Philodendrons - Spotlight on the Climbers
The Namesake of the Genus
These plants are the ones that gave the genus Philodendron the name, as they are the ones that are the "tree lovers". From delicate vines to tropical jungle lianas, these expert climbers come in all sizes, many varied leaf shapes and a kaleidoscope of colors. Often they will start out with small leaves and, as they grow up a tree, develop leaves of increasing size until they arrive at the tree canopy. There, in the brighter light, they will thicken up and begin blooming. However, most people who have these plants indoors never see the mature sized plants. What they do see is a plant that is prone to roam, growing in every direction in search of a tree to climb!
The thumbnail picture at right shows an example of a plant known as Philodendron superbum, here seen growing up a Queen palm trunk in south Florida. Note how short the internodes are on this specimen. When juvenile, this plant exhibits longer internodes, but upon attaining maturity, the internodes shorten appreciably and the plant may bloom with slender inflorescences.
One of the commonest and most well-known of the climbers is the Heart-leaf Philodendron, also known as Philodendron scandens, P. cordatum or P. oxycardium. A good example from PlantFiles can be seen at this link. The Heart-leaf Philodendron is grown easily from cuttings and can make a nice full hanging basket, as seen in the link photo. They will also grow well on a totem, and even when mature do not grow into the heavy liana-like vines that some of the climbers do.
Creep, then climb, or climb, then creep?
I'm familiar with at least one species in this group that seems to alternate between a creeping growth habit and a climbing growth habit (see photo at left). When grown from seed, the plant starts out as a creeper, and stays that way for some time. As the specimen reaches a certain maturity, the internodes elongate and the plant begins seeking a support to grow up. Once established on a support, the plant will develop shorter internodes again as it prepares for a blooming cycle. Interestingly, if grown from a cutting, the plant will begin new growth with longer internodes and develop the shorter ones only after reaching and climbing a suitable support, such as a tree trunk.
While the vining members of the genus Philodendron are many and varied, a number of other vining aroid genera are often confused with them. For example, the common Golden Pothos (genus Epipremnum) looks very similar to a vining Philodendron at first glance. Click Golden Pothos for an example photo of this plant from PlantFiles. I have a Marble Queen Pothos (very similar to the Golden Pothos except with white variegation instead of yellow) growing up one of my Royal Palm trees. It has attained thick stems and huge leaves with natural cuts in them similar to those seen on mature Monstera plants. Unfortunately, most of the growing stems have lost all variegation, but when the occasional huge variegated stem appears, it is truly spectacular!
Another aroid genus that might be confused with Philodendron is the genus Syngonium, also known as "Nephthytis". Many of the species and varieties of Syngonium have white, silvery, pinkish or reddish variegation on the leaves when juvenile. An example from PlantFiles can be seen by clicking Syngonium podophyllum. Most or all of this coloration is lost when the plant reaches mature size, and the leaves change from a simple arrowhead shape to a unique palmately divided structure.
Both the true Philodendron species and the look-alikes grow well in shade, well-drained soil and periodic, moderate fertilization. Oh, and something to climb on is strongly recommended, or else make sure you provide plenty of room for your plant to roam around in!
Image credit: LariAnn Garner
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