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Philodendron Bipinnatifidum Care

Looking for philodendron bipinnatifidum care tips? This guide will help your plant thrive!

How to care for the tropical philodendron bipinnatifidum

Today is all about the philodendron bipinnatifidum (synonym “philodendron selloum), or “tree philodendron,” which is a great way to add a tropical touch to any room in your home. Much like the monstera deliciosa, the philodendron bipinnatifidum it easy to care for and has beautiful, broad tropical leaves that have a big impact.

The philodendron bipinnatifidum is also known by the names “horse head philodendron,” “hope philodendron,” “lacy tree philodendron,” and “split leaf philodendron.” No matter what you call it, it’s a stunner that hails from South America and is native to the tropics, particularly Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina, and Paraguay.

large philodendron bipinnatifidum

Philodendron bipinnatifidum care overview

  • Largely known as a philodendron bipinnatifidum or philodendron selloum; was recently reclassified as a thaumatophyllum bipinnatifidum.
  • Has large green leaves that can grow up to 5 feet long; often confused with monstera deliciosa but is part of a different genus.
  • Native to South America, particularly in tropical rainforests of Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina, and Paraguay.
  • Requires bright, indirect light; direct sunlight can damage the leaves, while insufficient light leads to stunted growth.
  • Prefers well-draining soil; deeply soak the soil when the top several inches have dried out.
  • Thrives in warm (70-85F) and humid environments.
  • Propagate using stem cuttings or by separating the offshoots, known as babies, from the mother plant.
  • Toxic if ingested; keep away from children and pets.

What is a philodendron bipinnatifidum?

The genus philodendron means “tree loving” in Greek and has around 450 varieties, many of which are easily recognized for their foliage with large, interesting leaves. Bipinnatifidum leaves are shiny and grow just as much out as they do up—they can take up a lot of space when they mature!

Heinrich Schott has studied philodendrons extensively and named this plant P. bipinnatifidum. “Bi” for double, “pinna” for feather, and “findo” for split. Altogether, the classification denotes a bilaterally symmetrical plant with feathery, split leaves (aka a plant with gorgeous, tropical leaves.)

You’ll likely see this plant referred to as “philodendron selloum.” It’s the same plant—selloum is just a more outdated name. Botanists are constantly studying plants and learning more about them, and that means that many plant names evolve, too.

large philodendron bipinnatifidum

Philodendron vs. thaumatophyllum

And speaking of—there’s another name you might hear this plant called, too: thaumatophyllum bipinnatifidum. Yep…a few years ago, botanists were able to use enhanced DNA to uncover key insights about plant lineage as opposed to relying on a plant’s outward appearance.

Accordingly, philodendron bipinnatifidum (among others) was moved into a new genus and became Thaumatophyllum bipinnatifidum. The name change helps to distinguish this group of plants from many of its more distant cousins that climb trees to get closer to sunlight (source).

So is it a philodendron or a thaumatophyllum? Technically, it’s a thaumatophyllum. But as this is a newer assignment for this plant, so it’s highly likely you’ll see it labeled as a philodendron for a while. Even a philodendron selloum! Keeping up with the names is half the fun when you’re a plant lover 🙂

Philodendron vs. monstera

I also want to talk for a minute about what a philodendron/thaumatophyllum bipinnatifidum is not, too. I often see monstera deliciosa plants (pictured below) labeled as “split-leaf philodendron,” confusing it with the philodendron bipinnatifidum.

While the monstera deliciosa does have large split leaves, it is part of the monstera genus, not the philodendron genus. They are two totally different plants. Although they are both gorgeous and have similar care needs, so you won’t be too up a creek without a paddle if you confuse the two.

monstera deliciosa
Monstera deliciosa plant, which is NOT a “split-leaf philodendron” 🙂

What is the best light?

Philodendron bipinnatifidum grows best in bright, indirect light. In rainforests, plants that are low growing like this one are not privy to direct sunlight. They live under the dense rainforest canopy of trees and foliage, which blocks a lot of the light. Too much light will turn the beautiful green leaves yellow, but some additional light may help the plant grow a bit faster.

Not providing enough light will turn the leaves dark green, and its stems will become stunted and leggy. The leaves maybe also be smaller and less shiny. Place your plant in a south- or north-facing window where bright light will reach it, but not direct rays. Keep in mind that it will grow in the direction it receives light from, so rotate the plant every so often to keep it from growing slanted.

large philodendron bipinnatifidum leaf

Water and soil needs

The tree philodendron is accustomed to dark, rich, slightly alkaline soil. The soil should retain moisture while draining properly to prevent overwatering and root rot. The soil should always be slightly moist but never soggy or drenched. Excess salt in the soil will cause the leaf tips to burn, so a way to reduce soil salinity is through good drainage. All in all, it will grow well in a soil amended with coco coir or fine moss.

