlike thing to do. But there is a method to this madness: deep shade can be caused a tree trunk or other upright object it might want to climb on. And it desperately wants to climb.

So off the stem heads towards the darkest thing around. Once it finds it, it starts growing upward again, takes up positive phototropism like any normal plant, and soon its leaves start become bigger again. Happiness at last!

When Climbing Plants Do Climb

If you switch techniques and allow your climbing plants to climb, perhaps up a trellis, a moss pole or a wall, rather than trail from a pot, many will do some striking things. Many aroids (philodendrons, pothos, monsteras, etc.) will begin to produce larger leaves — much larger leaves — when they climb. And much thicker stems too.

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Huge healthy leaves on an upright-growing heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum)

Did you know your good ol’ heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum, syn. P. oxycardiumP. scandens and P. cordatum), whose leaves are often barely 2 inches (5 cm) wide when it trails, is capable of producing leaves 1 foot (30 cm) in diameter when it climbs?

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If it weren’t for the yellow marbling, you’d scarcely recognize the huge, deeply cut leaves and thick stems of this pothos (Epipremunum aureum) as those of the popular houseplant.

And that pothos (Epipremnum aureum, syn. Scindapsus aureus) growing half neglected in the corner does the philodendron one better: at maturity (that is, when it grows upright and gets decent light [also a factor in leaf size]), not only do its leaves grow to enormous sizes, up to 40 inches by 18 inches (1 m by 45 cm), but they become deeply cut, like those of a monstera.

This increase in leaf size is also linked to sexual maturity: once they reach their full leaf size, these aroids will start to bloom and produce seeds. You thought philodendrons and pothos simply didn’t bloom? Try growing them up a tree in a tropical climate (most rooms aren’t tall enough to get them to flowering size) and they will bloom.

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Mature leaves and fruit on a creeping fig (Ficus pumila).

Other climbers keep producing small leaves as they climb, leaves that don’t change in size at first, often not for years. Then, when they’ve climbed high enough, they suddenly switch from this juvenile form to their mature form, with much larger leaves often of a very different shape and they too start to bloom and produce seeds. True ivies (Hedera spp.) do this, as does the creeping fig (Ficus pumila).

Some Climbers Don’t React

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Hoya carnosa is one climber that doesn’t seem to care which way it grows. Even hanging stems will bloom!

Not all climbers react badly to dangling. I’ve never seen a wax plant (Hoya spp.) that seemed to mind whether it was growing upwards, downwards or sideways, for example.

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Wandering jews (here Tradescantia zebrina, syn. Zebrina pendula) are natural trailers and don’t mind a bit of dangling.

And then there is the case of creeping plants we use in hanging baskets, like wandering jew (Tradescantia sp.) and Swedish ivy (Plectranthus). Although we might mistake them for climbers, they aren’t really aren’t: in nature, they’re groundcovers, wandering sideways, rooting as they go and forming carpets on the ground. They grow and bloom perfectly when you let them hang and even if you force them to grow upwards by fixing them to a support, that won’t change their leaf size or habit.

The same is true of epiphytic plants (ones that grow on tree branches), like the lipstick plant (Aeschynanthus spp.) and the goldfish plant (Nematanthus spp.). They look great in hanging baskets because they naturally arch outwards and downwards and are perfectly happy to bloom this way. But they aren’t true climbers.


Most true climbers will react positively if you allow them to grow the way Mother Nature intended them to do: upwards.

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