There are many varieties of philodendron plants that are used commonly as both houseplants and for outdoor gardening. The big green leaves of these plants are wonderful for indoor air purification.

The name comes from latin, philo meaning "love of", dendron meaning "tree". These plants are tree climbers, growing special aerial roots which help anchor themselves to trees and branches.

WARNING: Most philodendron plants contain a sap which can irritate sensitive skin. The sap is also poisonous if injested (though only in large quantities), however the sap is so irritating the mouth if chewed that poisoning is not a common problem.

Split Leaf Philodendron (Philodendron Selloum)

Split Leaf Philodendron is BIG. It requires a lot of room. The leaves grow from a woody trunk on long stalks which may be up to 3" long. It can be grown outdoors in warmer climates and is often used as a ground cover. this plant looks like a palm tree of some sort due to it's woody stem and large shiny dark green palmate leaves. the woody stem will grow upright if it is staked at an early age, but more often will grow along the ground. The plant, when staked, can grow to 10' tall. When grown in optimal conditions, it will produce edible fruit which has been described as tasting like a cross between pineapple, banana, and peach. Grown indoors, it takes a LOT to kill these plants, although without optimum conditions you will wind up with a plant that has small drooping leaves, grows very slowly, and produces few, if any, offshoots.

CONDITIONS PREFERRED: Soil should be well drained, peaty, and rich, and should be kept moist (but NOT wet). Water at the first sign of leaf-droop but be careful to avoid getting water on the leaves. Fertilize once a month. The plant prefers plenty of light (full or indirect sunlight) but will do well in partial shade. If you keep it near a window it should do well.

PROPAGATION: This philodendron will reproduce itself by forming offshoots (also called "pups") at or near the base of the woody trunk. These can be separated from the main root system and planted elsewhere. The roots of this plant are very hardy -- to separate an offshoot, take the plant out of it's pot and try to separate the pup by hand. If it cannot be separated by hand, use a sharp sterilized knife to cut the root ball. This plant can also be propagated through stem cuttings -- it is ideal to cut the woody stem just below any air roots which have formed, however if there aren't any viable air roots, simply cut the trunk at the desired length and place the bit you have cut off into very rich soil (manure is best but not ideal for indoor growers) until roots are formed. The trunk which is left will form new growth. Pruning is unecessary -- in fact, in the case of Philodendron Selloum the only pruning that can really be done is the separation of offshoots or the cutting and repotting of the trunk.

Heart Leaf Philodendron (Philodendron Scandens)

Another very common houseplant variety is heart leaf philodendron commonly seen as long trailing vines growing in a pot or hanging basket or grown against moss covered bark to form a "tree" (the proper term for this type of planting is "totem"). The plant is characterised by 3" - 4" glossy dark green heart-shaped leaves growing on viney stems. It can be used as an outdoor ground cover in warm climates. It can also be used as a ground cover in large planters containing other plants. This plant DOES flower, although it is extremely rare to see flowers on plants outside of their natural tropical habitat. This plant is very hardy and is excellently suited for a beginning indoor gardener due to it's quick spreading and ease of propagation.

CONDITIONS PREFERRED: It prefers partial or full shade and nutrient rich soil. Although it will not grow as well as it would in soil, Philodendron Scandens can live in water for extended periods. The leaves should be dusted as often as is necessary. Sometimes the plants can seem like one continuous vine without any branches (I once had one which was almost 10 feet long). The plant can be made bushier by pinching off leaves, this will cause the plant to branch.

PROPAGATION: Along the viney branches there are small brown nubs formed where the leaves meet the stem. These nubs, when in contact with soil or water, will grow roots. There are many ways to propagate this plant, the easiest being to cut a branch just below a root-nub and place it in water with a few pieces of horticultural charcoal to reduce the likelihood of rot. As soon as new leaf growth is noted, pot in rich soil. The plant can also be propagated within it's own pot by pinning vines at the root-nub to the soil with hairpins or bent wire. The root-nub in contact with the soil will sprout new roots shortly. When you are rooting sections of Philodendron Scandens, the plant will greatly benefit from misting several times a day (it is best to use purified water, minerals in tap water build up on the leaves).

Update, March 13, 2001

I recently was told that heart leaf philodendron can grow quite successfully completely submerged in an aquarium environment with fish. In fact it is said that like all awuatic plans, both the philo and the tank environment will be better for it. The fish waste which fouls the water is nourishing to the philodendron and broken down, the plant quells algae growth by out-competing it for those nutrients. The philo it known to be able to grow indefinitely rooted in water, so long as it is kept fresh.

The philodendron may be planted in an aquarium by using fresh cuttings. You must be sure to wash the leaves thouroughly to remove any unwanted chemicals. You can either float leaves on the water and let the roots grow in the open water, or you can stick the ends of the cuttings firmly underneath the gravel. Planted in the gravel, the philodenron will grow in it's same above-water growing habits. It will form a vine and eventually the leaves will reach the surface.

Even low-light aquariums with standard lighting will provide adequate light for philodendron (except highly variegated or completely yellow varieties). The plant will grow profilically, and you will have to prune the growing tips for bushiness.