Philodendrons are among some of the most popular houseplants for their easy care and beautiful foliage.
The Philodendron Bipinnatifidum does not get enough attention in my view. Better known as Horsehead Philodendron, this is a giant in a world of politely-sized plants and can give you many years of beauty.
Position Bright spot plus a little full sun daily
Watering Water thoroughly when soil is dry
Size Up to 10 feet indoors
Climate 65 °F to 75 °F plus 75% humidity
Propagate Stem cuttings
Seasonality Winter hardy to USDA Zones 9-11
Toxicity Poisonous to people, cats, and dogs
Flowers Will flower indoors at 15 to 20 years maturity
If you’re looking for a gorgeous plant to fill up a large empty space, you’ll love Philodendron Bipinnatifidum. This is a tree Philodendron that is sometimes referred to as the Philodendron Selloum, Lacy Tree, or Horsehead Philodendron.
More recently, the term Philodendron was changed to Thaumatophyllum, so what was once known as Philodendron Bipinnatifidum is now known Thaumatophyllum Bipinnatifidum. Philodendron means ‘love tree’ and Thaumatophyllum refers to ‘wonder leaf.’ No matter what you call it, this plant is a strikingly beautiful tropical plant.
The scientific name means double, feathery split leaves and describes the large lobed leaves and eye-catching foliage. This plant’s stem is so large and woody that it takes on the appearance of a tree trunk. As it grows, it loses its lower leaves, what is left behind are scars that look like eyes.
Philodendron Bipinnatifidum Care
Although the Horsehead Philodendron has different care requirements compared to other Philodendrons, don’t be afraid to grow one in your home. In this article, I’ll show you how to take care of your Horsehead Philodendron, and I’ve got plenty of tips and tricks that I’ve learned along the way. After reading this article, you’ll have all the knowledge you’ll need to plant, grow, and enjoy your Philodendron Bipinnatifidum.
Lacy Tree Philodendrons appreciate a little bright sun, but they just cannot tolerate more than two or three hours of direct sunlight per day. Any more direct sun than that could burn the leaves and kill your plant. These plants do enjoy plenty of bright indirect light throughout the day and can adapt to different levels of light.
An east-facing window is an ideal spot for this plant species because it provides a little bit of direct morning sun but not too much. If you do not have any east-facing windows, you can try a south or west-facing window with a sheer curtain to prevent the sun from burning the plant’s leaves. You could also move the plants back from the window a few feet and just out of reach of the sun’s rays.
Philodendron Bipinnatifidum is a very adaptable plant. They can thrive in lower levels of light if necessary. However, they may become leggy and spindly over time if they do not receive enough indirect sunlight, and their leaves will not grow as large.
Height & Spread
Philodendron Bipinnatifidum can easily grow up to fifteen feet tall in its native habitat. In the wild, it will grow a woody’ trunk’ that is about 6 inches around. In warm climates, this plant is often grown outdoors as a landscape plant.
Although it grows a lot smaller when kept as a houseplant, its indoor spread can still reach ten feet wide while its finger-like leaves can grow up to several feet long.
Like many houseplants, you’ll want to water this one when the top two inches of soil are completely dry. Water the plant thoroughly until water begins to run out of the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. Allow all of the excess water to drain away, and don’t allow any extra water to sit in the plant’s saucer underneath the pot. Do not water the plant again until the soil begins to dry out again.
Overwatering is one of the leading causes of poor growth and death in your Horsehead Philodendron. One of the first symptoms of overwatering is leaves that have wilted and turned yellow or leaf spot diseases. Chronic overwatering can lead to root rot which is caused by a lack of oxygen around roots that are left to stand in soggy soil. The roots will begin to die off and decay and feel slimy to the touch.
In contrast, under watering will cause the leaves to turn brown and become crispy.
I’ve found this plant really likes high humidity, even as much as 70 to 80%! If you find the tips of the leaves are getting a little bit crispy, you might want to increase the humidity around the plant. You could try growing it in a sunny bathroom, for example. Or place a pebble tray filled with water underneath your plant’s pot. Keep the pebbles full of water but don’t allow the plant’s soil to be constantly wet. Using a pebble tray will raise the humidity for your plant.
Soil is an important part of caring for your Horsehead Philodendron since this plant is susceptible to root rot. These plants need a well-draining and well-aerated soil, similar to the dirt and ground in the forests where they grow naturally. The plants will not tolerate very salty or acidic soil, but good drainage will help the salts rinse through during watering. Peat-based soil mixtures are too acidic and should be avoided.
I’ve found that a mixture of high-quality potting soil and coco coir will work well to provide both good drainage and plenty of aeration. However, you could also create your own soil mix with equal parts of perlite and gravel, coco coir, and compost.
You can also adjust your mix if it isn’t quite right. If your mixture is still too acidic, add in some wood ash to increase the alkalinity. Pumice and sand can be mixed in if you need more drainage.
Philodendron Bipinnatifidum is not really grown for their flowers, but they are grown for their striking size and lacey, finger-like foliage. However, this plant does create white, petal-less blooms. The blooms somewhat resemble the spathe of a peace lily.
When this plant blooms it usually only does so in its natural habitat and only once it has reached full maturity at about fifteen to twenty years. Typically it will flower during the summer months, although technically, blooms can happen any time of year. It very rarely blooms when grown indoors.
You do not need fertilized flowers for the plant to reproduce, however. Stem cuttings, which will be discussed later, will work just fine to propagate your plant if you would like to do so.
