By Jane Malec, EMGV
Long before my master gardener journey began, I loved bringing plants into my home. Quite a few years ago while passing by an apartment building at Michigan State University, I saw a dwarf leaf schefflera (Brassia actinophyllia) sitting on the front stoop. There was a note attached reading “please give me a good home!” So, what was I to do? I officially adopted my first houseplant out of which grew a long habit of picking up plants and bringing them home. Some were gifts, others found like the first one and some were purchased with lunch money during lean years!
To this day, I always have plants in my home. I believe they make rooms more interesting by bringing in life and color. Foliage is the primary draw for most indoor plants I purchase. Unusual texture, shape or color starts my imagination working. Hmm … where could I put this little beauty? So, it stands to reason that while shopping at a favorite garden center a few years ago, a little Philodendron bipinnatifidum, or tree philodendron, caught my eye. It was no more than two feet tall and the foliage was very interesting. I knew I had the perfect place for this tropical beauty.
Tropical landscape plants
Philodenron bipinnatifidum is in the Aracea family and is native to Brazil. It grows naturally in hardiness zones 10-12 especially along the edges of rivers in the tropical rain forests and in other areas such as Paraguay. It can also be found in the landscape of more tropical areas of the United States particularly in Florida were many landscape architects feature it in their designs. They are also popular indoor plants both in homes and commercial buildings.
The tree philodendron has a single and unbranched four-inch diameter trunk which and can grow up to 10 feet tall when planted in the ground. A plant grown in a container will achieve a height usually less than six feet, directly correlated to the container size. The foliage is unusual with its dark green and shiny leaves. They can get really enormous growing up to 30 inches or more. The dark green shiny leaves are enormous — growing to 30 inches or more. Each half of the leaf has eight to ten lobes each of which each can be 20 or more inches in length. The leaves grow at the ends of the plant’s slowly elongating trunks and are held up on long petioles. This feature also seems to be fascinating to golden retrievers!
Another interesting characteristic of this plant is the long dangling roots that grow up and out of the soil. They become more noticeable as the plant matures and may not even be present when you purchase a young plant. In fact, I didn’t notice them in my plant until I had it several years and it had grown at least a foot. Growing up to eight feet, these aerial roots anchor to the bark of tree philodendrons growing outside and will provide some light anchorage for the plant. There will still be roots in a container habitat but they will wind through the stems creating a spaghetti look which is really eye catching.
This philodendron will flower growing in a container but the plant needs to be 15 to 20 years old before it comes into heat. It is a beautiful petal-less flower which only lasts about two hours. Although it seems like a short life span, it would be amazing to see this unique flower.
Most pests and diseases tend to be caused by an overcrowded environment and/or over-watering. It prefers bright light but will tolerate lower light during winter periods. Also, as a container plant, it thrives outside during our Durham summers and it isn’t particularly fussy about humidity. I had my plant in quite a number of locations over the last few years. It wasn’t until recently that I situated it in a very sunny room of our home. Wow! It took off! The leaves started growing so fast that I could have sworn it was noticeable over night. I had to move all the other plants out of the area to give it room and, of course, it kept growing.
A New Home
About this time, I noticed that my church had a tree philodendron growing in nearly the exact conditions as mine and it was much larger! This wasn’t a good sign for what was ahead for my little kitchen corner. What to do?
For the answer I circled back to the beginning of my journey as a gardener of houseplants. I needed to find this plant a new home. Another bright yet empty corner in the church revealed itself. So, I convinced the church’s plant crew to adopt my tree philodendron and now I can visit whenever I want. I love happy endings!
Sources & Further Reading
from North Carolina State University Extension: https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/all/philodendron-selloum/
from University of Arkansas Extension: https://www.uaex.edu/yard-garden/resource-library/plant-week/tree-philodendron-1-13-06.aspx
from Pennsylvania State University Extension: https://extension.psu.edu/philodendron-diseases
Tropical landscape plants: https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/syllabi/308/Slides/PLTL1b.pdf
Unless otherwise noted, all photos were taken by Jane Malec.