The Philodendron has been a frequent guest in our living rooms and bedrooms for generations. And not without reason! The plant genus Philodendron includes hundreds of beautiful species of foliage plants. Many of them are suitable as houseplants. Their leaves are usually large, green and shiny, adding a little tropical jungle to your home. By the way, there are also varieties of colored leaves, such as pink and orange, but more on that later.
The care of Philodendrons is quite simple. It is simply a matter of paying attention to the signals of the plant and responding to them. You can read what those signals are on this page. These plants also adapt easily to new circumstances. All in all, the perfect beginner’s plant, but still very interesting for the advanced plant lover.
Table of Contents
Philodendron origin and background
Philodendron is a large plant genus that belongs to the family Araceae. The plants originate from South America. There they thrive in the rainforests under tropical conditions. This means warmth and high humidity. In these tropical rainforests the resin of the plant is used by bees to make their nest. It is also known that the leaves are eaten by Venezuelan red howler monkeys. This is unusual since the leaves contain calcium oxalate crystals and are thus toxic to most animals
The first Philodendron was recorded in 1644. Since then, many species have been added. There are several sources that keep track of the number of species, each with its own number, but in any case there are hundreds.
The name for this plant genus is a composition of two Greek words: “philo” means love and “dendron” means tree. So the plant that loves trees. Completely in line with the original habitat. Within the genus there are again species to be distinguished. For example, a large species is the Philodendron Scandens. Scandens means climber. So climbing tree lover.
Philodendron growth habit
Philodendrons thus fall within the plant family Araceae. Unlike other genera within this family, the genus Philodendron has very different growth habits. This growth habit depends on the conditions of the environment. Within this same genus, the plant can be epiphytic, hemi-epiphytic, or terrestrial:
- Epiphytic means that an organism grows on a surface of a plant, such as a tree. The epiphyte then gets its nutrients from the air, rain and dirt that lands on the tree. It is therefore not a parasite on the tree.
- Hemi-epiphyte means that an organism begins as an epiphyte, but as it grows it makes roots that extend downward. Once the soil is reached, the plant will ground and extract nutrients from the soil.
- In addition, there are Philodendrons that have their roots in the earth throughout their life cycle.
Thus, the growth habit depends on the conditions. For example, a Philodendron as an epiphyte is sometimes very creative when it comes to nutrients. These species have extrafloral nectar glands. These are nectar glands that are not in a flower, but in this case, between the roots. This nectar attracts ants that make their nest among the roots. The Philodendron thus retrieves nutrients from the ants’ nest again. At the same time, the ant nest provides protection from other insects that might otherwise eat the plant.
A Philodendron can have two types of roots: “normal” roots and aerial roots. The aerial roots serve a dual purpose. First, they are for attaching the plant to a surface, such as a tree. This type is often short and sometimes have a hairy layer. Second, they allow the plant to collect water and nutrients. These aerial roots are often longer and smooth.By the way, you can use these aerial roots to cutt a Philodendron.
Most Philodendron species have large and impressive leaves. Often the leaves are lobed: incisions from the edges that do not go beyond half of the leaf. Sometimes the leaves are more deeply incised. The shape of the leaves varies between round, heart-shaped and more oval.
The nice thing about the Philodendron is that there is never one type of leaf on the plant. The young and old leaves are often very different in appearance. You can see this clearly with, for example, the Philodendron Xanadu. The young leaves are much thinner and less deeply incised than the old leaves.
There is a period when the Philodendron stops producing young leaves and starts producing adult leaves. This period is often not a snapshot but a process and is called a metamorphosis. After metamorphosis, the leaves are larger and often look different as well. It has frequently happened that newly discovered Philodendrons were registered as two species when in fact they were a young and an old version.
So what causes the plant to enter metamorphosis? This varies from species to species. For example, a hemi-epiphyte begins life on a tree and draws nutrients from air and rainwater. The plant sends down aerial roots. Once these touch the ground, nutrients can be extracted from the soil. Because there is now much more nutrition available, the Philodendron can produce much larger leaves.
A Philodendron as a houseplant will not flower easily. Of course you take good care of the plant, but the conditions here are not as good as the natural conditions. In nature, a philodendron produces flowers when the plant is mature. The flowering shows that the plant belongs to the Araceae family. The flowers are constructed in the same way. They have a bract with a spadix inside. You can see this clearly in the photo below.
In nature cross-pollination takes place by beetles. Then the fruit develops. This can take from a few weeks to sometimes up to a year, depending on the species. The fruit is botanically a berry. The definition of a berry is a fleshy fruit without a pith. The fruit compares well to a banana. These berries are usually off-white in color.
Like the leaves, the fruits contain calcium oxalate crystals, which means they can be toxic if ingested by some animal species. In nature, the berries are eaten by bats and monkeys, among others.
The first discovery of this plant was in 1644. Since then, hundreds of species have been discovered. The nice thing about these plants is that, despite being tropical, they survive just fine in our living rooms. A large number of lower taxa can be found in our garden centers. Below is a selection of the most popular species.
