Plant Sheet: Heart-Leaf Plant (Philodendron hederaceum)

* Image sources: All images used in this post are from the author

Philodendron plants such as the Sweetheart Plant are very common as houseplants. This is mainly thanks to their incredible capacities to adapt to various light conditions as well as their low demands in terms of plant care.

Philodendron hederaceum, a tropical tree climber species indigenous to Central and South America and the Caribbean, thrives optimally under bright indirect illumination or partial shade. Its watering regimen benefits from allowing intervals of soil dryness between watering episodes.

If you have a Sweetheart Plant at home, this plant sheet will give you lots of insights to get to know better your green housemate!

Origin and Natural Habitat of Philodendron hederaceum

The Heart-Leaf Plant or Philodendron hederaceum (sometimes also called Philodendron scandens) naturally grows in tropical regions of Central and South America such as in Mexico or Brazil as well as in the Caribbean. It is sometimes also called the Vilevine Plant due to its tree-climbing nature.

If you see Philodendrons out in the bushes in Australia, Asia, or even Hawai’i, then this is not because it is its natural habitat but because it has been introduced to these tropical regions by humans. The Heart-Leaf Plant is also the most commonly sold Philodendron houseplant type nowadays.

Its Greek name refers to its habit of growing on trees. ‘Philo’ means love in Greek, and ‘dendron’ means tree – hence this plant is a tree lover. Sometimes philodendrons are therefore also called tree friends. Even though it attaches its roots to the bark of a tree, it is not parasitical and doesn’t kill the tree it is living on.

As a semi-epiphyte, it lives mainly on the nutrients and water it collects through the accumulated debris on the trees.

Tip: A semi-epiphytic plant such as the Heart-Leaf Plant is a great candidate for hydroponics. It can easily be grown without soil just in water. Find out more about how to grow plants appropriately in just water in my post in the link!

Brighten Up Heart-Leaf Plant’s Day: Light and Water Requirements

Bright indirect or even direct light is best for the healthy growth of your Philodendron. However, in bright light, this plant might grow faster than you like it, needing to be trimmed often. If you want your Heart-Leaf Plant to grow just a little slower, place it in a half-shady spot.

It is a very adaptive plant and will do well in almost any spot you put it that gets some natural light.

When placed in bright light, the leaves grow bigger and the color of the leaves turns a brighter green, sometimes even mixed with a slightly purple hue. In shadier spots, the leaves tend to grow smaller and are dark green. Both look stunning.

As for the water requirements, always let the soil dry out in between waterings. Check with your finger if the upper inches of soil are completely dry before watering. Watering once a week should be more than enough, except if it is very hot summer days.

A Philodendron’s Guide to Happiness: Care Tips

As a tropical tree climber, the Philodendron is used to frequent rain showers in its natural habitat. If you want to make your Heart-Leaf’s heart beat faster, then shower it in your bathtub every couple of months. This will wash away the dust on the leaves which will promote better photosynthesis, and it also washes out a lot of the build-ups of nutrients in the soil.

After showering your Philodendron, make sure you let it stand in the bathtub for 1-2 hours to let all the excess water flow out.

This plant is also very versatile in its looks. You can give it a trellis to climb up on, decorate shelves with its long vines, or create a beautiful hanging leaf carpet by placing it in a hanging basket. You will not get bored with this houseplant!

Keep the humidity levels at around 60% year-round, use a humidifier in winter to achieve this. There are several ways to increase humidity during wintertime – check out what easy methods there are to raise humidity and what works best in my post linked here.

Another important care tip is to keep your Philodendron out of reach of kids, dogs, cats, or any other pets as it is toxic to chew on it. It contains toxic calcium oxalate crystals that can provoke respiratory issues. Even though one would need to chew on more than one leaf to cause any effects, it is still better to be safe than sorry.

How to Propagate Philodendron hederaceum

This houseplant is easily propagated by taking stem cuttings. Make sure you include a couple of axial joints on each cutting and place them in water to root. From the axial joints is where the cuttings grow their new roots.

The rooting phase will take about 2-3 weeks. Once a small root ball has formed, it is ready to be potted into its new home. I recommend using a water container with a wide opening such as a jar to prevent damaging the root ball when you take the cuttings out of it.

Tip: Remember to make cuttings only with knives (no scissors) and to cut off any leaves that are submerged in water as these can rot and harm the water quality.

For a tropical plant like the Philodendron, I recommend using a very well-draining soil mix. It is easy to optimize store-bought indoor soil yourself – here’s how to do this in my post linked here!

Heart-Leaf Plant Superpowers

The Philodendron plant family is incredibly adaptive and versatile in their pursuit of light. Some live an epiphytic, others a semi-epiphytic, and very few live a terrestrial life.

From the semi-epiphytic ones, some start their life as a seed high up in the canopy growing their first roots and leaves supported only by a branch. It is only later on in their plant life that they start growing their aerial roots down to the forest floor where they get further access to nutrients. What an incredible survival skill!

In indigenous symbolization, the Philodendron plant stands for abundance and love, and it teaches versatility and adaptation. Very apt symbols, given that this plant strives for light wherever it grows and can do without water and nutrients for quite a while.

Interesting fact: Philodendrons are also said to purify the air from certain toxins. A lot of plants have this ability. However, it is interesting to know that in our indoor environments, this air filtering process doesn’t show much effect. Find out why in my post linked here and what houseplants are the air-purifying pros!

Though tree-climber plants like Philodendrons and other epiphytes do not per se harm the tree, they play a major role in the succession phases of tropical rainforest ecosystems – another superpower you wouldn’t think of when you look at your tiny indoor plant.

Tropical rainforests are incredibly dense with a tough competition for light below the canopy of the big, old trees. As a result, many plants have evolved to grow on trees. The more plants are sitting on a tree, the heavier it gets, and old trees can fall or lose branches due to the additional weight.

Any fallen tree opens up a clearing in which new species can grow. Hence, semi-epiphytes like Philodendrons play a major role in the rejuvenation of the tropical forests they grow in.

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