If you want a big, bold foliage plant for the garden, you can’t go past the tree philodendron (Philodendron bipinnatifidum). It is often confused with its close relative monstera (Monstera deliciosa), but they are really easy to tell apart. Monstera is sometimes known as the cheese plant, because it has holes in its leaves like Swiss cheese, and it is a climber.The tree philodendron is an upright shrub with deeply divided, lobed leaves.
Common name: Tree philodendron Botanic name: Philodendron bipinnatifidum (sold as P. selloum)
Description: Upright, evergreen shrub to 3m (10′) tall. It has a short fleshy, trunk which becomes more pronounced with age, and thick aerial roots. The dark, glossy green leaves are deeply divided and lobed, with prominent veins and long arching stems. The flower is a greenish white spathe and spadix, typical of members of the Arum family.
Best climate: In cool to cold climates grow philodendrons in a sheltered spot such as a greenhouse.
Striking foliage plant Indoor/outdoor plant Shade gardens Tropical-look gardens
The flowers of Philodendron bipinnatifidum warm up to around 36°C (96°F) when they are ready for pollination. In Brazil, their country of origin, these plants are pollinated at night by a moth. The seeds then develop over several months in bubbly capsules, with about thirty seeds per capsule. In Australia tree philodendrons don’t have any insect pollinators, so they don’t set seed unless pollinated by hand.
They can also be propagated by stem cuttings in spring, or by tissue culture.
Philodendrons are easy to grow and almost pest and disease free. They like a sheltered, shady position with protection from frost, and adequate moisture in the warmer months. Maintenance simply involves removing dead leaves. Repot containerised plants occasionally.
Tree philodendrons are readily available at nurseries and garden centres, and are sold under the name Philodendron selloum. For a smaller philodendron look for ‘Xanadu’. Philodendrons in 200mm (8″) pots cost around $16.95 (smaller sizes are priced from $7.50). The amazing indoor philodendron shown in the photograph from Shepparton in Victoria is a heart-leaf philodendron (Philodendron scandens, often sold as Philodendron cordatum).