The Scandens is probably the most common Philodendron species in our country. At the same time, it is a bit of an exception to the rule. This is because its leaves are quite small compared to other species. Scandens means climber and this species is therefore a climbing plant. We often grow it as a hanging plant. Would you like to read more about Philodendron Scandens?
Do you want a large and impressive species? Then go for the Philodendron Xanadu. This species goes through a distinct metamorphosis and creates much larger leaves as an adult than as a young plant. This species is also very strong and therefore suitable for offices, for example.
Philodendron Pink Princess
This variety is rare and currently very popular. The Philodendron Pink Princess has pink leaf parts and is therefore a unique variety. Be careful, there are fake varieties on the market where the pink is artificially injected into the leaf. A few weeks after purchase, the color will then disappear again.
Also called the Philodendron Selloum, this one can grow very large. At the same time it is an easy plant. You can truly bring a piece of tropical rainforest into your home!
Philodendron White Measure
This is another unique variety. By the way, the Philodendron White Measure is officially called Philodendron Birkin. The leaves have beautiful white patterns. Beautiful of course, but this also makes it a little tricky to care for. If you want to keep the colors beautiful, you have to meet the right requirements in terms of light and nutrition.
This species has heart-shaped leaves, just like the Scandens. It is not nearly as often offered as a houseplant as the other species. In nature, Philodendron Cordatum grows as an epiphyte along the east coast of Brazil.
Philodendron Imperial Green
This stylish variety has beautiful, upright leaves that are deep green in color. It is also a species that is less difficult in terms of care.
Philodendron Imperial Red
This is the little brother (or sister) of the species above. The leaves have the same shape and growth habit, but one has a red glow about it. These shiny leaves give the plant a luxurious and tropical look. It is amazing that this tropical plant grows well in our living rooms.
This one is also called Philodendron Silver Sword. When you look at its leaves you will understand why. They are oblong and silver-gray in color. This species likes a lot of light and is best supported during its growth, for example with a moss stick.
The Philodendron Squamiferum is not as common as other species, but is certainly no less unique. The leaves are lobed and grow on red stems. These red stems are covered with a kind of small tentacles. A unique addition to your plant collection!
Philodendron Red Emerald
A synonym for the Red Emerald is also called Philodendron Erubescens. The leaves are deep dark green and shaped somewhat like a triangle. These beautiful leaves grow on dark red stems.
Philodendron Pedatum has a very pointed leaf and is deeply lobed. So deep that the leaves sometimes resemble a feather. This plant is a climber in nature so it is best supported with a climbing frame or a moss stick. A synonym for this variety is Philodendron Laciniatum.
This species is currently very popular and therefore difficult to obtain. The Philodendron Gloriosum has velvety leaves that can grow up to a meter long. Whether they reach these dimensions as houseplants is doubtful, but it remains a beautiful plant.
Philodendron Lemon Lime
This variety has light-colored leaves that are shaped like a heart. To keep the color nice, it is best not to place this species in direct sun, but to give it a more shady spot. Read all about this Philodendron Lemon Lime.
Philodendron Prince of Orange
This species owes its name, of course, to the color of its leaves. The young leaves are yellow at first and later transform to a more copper or orange color. Continue reading about the Philodendron Price of Orange.
Did you know that this species was only discovered in 1995? Since then, it has been found in many living rooms. The arrow-shaped, vertical leaves give this plant a stylish look. Continue reading about the Philodendron Billietiae.
This species is also currently very rare and difficult to obtain. The Philodendron Melanochrysum has elongated leaves that emerge into a point. When the sun falls on the leaves they seem to change color.
The amount of light is one of the most important elements in the care of your houseplant. Therefore, pay attention to choosing the right location. When choosing the location, it is best to start from the places where they grow in the natural environment. In the tropical rainforest, the Philodendron grows under the canopy of tall trees. These block out the sun for most of the day. Only in the morning do these plants see the sun.
So place your plant a few feet away from the window for the optimal amount of light. Make sure they are not shade plants. No direct sunlight does not mean the plants do not need light. A lot of light is needed for good growth and beautiful leaf colors, but direct sunlight can scorch the leaves.
Finally, it’s worth noting that there are species that climb. Even though you often buy them small, over time they need to be supported with a moss stick or a rack. Take this into account when choosing the location.
Even though these plants come from tropical, warm areas, they are very tolerant of lower temperatures. Normal room temperature is fine, but make sure it does not go below 15 degrees. A second thing to watch out for when it comes to temperature is the heat from a radiator. Here you prefer to keep the plant away from. Also because this air is very dry and therefore not desirable for the plant.
Watering a philodendron
These plants like a slightly moist soil. Note that slightly moist is different from swampy. A soggy soil causes root rot and can eventually cause the plant to die. It is better to give a little too little than a little too much.
How often and how much water you give depends on a number of factors. A larger plant naturally consumes more water than a small plant. Also, more water is consumed in the summer than in the winter. If you have your Philodendron new in your home, you need to start testing out what the best frequency is.Stick your finger in the soil. If the top two inches of soil is dry you can water a little. If the soil is still wet you should wait.
