Philodendron; An Underrepresented Genus in the Interior Landscape

The classic Philodendron hederaceum, perfectly contrasting an orange wall. Image © In Situ Plants.
The classic Philodendron hederaceum, perfectly contrasting an orange wall. Image © In Situ Plants.
Philodrendron bipinnatifidum, playing at being a tree. Image © Jan Richtr; retrieved from the Biological Library website.
Philodrendron bipinnatifidum, playing at being a tree. Image © Jan Richtr; retrieved from the Biological Library website.
The aptly named Philodendron gloriosum, in its glory. Image @ In Situ Plants.
The aptly named Philodendron gloriosum, in its glory. Image @ In Situ Plants.
Philodendron erubescens, the quintessential tropical climbing vine. Image retrieved from
Philodendron erubescens, the quintessential tropical climbing vine. Image retrieved from

Philodendron has to be one of my favourite genera within one of my favourite families of plants; the Araceae. They range from miniature specimens great for terrariums to veritable trees. There are several species quite common in cultivation, and several others that are not impossible to find; most are exceptional, hardy specimens in the interior landscape. Care is generally the same across the genus, though the ones in commercial cultivation are generally hardier than the rarer species coveted by serious collectors.

All appreciate bright indirect light, though some species such as P. bipinnatifidum are happy with as much light as you can give them indoors, while others such as P. cordatum can hang in there in spots too dim to grow much else.

Nearly all species in the genus are at least occasionally epiphytic, with most growing above the forest floor, and so appreciate a fair amount of air at the roots; a nice open mix that still holds moisture well is appreciated by these plants. They certainly do not appreciate being waterlogged, and I like to let the surface of the media dry down a bit as an indicator of when they need a good drink again. Humidity is appreciated, but most will soldier through without.

As noted above, there is a lot of variety within the genus; what follows are descriptions of a few of the species more or less common in cultivation. And remember, this list is only scratching the surface of the large and impressive list of interior plants from the Araceae, the family to which Philodendron belongs, and to which Anthurium, Monstera, Epipremnum, Syngonium, Alocasia, Zamioculcas and Spathiphyllum also relate (to say nothing of Cryptocoryne, Bucephelandra, Lagenandra, Anubias [all grown in aquariums] as well as some of the less common genera that find themselves indoors here such as Raphidophora).

Philodendron ‘Rojo Congo’ and other self-heading varieties

These are generally big plants suitable for larger spaces; ‘Congos’ will quickly reach 5-6′ in diameter. The stems and petioles of ‘Rojo Congo’ have a reddish colour to them, and the leaves are a deep green. This one likes brighter indirect light; it is otherwise quite hardy and resilient to drought. Definitely a great choice for a quintessential tropical look, it is an impressive plant that contrasts well with green foliage plants. There’s a ‘Congo Green’ out there that lacks the red colouration, but it’s less popular. Other self-heading varieties include such fanciful names as ‘Imperial Red’, ‘Prince of Orange’ and ‘Moonlight’, and these are for the most part more compact than ‘Congo’.

Philodendron hederaceum

In my opinion one of the best vining plants for the indoors, the humble P. hederaceum now has several incarnations that are all quite nice. People have been growing this one for a long time, and justifiably so; it is extraordinary resilient, and can tolerate low light and missed waterings very well; we often use it in place of the more commonly seen pothos (Epipremnum aureum) because I prefer the leaf shape and more delicate stems. Bright indirect light is best, and will help the plant produce nice large leaves.

Plant breeders have developed a chartreuse variety (I’m unsure of the official name), and a cultivar named ‘Brazil’ (which features a light green stripe down the middle of the leaf), both of which contrast marvelously with the true species and offer a little extra colour in a planting. But perhaps the best variety of this species is one with velvety, almost iridescent foliage and a purplish colour to the undersides of the leaves, which is a naturally occurring variety which probably has a name, but which I won’t try and determine here (wading through the taxonomy of this species is frustrating, to say the least).

Philodendron bipinnatifidum

Say the name above five times fast and I’ll buy you one: this interesting species has to be one of the largest in the genus, though it most often hits the shelves as a young plant. Commonly sold under the cultivar name ‘Selloum’, this species grows a thick, almost trunk-like stem, and indeed can stand on its own until it reaches considerable height, although it is adapted to grow tightly against the sides of proper trees via thick aerial roots. These make wonderful specimens in humid greenhouses when given enough room, and would fare well in larger indoor settings provided they are able to get enough light, though for some conspicuous reason they’re not often seen here either too often anymore. They don’t do so well (and tend to look terrible) in spaces where they’re up against a wall or in a corner, and do even worse when light is inadequate, so try and avoid the temptation to buy one of these unless you truly have the space to dedicate to one.

Philodendron gloriosum

There are several species of Philodendron (and several more in the related genus Anthurium) which look similar, foliage-wise, and thank heavens; gloriosum is an apt a name as could be hoped for. Beautiful large, velvety, deep green foliage with prominent white veins make this species stand out dramatically, and though it’s a bit ungainly in smaller spaces I don’t think I’d ever pass up the chance to use one if I could.

This species is interesting in that it seems to be terrestrial in nature, and wants to spread across the ground, which makes it a bit challenging to maintain in a pot, but certainly well worth the extra effort. This would definitely be a great choice for a larger bed in good light, where it could grow unimpeded and get really well established. Similar-looking but less common species such as Anthurium clarinervium are more self-heading in nature and are more easily contained, though these may be a bit more temperamental regarding humidity.

Philodendron erubescens

There are many cultivars and hybrids from this species, and it really is the quintessential climbing Philodendron, in my books. You’ll see these most often grown on a totem, and a well-grown specimen is impressive indeed, though plants on totems are a little tricky to keep looking nice over the long term (what to do with them when they reach the top, for example?). The sheaths which cover the emerging leaves are often red, and provide a nice contrast to the rich green of the leaves. Several of these in a row can make a great room divider, and are a great way to add a bit of height to a planting without breaking the bank, as these plants grow quickly under optimal conditions and are inexpensively produced by growers. They will also grow well as hanging plants in larger spaces, though all they want to do is grow up something, so a totem really is the most natural way to display these. (The same could be said of P. hederaceum above as well, really.)

In all, I generally find Philodendron species to be hardy and adaptable. I have noticed that they’re susceptible to thrips (see this post for more info on those little buggers), but past that and sometimes mealybug or spider mite to a small degree I’ve not seen too much afflict them. Too much water or too little light are the ones to watch for; otherwise, they’re very rewarding to grow, especially when they get huge.

Bonus: Species Suitable for Terrariums

On the other side, as though there wasn’t already enough diversity in the genus, there are also a few species that stay small enough to allow their long-term use in terrariums. One goes under the name Philodendron ‘Wend-Imbe’, though I’m unsure of the accuracy of this name. At any rate, the one grown in terrariums gets to only about 8″ tall, and features narrow lance-shaped leaves. Another is Philodendron ‘Burle-Marx Fantasy’, which is a small (in its immature form, which it easily retains) climbing vine with beautifully patterned foliage, and which was discovered in the collection of Mr. Roberto Burle Marx, a Brazilian landscape architect. If one gets at all serious about terrariums they will see these available from time to time, and they should definitely jump on either should the opportunity arise, as they lend a lush foliar touch to the tropical terrarium. (There are several other members of the Araceae which are also great terrarium candidates due to their diminutive size such as Pothos scandens, Anthurium gracile and Syngonium rayii, but this list is meant to be about Philodendron specifically, so I’ll leave these for now.) Try them out.