Tony O’Neill, gardener and author of the popular “Composting Masterclass” and “Your First Vegetable Garden,” combines lifelong passion and expert knowledge to simplify the art of gardening. His mission? Helping you cultivate a thriving garden. More on Tony O’Neill
Philodendron gigas, endemic to Panama, is one of the most sought-after collectors’ plants and requires high temperature- and humidity levels to thrive.
The Philodendron gigas, only identified in 1997, is a giant aroid epiphyte endemic to Panama’s mountainous El Llano region. The location offers year-round temperatures of between 77 and 90 °F (25 – 32 °C), and relative humidity levels average 93%. Only 18 plants have been sighted.
In Panama, Philodendron Gigas grow to heights of 49 to 65 feet (15 to 20 m) with leaves 38 to 54 inches (98 to137 cm) long. As the name implies, this is a gigantic plant, not to be confused with the Philippines’ giant taro (Colocasia gigantea), which also has enormous leaves.
Could you tame it and bring the tropics to your living or office area?
An organism is endemic if it is only found in a particular location that provides a unique ecosystem. Indigenous organisms are specific to a broader region with differing ecosystems.
Growing Your Own Exotic Philodendron Gigas
You’ve come to the right site if you want to learn more about this fascinating plant or how to grow and care for it. Here you will learn more about its evolutionary needs and how to replicate the same conditions in your home or office.
The article is an in-depth review of the needs of gigas and includes some special learning not generally available. We’ll also explore how to propagate them and morph them from juveniles to reaching their full potential.
We’ll also review the speed of the plant’s growth, the need for support, the benefits of occasionally pruning the apical dominance, and specific fertilization needs.
Below is a table with the basic Philodendron gigas care routines, but we’ll explore these in more detail in the rest of the article.
|Scientific Name||Philodendron gigas|
|Origin||Endemic to Panama|
|Light||Bright indirect sunlight|
|Watering||Water if the top third of the pot is dry|
|Temperature||77 to 90 F (25 to 32 C)|
|Hardiness Zone||9b to 11|
|Humidity||70% and above|
|Soil Type||Organically rich, quick-draining, fertile soil.|
|Soil pH||5.6 to 7.5 (acidic to neutral)|
|Fertilizing||Constant low-solution 8:1:1 fish emulsion.|
|Repotting||As indicated by roots emerging out of the drainage holes.|
|Pruning||Pruning apical dominance will boost growth and is an effective propagation technique.|
|Propagation||Remember that it could take three months to root in water or inert materials.|
|Toxicity||Toxic to humans and pets|
|Potential Pests||Thrips are a potential risk.|
|Mature Size||8 to 10 feet as a houseplant|
|Bloom Time||Rarely flowers indoors|
Give it a chance if you’ve bought a Philodendron gigas and are not particularly impressed. Once your Philodendron Gigas is established and maturing, your investment will make sense. It’s a slow starter but you will pick up the pace if you follow some of my advice.
Overview of the Philodendron Gigas Plant
The Philodendron Gigas is from the Araceae (Aroid/Arum) family but with huge, thick, and velvety leaves that are super bright and vibrant and have light green veins. The rear of the leaf has a bronze tinge.
A word of warning:
You may be thinking about how your room would look with a plant that grows ten feet tall and has 4-foot leaves. Fear not, o feeble one. It takes the Philodendron gigas a long time to mature, so don’t expect it to manifest its enormity in the first decade.
Heteroblastic Leaf Morphology
An interesting feature of several aroids is known scientifically as heteroblastic leaf morphology and refers to the changes in the form and function of plant parts as they grow. Young gigas plant leaves have a completely different appearance to mature plants.
Young gigas plants emerge with velvety burnished copper-colored leaves and even propagated mature leaves initially revert to a darker color. The darker color optimizes total light spectrum absorbance and boosts growth.
Young Philodendron gigas plants grow towards the darkest space on the horizon as evolution has taught them that the dark shape represents a tree. They know that climbing the tree to greater heights (and better light) gives them a greater chance of survival and reproducing.
Because Philodendron gigas grow in the shade of jungle canopies, they need to maximize access to light, hence the enormous leaves. But when they are small pot plants, their sustainability depends on better using the available light and optimizing heat availability.
Cold air is heavier (more compact) than warmer air and drops to the lowest point in an environment. Small emerging Philodendron gigas need heat, so their darker leaf undersides help them absorb heat better, and the lighter upper side prevents them from overheating during the day.
The fur (velvet) helps their moisture and heat management mechanisms.
As the leaves mature, the texture and color of the leaf change, and it loses its coppery color and starts developing ruffles, almost like farm terraces across the leaf.
Brighter Light for Young Plants, Medium Light for mature Plants
You can boost your young Philodendron gigas growth by exposing more immature plants to brighter light but guarding against sun damage. Also, keeping the temperature in the region of 77 °C (25 °C) and humidity above 60% will have your Philodendron gigas flourishing.
