Sweetheart Plant – Philodendron scandens

Sweetheart Plant is a fast-growing climber and one of the most popular foliage plants for growing in a room or conservatory. It has long stems carrying glossy, green heart-shaped leaves on short stalks and has a luxuriant, lush habit of growth. The plant is adaptable, tolerating low levels of light for long periods and it will thrive in normal summer or winter room temperatures.

In its natural habitat, deep in the forests of Mexico and the West Indies, Sweetheart Plant climbs up the trunks and branches of trees, supporting itself by means of aerial roots attached to the bark.

The familiy name, Philodendron, comes from the Greek words philo, meaning ‘love’ and dendron, meaning ‘tree’. The plant grows very tall in the wild, reaching from the forest floor to the sunlight above the canopy of trees.Sweetheart Plant - Philodendron scandens

In cultivation, individual stems may grow as much as 60-90cm (1-2ft) in a year and mature stems can be anything up to 9m (30ft) long. The heart-shaped leaves, 10cm (4in) long and 8cm (3in) wide, are carried on slender, twining stems. They are dark green and glossy when mature, while young leaves have a bronze colour and a lightly transparent appearance.

Varieties

There are two varieties of Philodendron scandens which look very similar, P. s. oxycardium and P. s. micons. They are often sold in garden centres as Sweetheart Plant.

The first of these varieties has slightly smaller leaves than P. scandens, but it grows in the same way and looks attractive as a trailing plant. The young foliage of P. s. micans is flushed with purplish red on the underside.

There are other closely related Philodendrons in the family, which contains over 200 species. They originate mostly in South America and many of them are climbing vines like Sweetheart Plant. P. erubescens, the Blushing Philodendron, has large triangular leaves, up to 25cm (10in) long, which are carried on wine-red stalks and stems.

Display ideas

Train Sweetheart Plant up bamboo canes or a moss pole to make a specimen plant. Two or three plants can be grown together in a large tub or jardiniere to make an impressive show.

Making new plants

Propagate by cuttings in early summer. Take cuttings with at least two healthy leaves from the tips of the stems. Prepare cuttings by trimming off the end stem below the leaf. They will root easily in either water or compost.

Cover a jar of water with aluminium foil or polythene, cut three or four holes in the cover and insert the cuttings. Add a small piece of charcoal to the water to keep it sweet or dip the cuttings in hormone rooting powder and insert in peat-based compost, covering with ventilated polythene.

Training your plant

Train Sweetheart Plant up bamboo canes or a pole covered with damp sphagnum moss. Insert three canes into the compost and tie them at the top to form a tripod. Secure the stems to the canes with plastic plant ties. Re-tie the stems as the plant grows to ensure correct growth.

Secure the stems to a moss pole with loops of string. When the aerial roots begin to fasten themselves into the moss, the pieces of string can be gradually removed.

Pests And Diseases

Pale leaves and lack of new growth in spring is a sign of compost exhaustion.

Treatment: Repot or topdress the plant.

Leaves turn yellow and drop due to overwatering. Treatment: Allow the compost to dry out and water less in future.

Brown or black leaf margins and spots can mean that the foliage is being scorched. Prevention: Do not let leaves touch a window pane, particularly in winter.

Never wet the leaves when the plant is in direct sunlight.

Drooping leaves on an otherwise healthy plant indicates dryness. Treatment: Give water immediately. If the compost has dried out completely, soak the plant in a bucket of water for 30 minutes and allow ali the excess water to drain away.

PLANT CARE

This is a very simple plant to care for, but protect it from direct sunlight. Spray the leaves regularly with soft water to clear them of dust and dirt. Trim away any unruly stems in spring to keep the plant in good shape.

  • Potting: Repot young plants every spring in a peat-based compost. Large specimen plants should be top-dressed with 5cm (2in) of fresh compost.
  • Water liberally during periods of active growth, but do not allow the plant to stand in water. Water less frequently in winter, allowing the compost to dry out a little between waterings.
  • Feeding: Feed with a standard liquid fertilizer every two weeks during spring and summer. Do not feed during winter.

BEST GROWTH ENVIRONMENT

  • Light: Sweetheart Plant will thrive in both sunny and shady spots, but it dislikes direct sun in summer. An east or west facing window suits it.
  • Temperature: Normal room temperatures suit this plant, providing the summer temperature does not rise above 24°C (75°F). Move the plant to a cooler spot if this happens. In winter, see that temperatures do not fall below 13°C (55°F).

Buying Tips

  • Sweetheart Plant is available throughout the year, but the red stemmed variety is more difficult to obtain.
  • Choose a plant which is growing vigorously and has dark green, glossy leaves. The aerial roots should look healthy and be pale at the tips.
  • This plant will thrive for many years. Cut back in spring if necessary.

The unusual red-stemmed variety of Sweetheart Plant, Philodendron erubescens, has glossy, triangular leaves carried on slender, twining stems.

Sweetheart Plant is one of the easiest foliage plants to grow in the home. Its long stems with glossy dark green leaves can be trained to make a shapely specimen plant.

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