Updated: Nov 25, 2020
Split Leaf Philodendron-Philodendron bipinnatifidum
4 things you may not know about this Kauai plant
1. What is it? The Philodendron is a member of the Aroid family and is a broad leaf evergreen perennial. Philodendrons as a group in general have several habits of growth. They can be epiphytic- not needing soil to grow(like bromeliads and orchids), hemiepiphtic-starting growth in the canopy of another plant and eventually sending down roots to meet the soil (like the Autograph Tree) or Terrestrial-growing in the soil. They are generally used as landscape plants and are pretty adaptable to soil and sun conditions but won't to tolerate salty soil. Split Leaf Philodendron is primarily terrestrial and it’s tree-like trunk can spread 8-10 feet along the ground, but if it encounters a tree it will will grow up it. It is often confused with the Monstera but they are totally different plants. Split leaf Philodedron leaves are large and deeply lobed while the Monstera (aka Swiss Cheese) plant looks similar in shape and size but has holes similar to swiss cheese. Another difference is that Philodenrons have modified leaves called Cataphylls. These are essentially leaf wrappers which protect the new leaves as they develop and fall off as the leaf matures and opens. Another difference is the fruit-Monstera produces an edible fruit tasting similar to pineapple locally called "fruit salad plant" whereas the Philodendron produces white berries. A unique and slightly weird fact for this family of plants has to do with the reproductive part of the plant. Not a true flower, it is composed of the spadix grown at the center of a hood or spathe which is really a modified leaf protecting the spadix. When fully formed, the spadix has a section which produces heat of up to 104 degrees F consistently for up to 2 days releasing an insect attracting scent to encourage pollination.
2. Where did it come from? The Philodendron is thought to be native to tropical and subtropical areas of Paraguay and southeastern Brazil. I could find nothing about when it was introduced but think it had to be as an ornamental. It is usually grown in full sun, but can tolerate and adapt to deep shade. It’s trunk has characteristic “eye-drop” leaf scars where the former leaves attach. As far as traditional uses for these plants, it was primarily used for blow gun poison, and stunning fish. The leaves are said to be eaten by a native monkey and the aerial roots for rope. The white berry fruit has been eaten.
3. When is the best time for collecting? We collect the leaf wrappers once the new leaf has unfurled. They are collected all year long before they have been exposed to too much weathering. We dry them and then soak them for at least a few hours to make them pliable enough to work with and then dry them again.
4. How are the collected plant parts used? The leaf wrappers are generally used for twisting into roses. We work them from the base (what was attached to the trunk), twist and fold down the the tip leaving the base piece as a decorative element. The cataphylls are also used on our Hawaiian Tree Topper Angel for the wings and dress decoration.
*Amy is a University of Hawaii Certified Master Gardener Emeritus, has a Bachelor of Science-Landscape Horticulture degree from Ohio State, has been a volunteer tour guide at NTBG, and is a self-proclaimed "plant nut"! She and her husband Ron have been making and selling their baskets for more than 20 years.