Caring for Philodendron Gigas?
When it comes to gardening, you always get more than you give. The Giga in Philodendron gigas is from similar Latin and Greek words that mean giant. To get the giant to flourish, you must provide it with what it needs. Consider it a challenge.
Plants are only as good as the soil they grow, so putting them in suitable potting soil is critical. For the Philodendron Gigas, choose soil that drains well and is nutrient-rich.
As you know, I suggest you make your potting mixes in bulk and adjust them to each plant’s needs.
The Essential Elements of a Good Potting Soil
Below is an overview of the six key concepts of good soil, whether for aroids or any other containerized plant. The interplay of these soil factors may vary according to environmental factors. Read on to determine how to ensure the right combinations for specific conditions.
- Soil Moisture Management
- Soil Air Management
- Nutrient Retention and Availability
- Cultivating a Soil Biome
- Plant pH Requirements
- Plant Anchorage
Balancing Moisture Retention and Aeration
A carefully graded soil allows the water to drain to the bottom of the pot, where it builds up a little before escaping from the drainage holes.
The difference (in weight) between added and drained water amounts to the water retained in the soil and is known as field capacity. You want soil that drains but keeps 20% of it available to the plant over time.
The difference between the water volume weight and the amount of water that can be added is the soil’s saturation porosity, and you want to keep it above 6% minimally. This is the air content remaining in the ground after being saturated and drained.
Adding inert materials is often the best way to boost water drainage, and adding organic materials increase water retention. Below is a table with different inert materials’ saturation porosity and field capacity.
|Material||Saturated Porosity (SP) – Air||Field Capacity (FC) – Water|
|Calcine Clay (Turface or Haydite)||28%||40 – 60%|
Suppose you’ve had the opportunity to read my Composting Masterclass book. You’d understand why I’m so passionate about using compost, even in potting soil. A good potting mix for your Splendid Philodendron should include the following ingredients in the given proportions:
- One part compost (25%)
- Two parts coconut coir (50%)
- Half a part of pumice (or perlite) (12.5%)
- Half an amount of expanded shale, or LECA (lightweight expanded clay aggregate) (12.5%)
The Philodendron Gigas flourishes when it receives sufficient water and nutrients. Water the plant once every 4-7 days, depending on how dry the climate is, checking the top third of the pot for humidity levels before rewatering.
That top third of the potting soil should be almost, but not totally, dry before you water again. Water thoroughly, allowing the water to drain before stopping; then leave it to drain further for another five minutes.
Don’t let the plant stand in a water tray after watering. Thorough flooding and leaving the soil to manage the water (field capacity and saturation porosity) over a period is the best approach for all indoor plants. Overwatering kills plants.
Gardeners should focus on getting the top third of a pot dry for indoor plants to flourish rather than following a watering schedule. Rather be informed of the soil’s actual wetness before watering to prevent your indoor plants from developing root rot, the most common cause of their demise.
Avoid watering with tap water, as chlorine and fluorides can cause leaf tip burn. Reduce watering (and fertilizing) during winter when the plant is in partial dormancy. Giving it a break it serves will
We generally quantify light in foot-candle (imperial) or lux (metric), but growers may use terms such as low, medium, and high. Other growing guides may use words such as full sun, partial shade, partial sun, or shade.
The Philodendron Gigas enjoys light but not direct sunlight. Direct sunlight can easily cause the leaves to burn, finally destroying the plant.
Exposing the plant to bright indirect sunlight is recommended for it to thrive, and it will burn if exposed to too much sunlight. On the other hand, don’t expect growth if it doesn’t have the light energy to create the required food.
Panama, the Philodendron gigas’ natural habitat, has between 11.5 and 12 hours of daily sunlight throughout the year. If the plant is in a room that does not receive indirect sunlight, a growing lamp on a 12-hour cycle may be needed.
Humidity and Temperature
Philodendron gigas prefer an ambient temperature of around 75 °F (~24 °C). Never allow the temperature around the plant to go below 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15 °C) for an extended period.
Cold weather causes slowed growth, which can have long-term consequences if not addressed. Temperatures of 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 °C) or lower may cause immediate harm, so don’t leave the plant in front of an open window or outdoors in any USDA Zone below 9.
Excessive heat can also be harmful, though not as much as cold. If the temperature rises above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, keep the plant well-watered and move it to a cooler location if it begins to wilt.
Philodendron gigas prefer a relative humidity as high as possible but never lower than 50%.
Humidity is also crucial in keeping the leaves of this plant appearing lush. While humans get uncomfortable when the relative humidity rises above 60%, Philodendron gigas enjoy an RH above 90% in their natural habitat.
