If you love plants in the genus Philodendron, but lack the room for a climber or a tree type, these are the ones for you. The creepers, as I call them, are much easier to keep in bounds, yet have some of the most ornamental leaves in the whole genus. The most available types have broad, heart-shaped leaves, and since they stay close to the ground, I think of them as "grounded hearts".
However, they do come in other types. Some of these are on the rare side, while others are fairly large growers best suited for protected atria or enclosed heated courtyards in areas where they cannot be grown outdoors. For example, the rare P. callosum (see thumbnail picture at right) has lance-shaped leaves that are like cardboard and rough to the touch. This particular plant can grow epiphytically in the rain forest, but I grow mine in a pot with well-drained soil mix.
The short list!
Below are a few of the creepers that you might be fortunate enough to find for sale. The first three have heart-shaped leaves while the fourth has lance-shaped leaves.
This beauty has velvety deep green leaves with silvery-white main veins (see photo at left). Leaves can reach a length of 18 inches or more under ideal conditions. The leaves are pinkish when they first emerge, but mature to green. Internodes (distance between leaf attachment points) are from one to one and one half inches long so this plant can fill up a large shallow pot within a year if grown well. They root and grow quickly from stem sections and the plants are fairly easy to obtain, since they are in tissue culture production. The blooms are creamy white and emerge from leaf axils once per year (at least for me).
One of the few Philodendron species with silvery-gray variegation, P. mamei has become more available due to having been placed in tissue culture. P. mamei leaves can reach several feet in length in habitat but your specimen is likely to grow much smaller leaves. This is partly due to the growing conditions and partly due to changes in the growth of the plant caused by the tissue culture hormone treatments. However, this fact should not deter you from obtaining and enjoying this wonderful plant. More information and pictures of this plant can be found at Philodendron mamei.
In overall looks, P. plowmanii has a few similarities to P. mamei, with two notable exceptions. First, this plant lacks the silvery-gray splotchy variegation characteristic of P. mamei, and second, P. plowmanii has unique ruffly edges along the length of the petioles. Both plants grow well in part to full shade, ample watering and with a well-drained soil mix high in organic matter. An excellent example of this plant is illustrated in the photo at right.
One look at this plant and you can imagine that it is adapted to grow under conditions where water is not always readily available. The leaves are thick and lance-shaped, but the part that is most striking is the swollen petioles. Their look is slightly reminiscent of the petioles found on leaves of the water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes). However, unlike the petioles of the water hyacinth, which contain air cells that help the plant stay afloat, the petioles on P. martianum enable the plant to store water to tide it through drier times. In habitat, the plant is often found growing epiphytically (on trees) so under those conditions it is likely to dry out on a regular basis. If you keep this plant drier when growing it, the leaves may be smaller in relation to the size of the petioles, while if you provide ample water, the leaves will be much larger and the petioles less swollen.
Of the four plants in the list here, this one is most likely to stay in bounds as it is a slower grower and not prone to produce side shoots. The internodes are also the shortest of the four, putting the leaves very close together as the plant grows. Additional information and excellent photos of this plant can be viewed at Philodendron martianum. This plant is sometimes incorrectly labeled as "Philodendron cannifolium".
Image credit: LariAnn Garner and Dave's Garden member Gothqueen