To make your plant grow really well you have to make sure there is a high humidity. This will mimic the conditions in the natural growing environment. High humidity is especially important for species with aerial roots.
Fortunately, this is simple to do. Use a plant sprayer and set it to misting mode. Mist the leaves until they are completely wet. If you do this daily you will see the plant improve! You may notice white spots on the leaves. This is calcium that is present in tap water and remains on the leaves after they have dried. This is not a problem and can be wiped off easily. Prefer not to use lime? Then use rainwater to mist.
Since these plants do not like standing in swampy soil, it is best not to use normal potting soil. Normal potting soil for houseplants is quite dense and heavy in structure. This gets worse the more often you have watered. Do not forget that the Philodendron in nature often does not even have roots in the ground, but attaches them to a tree. So they need a lot of oxygen. So it is best to choose an airy potting soil, for example one specially for palms. This will provide the roots with the oxygen they need.
Pot and repotting
It does not matter what kind of pot you put this plant in. The only thing you have to take into account is that there is a hole at the bottom. This ensures that water does not remain in the soil, but can drain away. You can further improve this drainage process by adding hydro grains to the bottom of the pot.Repot your Philodendron when you see the roots growing out of the drainage hole. Usually this is every other year or so.
You have probably noticed that your Philodendron is a fast grower. This plant therefore needs regular extra plant nutrition to continue this growth. It is important that you feed according to need.
You will see the plant grow faster in the spring and summer than in the autumn and winter. In spring and summer you should therefore feed more often, every two weeks. Liquid plant food is always very concentrated. Read carefully on the packaging how far you have to dilute it. You will soon give too much and this can cause damage to the plant.
There are roughly two types of Philodendrons: climbing and standing. How you should prune depends on the growth habit.
- Climbing species: annually top back the shoots with a few leaf nodes. This will stimulate the plant to grow back more fully. If you find the plant too large you can shorten it as needed. Do this in the spring, then your plant has the entire growing season to recover from the pruning.
- Standing variety: Prune only the dead leaves. In this way you keep the plant beautiful and healthy. Cut them off as close to the base of the plant as possible.
Frequently asked questions and problems
What is the difference between Philodendron and Photos?
In practice, Philodendrons are often confused with Photos plants (Epipremnum). This is not surprising since the leaves of these two plants are similar in shape (for the most common species). They ultimately fall into the same plant family, but they are really two different groups. You can see the difference mostly in the way new leaves form. New leaves of a Philodendron come out of a sort of leaf sheath growing, in Photos they do not. Also, the care is different. Photos generally likes brighter light and warmer temperatures.
Is Philodendron an air-purifying plant?
Yes, these plants are very air-purifying. And that’s an advantage because they have such large leaves. There are houseplants that purify air just as strongly, but have very small leaves, such as the Grass Lily or the Peperomia. So in the case of the Philodendron, this feature works a lot better.
Can these plants be placed outside?
A Philodendron in the garden? Basically, they are houseplants, but in the summer they can go outside. If the temperature is high enough, above 20 degrees, they can be placed in a shady spot in the garden. It is best to keep them out of the wind as well. Note that they are not actually outdoor plants (for our climate, that is), so bring them back inside as soon as it gets colder. Other houseplants like the Banana Plant or the Strelitzia would be more suitable (even if they still need to be brought inside in the winter).
Is this plant toxic to humans?
These plants toxic if ingested. Philodendrons contain calcium oxalate crystals. Do amount varies by species, but this can be as high as 0.7%. Ingestion of this substance is widely known to be unhealthy, but the risk of serious harm in humans is small. You must ingest large amounts of calcium oxalate crystals to notice symptoms. These symptoms include a burning sensation in the mouth and a swollen tongue.
Is this plant toxic to animals?
Philodendron is known to be eaten by some species of monkeys. Not all animals can do this. For example, this plant is toxic to cats. The calcium oxalate crystals in the leaves can cause kidney failure. Do you see your cat eating this plant? Then call a veterinarian immediately. You can also choose non-toxic houseplants, such as the Pancake Plant, or a hanging plant, such as the Tradescantia.
Why does the plant get yellow leaves?
Do you see a yellow leaf on the plant? This is not an immediate reason to panic. However, if you see multiple yellow leaves for an extended period of time, something is wrong. This is often related to an excess of water. The plant wilts because the roots rot in the soggy soil. Are you watering your plants properly but yellow leaves keep appearing? This indicates a shortage of nutrition in the soil. Add some liquid plant food and the problem should be solved.
Brown leaves on my Philodendron
To determine the cause it is important to check: do the leaves turn brown from the inside or from the outside?
- The leaves turn brown from the inside out: this is a sign of too much water. Read about the right way to water on this page.
- The leaves turn brown from the outside: this is a sign of insufficient humidity. Mist the leaves daily with a plant spray and do not place the plant next to a heater.
The plant drops leaves
These plants are generally quite hardy and tolerant of less favorable conditions. Therefore, if the plants still drop leaves, this is an indication that several things are wrong. Usually it is a combination of too low temperature, too low humidity and too dry potting soil. Read on this page the correct way to maintain your plant. You’ll see that you can restore your plant to its former glory!