Philodendrons add tropical ambiance

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Philodendron Xanadu 'Havana' Picture courtesy Xanadu 'Havana' Picture courtesy adds tropical ambiance to gardens or indoor spaces like the lush evergreen and dramatically lobed leaves of philodendrons.

Grown both indoors and outdoors for their lush evergreen foliage and dramatically lobed leaves, philodendrons add a lovely tropical ambiance to any garden or indoor space.

Because of their low-growing and clumping growth habit, the dwarf varieties make handsome, low maintenance specimen plants for the garden and an ideal groundcover underneath large trees. If planted in large drifts they have a dramatic impact on large landscape areas like office parks, schools, colleges etc. The tree philodendron is only recommended for large gardens, where it can be used to great effect if combined artfully with other tropical plants. It can also be impressive if potted for use in large halls, malls, offices or homes.

Philodendrons are native to the jungles of tropical USA, the West Indies and South America. There are somewhere between 400 to 700 species of known Philodendrons, and they are part of the popular (Araceae) family, that also brings us the peace lily (Spathiphyllum), Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema), and the Flamingo Flower (Anthurium). The name “Philodendron” comes from the Greek words philo or “love” and Dendron, or “tree” - so the name means "a lover of trees". This lovely name is most appropriate, because this beautiful tropical vine-like plant produces aerial roots which attach themselves to trees, enabling the plant to climb very high. Today, an exciting new group of Philodendron sports known as "self-headers" are available. These philodendrons do not scramble, but rather have a wonderful compact growth habit, making them suitable for small gardens and perfect to plant in containers.

Philodendron selloum Picture courtesy Philodendron selloum Picture courtesy Tree Philodendron, Cut-leaf Philodendron (Philodendron bipinnatifidum - often sold as P. selloum) is native to the rainforests of Paraguay and south-eastern Brazil. It has a semi-upright habit and grows as a large, semi-woody shrub with enormous glossy green leaves and erect unbranched stems that tend to sprawl when the plant gets large. In warm regions it can reach 3m tall and wide, and the flower is a greenish white spathe and spadix, typical of members of the Arum family. This is one of the hardiest of all philodendrons, and once established, even if the frost kills the leaves, or cuts the entire plant right down to the ground, if the cold is not prolonged or too severe, it will come back when the warm weather returns. This philodendron, with its vertical growth habit, makes a beautiful houseplant.

The tree philodendron is often confused with its close relative called “monstera” (Monstera deliciosa), but they are really easy to tell apart because they are both climbers. Monstera is sometimes known as the cheese plant, because it has holes in its leaves like Swiss cheese, whereas the tree philodendron has deeply divided, lobed leaves.

Philodendron ‘Compacta’ is a dwarf variety which grows about 1m with an equal spread, making it perfect in the garden and in pots.

Philodendron 'Xanadu' is a really beautiful low-growing shrub which is easily distinguishable from other philodendrons because of its unique, deeply dissected leaves. This dwarf usually reaches +-75cm tall with an equal width, rarely exceeding 1m. It was discovered in Western Australia in 1983 as a chance seedling, and this sport was subsequently patented by House Plants of Australia and released as their plant of the year in 1988. Now more than two million plants are sold worldwide every year. The green, tan or cream flowers appear occasionally, but are not very showy.

Philodendron 'Hope' is a lovely compact variety which will seldom exceed 1.5m tall and 1m wide at maturity. Selected by Mr. Norman Hickerson of Florida from a batch of Philodendron selloum x hybrids for its dwarf habit, compact growth, and the way it formed a clump with many heads, Hope is truly a lovely specimen. Young plants are imported in tissue culture from the breeder and are sold under licence.


Philodendrons thrive in hot humid tropical to subtropical gardens which receive good rainfall. They are, however, semi-hardy to moderate frost if they can be planted in a sheltered part of the garden, and kept on the dry side in winter. They love to grow in bright but indirect light, thriving in semi-shade. In lower light conditions the leaves turn a darker green, and too much direct sun will burn or fade the leaves.
All philodendrons prefer a moist, fertile and well-drained soil, so plant with lots of compost and a dressing of bone meal. Mulch the roots regularly with compost, and fertilise monthly during the growing season with an organic liquid fertiliser, diluted to ½ the recommended strength.  Water your plant regularly during summer but cut back during the colder months. This is especially important if you are growing philodendron in cold regions.

If you are growing a philodendron indoors, it will require the same care as for those grown outdoors. Plant it in a pot large enough to do this beautiful plant justice, ensuring that your potting mixture is rich and retains moisture, yet still drains well.  During winter, keep the soil barely moist. Feed as for garden specimens, using a liquid fertiliser. Do not overfeed as too much plant food causes excess salt build up in the soil, which can result in leaf burn. Because these plants like warm temperatures, keep them away from drafts and open doors, especially during the winter. These tropical beauties require a humid environment to flourish indoors, so if your home or office is very dry in the winter, place your philodendron near a humidifier, or sit the pot on top of a drip tray filled with small pebbles and keep the tray full of water - never allowing the pot to sit in the water.

Philodendron selloum 'Compacta' Picture courtesy selloum 'Compacta' Picture courtesy

Growing Philodendrons from seed is a long, slow process, so propagation is usually by stem cuttings, by air layering, or by offsets removed from the parent plant. Pieces of stem that contain at least two joints can be inserted as cuttings in pots of sandy soil or in a mixture of sand and peat moss.

Trailing varieties will often root at any point where the stem comes in contact with the soil, so stems can be pinned securely onto the soil, or in a separate pot, with a bent piece of wire or a brick; within weeks roots would have formed and you can sever the new plant from the parent.

Offsets are new plants that emerge from the base of the plant or from the roots themselves. Once an offset has a sufficient root system to support itself, it can be removed from the parent by cutting it off with a sharp clean knife.

Pests & Diseases:

Watch out for insects like aphids, mealy bugs, scale and spider mites.  Scale can be controlled with a mineral oil and the others can be eliminated by spraying regularly with organic insecticide soap.

Bacterial Blight can infect a Philodendron, causing small very dark green blotches on the leaves and expanding rapidly. Infected leaves eventually rot and die, becoming quite smelly in the process. The best way to prevent this blight is to keep the leaves dry at all times, avoid overhead watering, and immediately remove any infected leaves.


These plants are considered very poisonous and should be kept away from pets and children. All Philodendron contain calcium oxalate crystals. Eating any part of the plant may cause the following symptoms: pain in the mouth, drooling (dogs & cats), and vomiting. Swelling of the lips, tongue and airways may occur, making breathing and swallowing  difficult. The sap may also irritate sensitive skin.