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What is Philodendron?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 December 2016
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Philodendrons are plants in the genus of the same name. These plants have been popular as houseplants since the Victorian era, when potted philodendrons were a must-have for any well equipped home, and they continued to dominate the indoor plant world well through the 1970s. Chances are very good that you know someone with a philodendron plant or two, as these plants come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and colors, and many people find them quite beautiful and easy to care for.

The philodendron genus contains hundreds of species, and more are constantly being identified. These plants are native to the tropics of South America and parts of the West Indies, where they have adapted to live in rainforest environments. As a result, they prefer bright but indirect light, and they will often tolerate very low light conditions. They also enjoy moist soil, humid air, and lots of room to spread.

Many philodendrons are of the climbing variety, and they can sprawl quite extensively across a home or office; the heart-leaf philodendron is probably the most well known example of the climbing version of this popular plant. Climbing philodendrons are responsible for the name of the genus, which means “tree lover,” a reference to the fact that philodendrons use trees for support and nutrients in the natural environment. Others grow more like shrubs or trees, and they can become quite large.

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Philodendrons can have huge, sprawling leaves like fans, delicate heart shaped leaves smaller than your palm, and leaves streaked with bright colors like violet and yellow. Some have soft, leathery leaves, while others are velvety, and some are sleek and flexible. The plants may sprawl from a central clump, develop into large shade trees, or creatively inch their way through a room with trailing vines. As you can see, there is a lot of diversity in this genus.

Some philodendrons will produce flowers in an array of sizes, especially when well cared for, and all of them are fast growing and very hardy. As long as a philodendron is in a reasonably well lit, humid spot, the plant will flourish quite happily. Signs that a philodendron is struggling include a marked decrease in leaf size, along with increased spaces between leaves along the vine or branch of the plant. If these signs appear, the plant probably needs more light, but keep philodendrons out of direct light, as this can burn the leaves.

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