Plant of the Week
Arrowhead Philodendron, Nephthytis, 'Trileaf
Latin: Syngonium podophyllum
Nephthytis is one of the few plants that can withstand mistreatment and
This slow-growing tropical vine is native to tropical parts of Mexico and
Central America down to Panama. Like many members of the philodendron family, it
produces leaves that change as the plant gets older. In the juvenile stage, it
has a single united leaf blade that’s more or less arrowhead shaped and about 5
As the plant matures and begins to climb up something -- in nature it would be a
tree trunk -- the leaf develops two or move basal lobes that separate into
individual leaflets that look like wings. The middle of the leaves are usually
infused with shades of white or gray.
This species appears to have been cultivated as a houseplant since the end of
the 19th century. It’s been confused botanically with an African genus,
Nephthytis, which it resembles. Even though the American species were
reclassified in 1879 to their own genus, the original name stuck as a common
Nephthytis is slow enough growing that it may take you a year or two to realize
that it’s spreading out and has some stems. I usually prefer to grow the plant
as a table top specimen in a 6-inch pot instead of as a vining plant. When the
vines begin to get too long and the plant gets too shaggy, I prune off the stems
and use them to start new plants.
One unusual characteristic of this group of plants is they have milky sap, which
is a rarity in this family.
Starting new plants is easy if single-eye cuttings are used. You can get a
number of cuttings by cutting a stem into pieces so each piece has a leaf and
stem segment. If a stem runner has 10 leaves, you would end up with eight
single-eye cuttings and one terminal cutting that contains two leaves.
All of these leaf segments would be jammed into a single 6-inch pot and kept
watered until the plants rooted and began growing. Covering the pot with a
plastic bag will make it easier to maintain uniform moisture until the already
preformed roots grow out.
In about two months, the leaf bud at the base of the petiole will begin growing.
With so many cuttings in the pot, you’ll be rewarded with a full pot in no time.
Commercially, nephthytis is propagated by tissue culture. The small pots you see
at home centers look like Lilliputian vestiges of a mature plant because they’re
not too distantly removed from the tissue culture cauldron where they were
Caring for nephthytis is easy. The plant is insensitive to cold temperatures,
unlike many members of the philodendron family. It can tolerate temperatures
down to 35 degrees without any chilling injury. Inside the home over winter, it
will tolerate low light surprisingly well; but like most plants, it prefers to
be within sight of a window.
By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension News -
September 29, 2000
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