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Philodendron tripartitum Description and Care

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Philodendron tripartitum (synonym Philodendron holtonianum) is an adorable, rare climbing houseplant with erect, spreading tri-lobed dark green leaves. It is low maintenance and an aggressive grower that spreads fast if kept wet and given ideal conditions (light, temperature, and humidity).

This highly variable aroid will add a tropical vibe to your home, office, patio, or garden in tropical/semi-tropical areas.

Discover more on Philodendron tripartitum, including appearance (juvenile and mature) and care. We will also tell you places to buy Philodendron tripartitum, Etsy.com being our favorite, and how much it costs.

Philodendron tripartitum plant with mature tri-lobed leaves
Philodendron tripartitum plant with mature tri-lobed leaves: Check the latest prices.

About Philodendron tripartitum

Philodendron tripartitum (Jacq.) Schott is an accepted Philodendron species, first published in 1829. Its epithet, tripartitum, has a Latin origin and comes from the name tripartitus, which means tripartite or threefold, denoting the three-lobed leaves.

Alongside Philodendron sagittifolium Liebm., tripartitum is one of the most widespread and highly variable philodendron species. It shows variation in lobe shape, primary lateral veins, size, axils per inflorescence, and degree of confluence of lobes.

  • Scientific name: Philodendron tripartitum
  • Synonyms: Philodendron holtonianum, Philodendron fenzlii
  • Section. Tritomophyllum
  • Family: Araceae (aroids)
  • Native habitat: Widespread, from Mexico to Tropical America, Jamaica
  • Care level: Easy or low maintenance
  • Toxicity: Mildly to moderately poisonous or toxic to cats, dogs, and humans
  • Propagation: Mainly stem cutting and air layering, but you can use seeds which are rare to find on sale

1. Philodendron holtonianum growing habits, size, and growth rate

Philodendron tripartitum is an appressed climbing evergreen hemiepiphyte. It occurs in tropical moist, tropical wet, and premontane wet forests near sea level to elevations of up to 5000 feet (1500 meters).

How large does it get, and what is its growth rate? P. tripartitum is a vigorous or aggressive, relatively fast-growing aroid whose stems can be 13-16 feet (4-5 m) or more in the wild. However, at home, it will grow up to 6-8 feet, and you must provide it with a place to climb.  

2. How to identify Philodendron tripartitum

As noted, P. tripartitum is a highly variable Philodendron species. Therefore, the current specimen may vary slightly from what we will describe.  

Here is a detailed description of its appearance – stems, leaves, and flowers – to help you positively identify this plant.

a). Stems

Philodendron tripartitum has dark green to gray-green stems that get several feet long. These stems have moderately long glossy internodes that might have loose papery epidermis ad will produce a watery aromatic scented sap if you cut them.

Each node will produce about 3-6 aerial roots that are sparsely scaly and usually get no longer than 7.9 inches.

Lastly, cataphylls are usually unribbed, thin, and measure 7.9-13 inches (sometimes 3.9 inches). However, these deciduous intact cataphylls may be sharply ribbed and have a reddish tinge.

b). Philodendron holtonianum juvenile and mature leaves

Philodendron tripartitum has erect spreading leaves. Juvenile plants have oval to lance-shaped green leaves with maroon on the underside. As the plant grows, the leaves start having two small anterior lobes.

On the other hand, mature Philodendron tripartitum will have three-lobed, thinly leathery, usually green to dark, but sometimes gray-green leaves. The outline of these leaves is as broad as long, apex acuminate, and nearly equal sessile lobes. Its upper surface is semi-glossy, while the lower is sometimes heavily reddish or purplish-tinged.

The middle lobe is oblanceolate, sometimes nearly elliptic or rarely linear to oblong, slightly longer than lateral ones. It measures up to 5.9-17.7 inches long by 2.7-5.5 inches wide (with some measuring 1.6-7.5 inches wide) and has a ratio of length to width of 1.9 -7.8 averaging at 4.3

On the other hand, the lateral segments are visibly not equal, arcuate, spread towards the apex, and are a bit smaller in most instances than the median one. Their inner margin is always narrower than the outer, and they weakly merge with the middle lobe.

These leaves have a broadly convex midrib, no basal veins, and have 6-10 or sometimes 4-12 primary lateral veins that arise at 25° for narrow blades and 90° for wider blades. These veins weakly curve on thinner blades and conspicuously curve on broader ones.

Lastly, P. tripartitum usually has terete to subterete moderately spongy, glossy to gloss dark green petioles weakly. However, they are sometimes somewhat flattened and may have an obtuse rib in the middle.

c). Flowers and fruits

Philodendron tripartitum is unlikely to flower at home. In the wild, it will have solitary, at times 2-3 inflorescence per axil with a relatively stout, moderately recurved, medium green peduncle with a reddish ring, a spadix, and spathe.

The spathe (bract), weakly constricted above the tube, is glossy, medium-green to yellow-green on the outside. However, it can rarely be creamy white with dark purple dots densely concentrated on the tube and sparse on the blade.