How to Fertilize Philodendron Bipinnatifidum
I’ve found that fertilizer definitely helps my Philodendron Bipinnatifidum grow, but you need to be pretty careful not to overdo it. These plants can’t handle salty soils and over-fertilizing is one of the biggest culprits of salt buildup in the soil. Because of this, I like to steel a cautious path and aim for slightly under-feeding rather than over-feeding.
Organic fertilizers work great with your Horsehead Philodendrons since they are a little more gentle and usually contain fewer salts than their synthetic counterparts. Regardless, you should always dilute your fertilizer and never use it at full strength.
I aim for a feeding pattern of about once a month. Dilute the fertilizer, whether organic or synthetic, to one-half to one-third the recommended strength. If the plant grows slowly or the leaves seem pale, you can always slowly and cautiously increase the amount of fertilizer you give it.
Other options for fertilizing include compost and worm castings since these are more natural and less harmful to your plant.
You sure can prune your Philodendron Bipinnatifidum. But you need to keep in mind that these plants are meant to be rather large, so no matter how much you prune it back, it isn’t going to fit into a tiny space or sit nicely on a tabletop. These large plants have large leaves, so even if you cut it back to just a few leaves, it will still be quite large.
With all of this in mind, only prune your Philodendrons if you really need to. This might be to remove some dying leaves, bare stems or just reshape your plant a bit. Before pruning, clean and sterilize your pruning tools. You’ll probably want to use plant shears or sharp scissors. You can gently snip off any dying or yellowing leaves any time of year.
If you need to prune more heavily, maintain shape, or reduce its size, you should try to do so in the spring or fall. Just remove leaves or stems at the base of the plant or at the soil level with a clean, sharp cut.
You will probably need to repot your Philodendron Bipinnatifidum about every two years, if not more often. You’ll know it’s time when the plant’s roots begin to peek out of the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. And it’s best to do this in the spring or summer when the plant is growing well and has time to get acclimated to a new suitably sized houseplant pot or container before it goes dormant in the wintertime. Don’t worry, repotting is easy.
Choose a new pot that is about two to four inches bigger than the old pot, but don’t go any bigger than that. Turn the plant on its side and gently work the plant loose and then slide it out of the old pot. Be careful not to damage the roots or break their stems. Set the plant in the new pot and backfill the pot with fresh soil. Water as usual and fertilize your plant at the appropriate time.
If your plant suffers from transplant shock, just keep taking excellent care of it, and it should bounce back in a few days.
How to Propagate Philodendron Bipinnatifidum
It’s surprisingly easy to propagate your Philodendron Bipinnatifidum from stem cuttings.
You need to take a cutting from the plant with a sharp, sterilized knife, scissors, or shears. Ideally, the cutting would include at least one node and a couple of leaves. A plant node is like a bit of elbow or point where new growth comes from in the form of roots, leaves, or even stems.
Put the cutting in a propagation station or vase of water so that the node is submerged but the leaves are not. Keep it in a warm, bright spot. In a few weeks, you’ll see some roots growing.
If it is winter, the plant may be dormant, so it may take longer for roots to grow. Once the roots are about three to four inches long, you can plant them in soil in an appropriately sized pot. Follow your regular watering schedule but be careful not to overwater your new plant.
If you like, you can propagate your cuttings in soil, as well. Dip the end of your cutting in rooting hormone and then set it into damp soil. It should begin to grow roots within a couple of weeks.
Common problems with Philodendron Bipinnatifidum
Philodendron Bipinnatifidum is susceptible to typical household tropical plant pests. The best thing you can do to keep your plant pest-free is to keep it as happy and healthy as possible. This is because sickness and stress on the plant make it more susceptible to pests.
My tip here is to spray your plant and its soil with a neem oil solution to prevent pests from taking hold in the first place.
I’m a huge advocate of Harris Neem Oil thanks to its all-natural ingredients, price point, and ease of use.
If you do however encounter pests, here below is a rundown of what to look out for.
If your plant has an aphid problem, you’ll see the leaves begin to wilt and turn yellow. If you look at the underside of the leaves and nodes, you’ll see them gathered together in bunches.
Isolate your plant from your other houseplants and give it a thorough but gentle washing with a hose or faucet. Washing away the aphids may be enough to control the aphid infestation, especially if you repeat the procedure regularly. If washing the plant isn’t enough to control the aphid problem, you’ll need to treat your plant with commercial insecticidal soap.
Mealybugs will look like small fluffy bugs on your plant. They like to feed on the sap of your plant, and a large infestation of them will eventually kill your plant. Dip a q-tip in rubbing alcohol and wipe away the mealybug. If you do this regularly, it should control the problem. If not, you can also treat your plant with insecticidal soap.
Scale are tiny bugs with a tough shell. They don’t respond well to treatments like insecticidal soap, which makes them hard to treat. Your best bet to treat scale is probably to dislodge them with a toothbrush and then kill them with alcohol.
Some problems with Horsehead Philodendrons have nothing to do with bugs at all but are the result of improper watering. For example,
Root rot happens when there isn’t enough air at the roots of your plant. Essentially, the plant suffocates due to too much water. In time, the roots will decay, and the plant will die. You can avoid this by providing your plant with well-draining, aerated soil.
Brown, crispy leaves
Leaves that are brown and crispy mean your plant is either not receiving enough water or it is receiving too much direct sun. Check the soil moisture – if it feels dry two inches down, then your plant probably needs a drink. If it gets too much direct sun, just move it away from the sunny window.
Yellow, wilting leaves
Although wilting leaves sometimes mean a plant isn’t getting enough water, it can also mean your plant is getting too much water. Check the moisture content of the soil and adjust your watering schedule.