Throughout the year, aim for a humidity level above 60%. If your humidity level is significantly lower than that, as often happens in winter in rooms fitted with AC, you should consider boosting it using the following methods:
- Using a dedicated alternative room with higher humidity. It’s essential not to change your plant’s environment continuously. Plan your Philodendron gigas’ arrival, ensuring you can constantly (essential) provide it with higher temperature and humidity levels.
- A tray filled with expanded shale or LECA will absorb water that will evaporate over time to boost the environment’s humidity. This approach is ineffective in rooms with dry air.
- Invest in a humidifier if you have enough aroids in a dedicated space – it’s worth it. A humidifier is the most dependable method of increasing humidity but can be expensive.
The Philodendron Gigas requires varying fertilizers depending on location and seasons. The plant requires a lot of fertilizer during the spring and summer growing months and nothing in winter when the plant is in dormancy.
What works particularly well for the Philodendron gigas is a fish emulsion that offers protein content and nitrogen for foliage boost. The fish emulsion also boosts the development of healthier soil biota to boost the plant’s resilience to diseases and pests.
Mix the diluted nutrient in your water free of contaminants (fluoride, chloride, and other salts) and apply it every time you water. Trickle-feeding your high-demand plants, like the Philodendron gigas, is far better than giving them an occasional feast.
Potting soil can rarely manage nutrients enough for big applications to last over a month or two.
Some of my fellow gardeners complain about how slow the Philodendron gigas develop, and others say it’s Jack’s overnight beanstalk. The difference between these two groups lies in their feeding, watering, lights, humidity, temperature, staking, and, you guessed it, pruning.
If you prune to the top off annually in early spring before the Philodendron gigas’ growth spurt, you will witness considerable growth. Use this apex cutting to propagate fresh little Philodendron gigas. Four things will happen when you remove the apex.
- Lateral bud formation
- The imposed apical dominance inhibition forces new growth
- Initiation of lateral bud outgrowth following decapitation
- Elongation and development of the lateral bud into a branch
Should I Help My Cataphyll Emerge?
You must ask yourself, “Will I help a butterfly emerge from its pupa?” The butterfly’s strength depends on the fights it must fight to release itself from the pupa – helping it makes it unable to survive nature’s harsh realities.
Helping the leaf emerge out of the cataphyll is robbing it of its required resilience. In the process, you are almost sure to break or damage the leaf. Let it be, even if it seems to be taking months.
Because the Philodendron gigas has velvety leaves, it allows dust particles to settle. If left alone, the plant will continue collecting dust and dirt, which is unattractive and obstruct photosynthesis by blocking the plant.
To avoid this, give the plant a good clean down with a damp, soft cloth. Be exceedingly gentle so that you don’t harm the plant.
This plant propagates well from stem cuttings. Stem cuttings root easily in water or inert growing mediums, mile perlite or coconut coir. Follow these simple methods to propagate stem cuttings:
Steps in Propagation
- Clean your shears or a sharp knife to prevent plant infections from surface bacteria and fungi.
- Cut the apex off, including at least three leaves and a growth node. Cut at a 45° angle to maximize the exposed plant surface area.
- Remove the lowest leaf (closest to the cutting).
- Take care not to damage the node.
- Dip the cutting into allocated growth hormones and shake any excess off. Don’t dip it into the jar; you risk contaminating the batch.
- Emerge the cutting into water or damp perlite and start the wait.
- Ensure the cut tip has continuous access to water and the leaves get adequate light.
- Roots will form faster if the water or perlite is kept slightly warmer at 77 °F (25 °C) than the ambient temperature.
- Wait until root development is visible and about one inch long. Expect it to take as long as three months, so be patient.
- Plant the clipping in the soil advised above in a 12-inch pot.
Young plants should be repotted when there’s evidence of roots growing out of the drainage holes.
Philodendron gigas grow fast once they’re past the slow juvenile stage and have been provided with the best growing conditions. You’ll probably need to repot for young plants every two or three years, depending on the size of the existing container.
To repot, begin by selecting a pot that is two sizes larger. This will give the plant enough room to grow, but not so much that the surrounding soil remains empty and absorbs too much moisture.
The pot size should also balance the plant’s growth and attractiveness. If your plant is large and the pot is small, use a heavier material, such as ceramic, to prevent the pot from tipping over.
Avoid transplant shock by thoroughly watering after repotting and returning the plant to its original location.
Are Philodendron Plants Toxic?
All philodendrons are poisonous due to their varying amounts of raphides or needle-shaped calcium oxalate crystals. These crystals act as a defense mechanism in nature against herbivores. Crystals of calcium oxalate irritate delicate interior tissue as well as the skin.
Accidental intake causes severe throat and mouth burning, necessitating rapid medical intervention.
The Philodendron gigas are a rare variety and require some skill to grow. Most notably, patience during its juvenile stage, adequate water, heat, humidity, and some TLC. The advice above will help.