GROWING THE PHILODENDRON AS A HOUSE PLANT

13-16 deg C/55-61 deg F

There are at least 270 species in this genus, and many of these have found their way on to the houseplant market. It is only possible to describe some of the more popular ones here. Some botanists used to put the well-known Monstera deliciosa in this genus. The philoden-drons are. however, similar in habit. being vigorous climbers, and they usually produce aerial roots. In their natural environment, they grow up mossy tree trunks or ramble over rocks or hummocks of leafy plant debris in forests, mostly in South America. In nature, they often reach a considerable size. When grown in pots in greenhouses and homes, they usually show only their smaller juvenile foliage, which may also be of di lie rent structure to the mature form on older plants. Undoubtedly, the most popular species is / scandens, from Panama, and called sweetheart vine. It can be grown as a climber or a trailer when it is best to pinch out the growing tips frequently to encourage plenty of stems. It is moderately tolerant of neglect. It will also survive a certain amount of chill. The normal species is plain green with somewhat pointed heart-shaped leaves. but there is a variegated cream-blotched form, believed to be caused by the presence of a virus. The foliage of this form sometimes distorts.

P. bipinnatifidum, the tree philodendron, from Brazil, is a non-climbing species. and will also withstand cooler conditions. It has handsome, large, incised foliage, rather like the monstera. the Swiss cheese plant, but it remains relatively compact, reaching only 1 ml 34ft I in height. However, the leaf incisions are more numerous, more particularly as the plant matures. A fully-grown leaf may measure about 45cm (l]fl) in diameter. Similar is P. selloum, and when young it may be difficult to distinguish the two. As the plant develops, it forms a thickish trunk-like stem, and the edges of the leaf segments become ruffled, creating a charming effect, and inspiring the common name of lacy tree. It is a notable species for living to a very great age producing a stately plant. The fiddle-leaf philodendron is the common name given to P. panduriforme, although this name is an extreme exaggeration of the leaf shape. The foliage is dark green, leathery, and has four upper lobes with an elongated central one. It is a climber from Brazil. Elephant’s ear is another inexplicable

common name, this one being given to P. domesticum (syn. P. hastatum). Il is a climber with very glossy leaves. A very beautiful philodendron has been given the dramatic name black gold. This is sold as P. melanochrysum. The spear-shaped foliage has a velvety texture dark green above and pinkish-purple below. The foliage, therefore. appears a very dark green, with golden iridescence. It originates from Columbia and needs a little extra care to make it happy as a houseplant. It certainly should not be subjected to temperatures below 12 deg C (55 deg F). P. erubescens is especially beautiful too. but easier. It is a fairly vigorous climber, with rather arrow-shaped foliage, often elongating

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to a considerable length, perhaps exceeding 20cm (5 in.). The young leaves are rose-pink and the leaf stalks and stems purplish. Mature leaves acquire a bronzy-green colour. There is a form called ‘Burgundy’ which has a delightful coppery-red colour, and this is a hybrid probably involving several other species. Other named hybrids come on to the market from time to time. Philodendrons grow well in peat-based composts, and the climbers are best grown up moss-covered supports, as described under monstera. This helps the aerial roots to give support and to obtain extra nourishment and moisture. Give a position in good light, but not in direct sunlight. They all like a humid

atmosphere and can be sprayed with a mist of water now and then during summer, and kept nicely moist, but never waterlogged.

In winter, water cautiously, since over-watering can soon instigate rotting of the roots. Potting is best done in late spring when the plants are about to begin active growth. The climbing species are easily propagated from pieces of the stems carrying roots. The non-climbers can usually only be propagated from seed, for example P. bipinnatifidum. This is not practical without greenhouse conditions. Pest and disease problems are unusual. but erratic watering, overwatering and chill will soon cause leaf yellowing.

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