For almost as long as people have been cultivating houseplants, philodendrons have been a favorite. It’s easy to see why. They have charming heart-shaped leaves and they are absolutely undemanding about light, watering and temperature. Further, in all my years of growing, I’ve never had them be bothered by pests. This isn’t to say that they can’t be–it’s just to say that the typical houseplant pests prefer other houseplants more.
But up until recently the philodendron was the Rodney Dangerfield of the plant world (for those of you not old enough to remember him, he was a comedian who always complained, “I don’t get no respect.”) If you noticed it at all, it was a nondescript green viney thing in a corner or in a hanging basket–and it was probably dusty from neglect too.
But as with all plants the breeders have been doing some work with this beauty, probably since NASA decided in the late 70s that this was one of the greatest plants for cleaning the air.
Beauty? Well, yes, because depending on which source you consult the genus (that’s the large group of plants to which philodendrons belong) has somewhere between 200-700 members. Now that’s a lot of different varieties to choose from–you needn’t just choose that dusty heart-left plant you remember that was hanging in the corner.
If, for whatever reason, you have fond memories of that plant, there’s a jazzed up hybrid of it called Brazil. It has more color in the leaves and will still tolerate a very dark north window. I can tell you this from personal experience–that’s where mine hangs. Here’s the leaf variegation.
If you want something that’s a little bigger and bolder, there’s a variety called a tree philodendron or fern leaf philodendron. When I first saw it, I thought it was some sort of fern on steroids. Not so–just a giant philodendron–and mine’s still a baby. Since you often see these in malls looking vaguely Jurassic park-like, you know they can take a lot of abuse, low light and temperature swings–never mind the occasional drink of coffee or other soft drink and abuse by passers-by.
Then there’s this lovely, sold by Logees Greenhouses of Danielson CT. For all the promotion I do for them, surely I should get a trade discount–but no. I purchased this as a 4″ pot in February, 2009. It has decided it wants to be a vining plant and now it’s 5′ tall and now shows no sign of stopping–even though it’s only in a 6″ pot. Here’s another one I’ll need to cut a hole in the ceiling for before to long–I don’t have any atria. This variety is called ‘Pink Princess.’ And it’s anything but boring!
So if you only remember the heart-leaf philodendron, expand your horizons. And do not worry about the rumors you’ve heard about philodendrons being poisonous. They may cause some contact dermatitis is susceptible individuals. And I certainly wouldn’t suggest you ingest the plant or any leaves–the leaves contain calcium oxalate which can certainly cause burning of the mouth and a good bellyache. But there have been no cases of human poisoning.
Cats, on the other hand, are another matter. If you suspect your cat might chew the plant, best to keep these out of the house. There will be lots of other choices for you.