University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Anytime News Article


Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Philodendrons have been popular houseplants since Victorian times as they are easy to grow and propagate, and in more recent times attractive new selections are being sold.  These new cultivars (cultivated varieties) have interesting leaf shapes and many are colorful. Research has shown philodendrons to be among the best houseplants for removing toxins from air.

There are over 200 species of philodendrons native to the American tropics, although only a few of these, along with some hybrids, are readily found as houseplants.  Being tropical they prefer bright, indirect light but can tolerate lower light in many homes.  Too much light may cause brown patches on leaves.  Remove these leaves and place in less direct light.  If plants are spindly or not growing, give more light if possible. A plant light on a timer may help.

Being tropical they prefer moist air too, but can tolerate and adapt somewhat to the lower humidity, especially during winter, found in most homes.  It helps to mist plants daily once or twice.  If this isn't feasible, keep near a humidifier or place on a tray of pebbles you can keep moist.  Too dry air, or plants kept too dry, may cause leaves to turn brown and shrivel.

Being tropical is an indication they prefer warm temperatures, generally between 60 and 75 degrees F.  If areas on leaves turn black, this may indicate they got too cold.

For a growing medium, a houseplant mix works well.  They can be repotted any time.  If they get too large or need pruning, stem pieces root readily simply placed in a jar of water.

Keep plants watered, but don't overwater.  Too dry and leaf tips may turn brown.  Too wet and leaves turn yellow and plants may wilt even though the soil is wet.   

Fertilize lightly, according to label directions.  For many liquid fertilizers this may be once in spring or summer, or during active growth, and less to none if not growing in fall and winter.  Pale leaves overall indicates plants may need a bit more fertilizer.

As with other houseplants with broad leaves, dust periodically or give a rinse in the sink or shower.  They usually don't get pests, but inspect weekly for mealybugs, scales, and mites.

You should keep philodendrons away from children and pets if they may chew the foliage.  Being in the large arum family, along with plants such as dumbcane or Chinese evergreen, they contain calcium oxalate crystals which may cause a rash on the skin and will cause a painful burning and swelling of mouth and throat if ingested. Placing plants out of reach, or growing as a hanging basket, may be all that is needed.

Philodendrons often are found in hanging baskets, as some of the more common ones are trailing or vining but don't climb.  Often they may be sold attached to a wooden slab as a "totem".  The fiddle-leaf philodendron (P. bipennifolium) with fiddle-shaped leaves to a foot long is one common example. There are selections of this species with bluish or cream-splashed leaves. The Swiss-cheese or shotgun philodendron (P. friedrichsthalii) has elongated leaves, on a vine to about 6 feet, that are riddled with irregular holes.

Perhaps the most common philodendron, and one of the most common houseplants, the heart-leaf or vining-hearts philodendron (P. scandens oxycardium) also is a vining type.  It has heart-shaped, olive green leaves, and is very adaptable to a range of indoor conditions including low light.  'Micans' or the velvet philodendron is a form of this species with velvety green leaves above, and a dark copper color below. Similar but with larger leaves is the cultivar 'Miduhoi'.  'Aureum' is a form with lemon-lime leaf color. 'Medio Pictum' has green leaves with a wide lime central streak. 'Variegatum' has green leaves streaked with gray green and cream. Similar but with more elongated, heart-shaped green leaves is 'Burle Marx'.

A few upright species are tree-like, or "arborescent", and are generally too large for most interiors.   The Lacy-tree or formerly Selloum philodendron (P. bipinnatifidum) is an example, getting up to 15 feet in the wild, although the cultivar 'Hope' is much lower and suitable for indoors.  'Xanadu' is a popular hybrid, originally from Australia, which looks like a smaller 3-foot tall version of this species in a birds-nest shape. You may even find a golden form of this.

Other philodendrons are upright, and if the leaves are so closely spaced to not see the stem they are called "self-heading".  One species in this group is the red bristle philodendron (P. squamiferum) with deeply lobed leaves up to 18-inches long that are a medium green with red bristles on leaf stems.  The palmleaf philodendron (P. pinnatifidum) species has metallic green lobed leaves, with leaf stems red-spotted.  Similar but faster growing, and a more glossy and deep green is 'Florida Beauty'.  Mamei is a species with wide, pleated leaves and silvery spots.

Self-heading types with light orange waxy leaves include the cultivars 'Autumn' and 'Prince of Orange'. These need high light for the best color.  Green-leaved self-heading cultivars include the deep green 'Green Emerald', the bright green 'Emerald Duke' or 'Imperial Green', 'Moonlight' starting yellow then turning to green with age, and the waxy green 'Wind-Imbe'.  There are quite a few self-heading cultivars with reddish black leaves including 'Burgundy' with reddish leaves and dark veins, the dark 'Black Cardinal', the deep red 'Imperial Red', 'Red Emerald' starting deep red and then turning dark green, and the similar but lobed 'Red Empress'.

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