Watering is the tricky part of philodendron bipinnatifidum care. Remember, they come from South America where it is constantly raining and always humid. This plant is NOT drought tolerant, and will wilt, drop leaves, and possibly die without proper watering. You must find the right balance for the plant to thrive and its leaves to appear healthy.

To water your plant, flood the pot with water slowly, then allow it all to drain out through the bottom of the pot. Every inch of the soil should be moist, especially the area where the roots are. A good way of knowing when to water again is when the top few inches of soil are dry to the touch. Usually this will be about once a week. Do not overwater or allow the plant to sit in water, because soggy soil will cause root rot and even death.

large philodendron bipinnatifidum leaves

Yellowing leaves as a sign of overwatering

Although you want to soak the soil, you don’t want it to be constantly wet. Overwatering can lead to yellowing leaves and root rot. I’ll highlight an issue I had with my tree philodendron one summer while I had the plant on our covered patio.

Summers here in Maryland can get really hot, up into the mid-90s and even over 100 some days. That means my outdoor potted plants can dry out very quickly. So I typically put my plants in a denser soil just to help the pots retain a bit of moisture. I still have to water a lot of them daily or every other day since the moisture evaporates so quickly.

However, I was really overwatering my tree philodendron. It was under my top balcony, so it was shaded from much of the direct sun. That meant that it was drying out less frequently. I wasn’t taking that and the dense soil into consideration and was watering it daily or every other day. It was staying pretty water logged.

I noticed that all of the new growth was coming out dappled with yellow or sometimes straight up yellow. Those leaves won’t turn green once you fix the watering, so the only option was to cut them all off and lay off the watering. Once I did that, all of the new leaves emerged the beautiful shiny green color they should be. The images below show you what I mean.

large tree philodendron outdoors on a patio
philodendron bipinnatifidum yellow leaves
philodendron bipinnatifidum yellow leaves

Want to check out more philodendrons? See my care guides for philodendron birkin, philodendron micans, and heart-leaf philodendron.

Temperature and humidity needs

For the best growth, philodendron bipinnatifidum requires warmer temperatures and humid environments. Warm temperatures are typically considered 70-85oF, which shouldn’t be an issue if you’re growing it indoors. Keep your plant away from windows or doors with cold drafts, and heaters and stoves that could fatally dry it out.

It also requires quite a bit of moisture in the air to grow properly. Most homes are not naturally humid enough, so there are measures you’ll have to take to keep its surrounding air moist. Mist it frequently during the spring and summer months, and occasionally during the winter. You can also sit it on a wet pebble tray to keep the air humid or get a humidifier.

This plant is a great candidate for summering outside, especially in our area. It gets really hot and humid where we’re at in Maryland, so this plant is right at home with a bit of shelter from direct sun. Under a balcony, large tree, deck, or sun shade is great.

large tree philodendron

How to propagate a philodendron bipinnatifidum

The best way to propagate this lovely houseplant is through stem cuttings. Pruning is often necessary to keep this plant from overgrowing or to shape it how you’d like. When you prune the plant, you can keep those fresh cuttings to grow new plants—if they have a growth point on them. Use sharp scissors to cut leaves at the base of the leaf stem.

The stem cutting must have the leaf node intact because that’s where the roots will grow from. This is a lot like propagating the monstera deliciosa, a plant this one is often confused with! After you’ve chosen an appropriate cutting, place it in a jar of water in a warm spot for the roots to emerge. You can also put the cutting directly in moist soil. Check for root growth by gently pulling on the stem and feeling for resistance.

This plant also grows babies, much like the philodendron xanadu pictured below. You can easily split these babies off of the mother plant gently, making sure to keep as much of the root system in tact as possible. Then simply plant this baby in its own pot. It will eventually grow and create more babies.

philodendron xanadu baby
Example of a philodendron xanadu baby separated from the mother plant.

Is this plant toxic?

They are slightly toxic to humans and animals because of their calcium oxalate crystals. When ingested in large quantities, it can cause swelling of the tongue and throat, and skin irritations. Keep out of reach of children and pets, especially cats if you’ve got plant muncher.

In conclusion…

Philodendron bipinnatifidum and its larsh, lush leaves make it a bold choice to add to your houseplant collection. This plant has specific needs: it thrives in bright, indirect light and requires a balance of consistent moisture without being waterlogged. 

So, whether you’re a seasoned plant parent or new to the philodendron world (or, should I say, the thaumatophyllum world), keep these tips in mind for a healthy, thriving plant. Have you grown this one? Let me know in the comments, and happy planting!

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