On the inside, the spathe is usually creamy white on the blade and deep red, maroon or purplish on the tube.

On the other hand, the sessile or briefly stipitate spadix has the female part (in the tube), sterile male middle, and upper fertile male sections.

Lastly, this aroids infructescence has irregularly angular whitish berries with 6 to 8-long sticky seeds.

Is Philodendron holtonianum same as Philodendron tripartitum

Indeed, there are different opinions on whether Philodendron holtonianum Schott is the same as Philodendron tripartitum.  

Some people, including Mr. Steve Lucas, Exotic Rainforest, and the comments of Dr. Thomas Bernard Croat to Mr. Lucas, Enid Offolter, and others, including vendors, consider Philodendron holtonianum to be a different, undescribed Philodendron species.

However, you should know that the Royal Botanical Garden, Kew, Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), and many other plant databases consider it a synonym. We will also consider it as so unless proven otherwise. This species shows many variabilities, and the differences noted are possible.

Philodendron tripartitum vs anisotomum

Philodendron anisotomum Schott is uncommon Philodendron species that resembles tripartitum with tri-lobed leaves native to Mexico to Colombia.

However, you can easily tell the differences. For instance, the Philodendron tripartitum has narrower lobes, prominently sunken primary lateral veins, and forward-pointing lateral lobes. In contrast, the Philodendron anisotumum has smaller, outward-directed lateral lobes, and the primary lateral veins are weakly sunken.

Philodendron tripartitum vs. cotobrusense vs. madronoense

Philodendron cotobrusense Croat & Grayum, and Philodendron madronoense Croat are tri-lobed and resemble tripartitum. However, they have more primary lateral veins on their medial elliptical lobe, i.e., 18 or more and about 25, respectively, not the 4-12 in tripartitum.

Caring for Philodendron tripartitum

Philodendron tripartitum is an easy-to-care plant. It needs a warm, humid place with bright indirect light and a well-drained, airy potting mix rich in organic matter. When the top few inches feel dry, water it, and don’t forget it needs pruning, feeding, repotting, and a moss pole.

Here is a summary of the necessary care and growing conditions:

  • USDA hardiness zone: 10-11, not frost hardy.
  • Temperature: 55-80°F. Avoid cold drafts, places near heat sources, sudden temperature changes, and temperatures below 50°F.
  • Humidity: Loves humidity, ideal being 60% or more but can tolerate 40 or more. Use a humidifier, pebble tray, mist plants, etc., to raise humidity.
  • Light: Bright, indirect light but can tolerate medium. Avoid direct sunlight (burns leaves). If too little, consider buying grow lights, or your plant will be leggy with smaller pale new growth.
  • Soil: Use a well-drained, aerated, and humus-rich potting mix. Etsy.com has good aroid mixes, or you can make yours. Add perlite, coco coir, bark chips, and worm castings to your potting soil.
  • Watering: I thoroughly water when my XLUX soil moisture meter reads dry (3 or less). You can also feel the potting mix and water it when the potting mix feels dry up to the first knuckle of your finger.
  • Feeding: Moderate. Feed once a month with a balanced, liquid houseplant fertilizer like Miracle-Gro during growing months only.
  • Pruning: Regularly remove dead, damaged, or diseased parts, and during the growing season, you can cut back a few stems to control their size. Use sterilized gardening shears.
  • Repotting: Repot it after every 1 to two years or if root bound. Use a pot 2-3 inches wider than the current one.  
  • Moss pole: Since it is a climber, provide and train this plant on a moss pole, trellis, totem, or any other support.

Issues or problems

This plant has no diseases, pests, or issues specific to it. However, like other Philodendron species, it can have southern blight or leaf spot disease (bacterial and fungal) but are not common with proper sanitation and if you isolate new plants.

Also, pests like aphids, thrips, scale insects, spider mites, and mealybugs are possible. But they, too, are uncommon, and you can easily manage them with insecticidal soaps, neem oil, or horticultural spray oil.

Other issues are root rot (common if the potting mix does drain well or you overwater the plant).

Lastly, improper care or wrong growing conditions and sometimes root rot, pests, or diseases can result in leaf discoloration, i.e., yellowing, turning black, or browning (including edges and margin) or spots. Also, your plant may droop or have curled leaves.

Frequently asked questions

1. Is Philodendron tripartitum rare?

Yes. Despite being widespread in its natural habitat, P. tripartitum is a rare plant in the houseplant trade. None of the big box stores or large-scale horticulturalists have it, and you will not find it at most tropical plant specialty stores.

2. What is the price of Philodendron tripartitum

Philodendron tripartitum price ranges from $25 to $125, with the very large, established plants going for as much as $175. Unrooted cuttings may cost below $25.

3. Where do I buy Philodendron tripartitum

I recommend Etsy.com for vendors in the US, Canada, Asia, Australia, the UK, and the rest of Europe. It has many vendors and great prices. Also, try eBay.com, Instagram, and Facebook, or search for online vendors using search engines.