A philodendron is a plant genus of the Arum family with more than two hundred different species. Because the species are so varied, it is hard to say exactly what it is that makes a philodendron a philodendron. The differences between the species include plants that are shrubs, trees, climbing vines and rooted plants. While there are plenty of differences between the different species, this article will focus on what the different species of philodendra have in common.
The Philodendrons come from the West Indies and from Central and South America. They are jungle plants that thrive in the shade of the jungle. Being from the jungle, they are warm weather plants and do best in temperatures greater than 65 degrees. However, the philodendrons are quite common as houseplants because they are known as easy-to-grow plants that don’t need much light and can handle neglect (as long as the neglect doesn’t involve chilly temperatures). If philodendrons are treated well, they can grow taller than houses, and they are known to live for a hundred years or more.
The name philodendron says a lot about what a philodendron is. The name comes from the Greek words meaning “love” and “tree” and it might literally be interpreted as “tree lover”. Many people do indeed love these trees, for their longevity, their beauty and their ease in handling. Maybe it is ironic but most species of the philodendron feature heart shaped leaves. What could be more fitting for a plant named after love?
While the heart shaped leaf is the most popular, there are other shapes of philodendron leaves. Next to the heart shaped leaf, the most popular leaf shape is fiddle shaped, followed by highly lobed leaves that can be so lobed they look almost lacy as in the case of the “lacy-tree philodendron” or “hope tree”.
There are two basic types of philodendrons, climbing plants and non-climbing plants. The climbing plants are vines with an alternating leaf pattern. The leaves can be of many different varieties and sizes. Sizes range from leaves of three inches to leaves that are several feet long. No matter what size the leaf is, the leaves come off the vines in an alternating pattern. They also tend to be palmate, and most of them are heart shaped. The most common color is deep green but there are plenty of varieties in color. The climbing plants tend to feature aerial roots that grow down from the stems. If these are placed in soil, the plant will grow bigger than if they are left hanging.
The non-climbing plants are the ones that get so big. There are plants that are over a hundred years old. At the conservatory of flowers in Golden Gate Park, one 100-year old philodendron has grown to more than thirty feet high. This plant features the same heart shaped leaves of the smaller plants but the leaves are as big as a child! These non-climbing plants also feature aerial roots that grow from the plant to the ground. These additional roots are a part of the reason that philodendrons can get so big.
If there is one negative aspect of the philodendrons, it is that they are all mildly toxic. All parts of the plant, from the leaves to the roots to the stems are toxic. While the plants aren’t usually fatally toxic, they are dangerous if eaten in quantity. They are dangerous to both humans and animals, and housecats seem to be especially susceptible to the toxins produced by the philodendron. Call poison control immediately if any portion of the plant is ingested by a child.