It’s not a tree, nor a philodendron, but whatever you call them, tree philodendrons are extremely cool to have growing in your space. These distinctive plants have massive, fenestrated leaves that you can’t miss.
Due to its size, it has become a popular choice for people looking to add a dramatic plant to their collection. It’s originally from South America in modern Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina and can be grown outdoors in USDA Hardiness Zones 10-13.
Most people grow them indoors as big, dramatic houseplants. Here’s how:
Philodendron Houseplant Information
Also known as panda plant, horsehead philodendron, split leaf philodendron, and saddle leaf, it’s botanically classified as Thaumatophyllum bipinnatifidum, previously Philodendron bipinnatifidum. Though this plant was once classified as a philodendron, it isn’t one.
In their original habitat, they can reach up to 15 feet tall and live for 20 years. Indoors, it can reach 8-10 feet tall.
In the right conditions, they can blossom with big, purple, red, or white flowers.
The leaves are large and dark green and can grow up to 18 inches in diameter, with deep perforations known as fenestration. They’re sometimes confused with monstera plants, and though they’re related, they are different plants with different needs.
As they age, they lose their lower leaves and start to resemble a tree with a thick, woody trunk.
Every houseplant requires different light conditions to grow healthily and happily. For T. bipinnatifidum plants, you will need bright, indirect light.
Ideally, if you have space somewhere in front of a window that is south or west-facing, then place your plant there. Make sure that the plant will get at least 6 hours of indirect light a day.
However, it’s not a good idea to place the houseplant too close to the window, or it may be burned and damaged from too much direct sun. Sheer curtains will reduce the amount of direct sun but still give the plant plenty of light.
Feel free to place the plant directly in a north-facing window or just use artificial lights if you don’t have the right spot.
The plant will move its leaves toward the light as it grows, so be sure to rotate regularly to promote an even growth habit.
Temperature and Humidity
Besides the light conditions, you’ll also have to consider temperature and humidity levels. The best temperature is 60-80°F. A little outside this range is fine, but don’t go too far outside.
Even though T. bipinnatifidum plants enjoy moderate heat, they’re sensitive to changes in their climate. Avoid drafts, which will lead to leaves dropping. Don’t place the plant near a radiator or heat or AC vent.
When it comes to humidity, this houseplant thrives when the air is nice and humid. You want to aim for between 70-80% humidity levels. If you’re struggling to get high humidity levels, place the pot on top of a pebble tray, group it with other plants, or use a humidifier.
Pick a well-draining, rich soil for growing your tree philodendron. Avoid acidic or salty soils. Most commercial potting mixes made for average houseplants will be just right. Cactus or orchid soil is too loose and sandy, so don’t use it.
You can also make your own mix. To do so, combine equal parts well-rotted compost, perlite or rice hulls, and coir into a pot.
Caring for Your Plant
Of course, you’ll need to care for your plant once it’s been potted. Don’t overwater your T. bipinnatifidum, but it will need consistent moisture.
During spring and summer, you’ll probably need to water your plant more often as there is usually more heat and sun during this time, which will dry out the soil. Plus, summer is the plant’s active growing time.
As fall approaches, you can cut back on watering as your tree philodendron uses less water during autumn and winter while it’s semi-dormant and not growing as actively.
The best way to tell if a plant needs to be watered is by checking the soil. If you place your fingers a few inches into the soil and it’s dry, you need to water your plant. Always water at the soil level and not on the leaves. You can also bottom water.
If you’re looking for an effective watering method for your tree philodendron, then bottom watering is a great option. This is when you place your plant in a water container and leave it to soak up as much moisture as possible.
As long as you leave the plant to drain completely after soaking up moisture, this will encourage healthy root development and prevents diseases caused by moisture on the foliage.
Not only is the method of watering important, but the type of water is equally important when growing your houseplant. This plant doesn’t like salt or minerals. You might want to use rainwater or bottled water if you have municipal water with lots of minerals.
Fertilizer is also a good addition to your plant’s care routine, especially during spring and summer. You should use an organic, liquid fertilizer formulated for houseplants when feeding your plant. As tree philodendrons can’t tolerate mineral build-up in the soil, natural fertilizer is best.
Mineral build-up can be caused by using too much fertilizer, so be sure to check the label and follow the instructions carefully.
Once your tree philodendron has been growing for a few years, it will require fresh soil. Re-pot this plant once after the first year and every two years after that. You might also need to upgrade the pot, but not always.
If you start noticing the roots coming through the draining holes, then it might be time for a pot upgrade. You can also check by examining the roots as you replace the soil. If the plant is rootbound, move up a size.
Remember that this plant likes to be a little rootbound, but not too much. Pick a pot that is just slightly bigger than the root ball.
As already mentioned, this plant can grow quite large, so you might have to prune occasionally to constrain it. You’ll need a pair of gardening gloves because the plants have toxic sap. Also, be careful not to rub your eyes after handling the leaves.
Although this plant is perfectly safe to keep in your house so long as you don’t eat it, the sap is slightly toxic to people and pets. You might get a rash or inflammation if the sap touches your skin.
For this reason, you need to wear a pair of gloves when handling this plant. You can prune your houseplant in spring or summer with gloves and some scissors. Simply cut the leaves at the bottom of the stem and trim the aerial roots if you need to.
You should also keep the plants away from pets or infants that might try to take a nibble on the plants.
Common Pests and Diseases
Thankfully, there aren’t too many pests and diseases that infect T. bipinnatifidum plants. For pests, you should look for spider mites, mealybugs, scale, and aphids. There are a few things you can do to get rid of each of these pests.
Root rot is the only common disease to worry about. Root rot happens when you overwater and smother the roots. One time of overwatering won’t matter but doing it over and over, or if the water can’t drain out, the roots will turn brown and mushy and will die.