Plant Profile: Split Leaf Philodendron, or Selloum

In all likelihood, this is the cold hardiest philodendron out there.  According to the Southern Living Garden Encyclopedia, philodendron bipinnatifidum can be grown in the coastal south with protection and are almost always winter hardy in zone 9a and higher!  Although its very common in northern and central Florida, its with good reason that even strip malls and hotels use this hardy aroid.  The many forms of philodendron bipinnatifidum range from southern Brazil into southern Paraguay and Uruguay, and that explains its tolerance to cold.  However, there are some forms from the warmer regions of its range that show much less cold hardiness, so one plant can be destroyed by a freeze while another form right next to it from Paraguay would be unharmed.

 Split leaf philodendron instantly adds the look of the rainforest to a garden, but site this monster carefully!  Don't plant it too close to your walls or in high traffic areas since it likes to sprawl out wherever it pleases in its never ending quest for light.  Instead, try planting split leaf philodendron at the base of trees where it can climb by wrapping its rope-like aerial roots around tree trunks and branches, much like its natural role as a hemiepiphyte (as seen in the photo to the right, click here for an awesome article!)
My favorite trees in south Florida are strangler figs and banyans for their wicked looking roots, twisting and enveloping anything in their path, and split leaf philodendron has a similar look but on a scale more agreeable to sidewalks and sewage lines.  I recommend placing this at corners along garden paths or near stopping points so that its trunk and roots can be closely admired. Because this is such a readily available and affordable plant, don't hesitate to buy several for use as an informal hedge or privacy barrier.  Split leaf philodendron's huge leaves are a great shelter for kids, treefrogs and lizards, as well as a tender plant that benefits from the extra protection afforded by its umbrella of a canopy.

Make sure you give split leaf philodendron plenty of water and fertilizer for huge glossy leaves up to 3 feet long!  Its pretty tough and can withstand neglect, but a little lovin goes a long way here.  They can be grown in shade and in sun, but its best to give it a humid and protected location for the best all around appearance and health.  As mentioned above, some forms of selloum are hardier than others, but if your plant has trouble with the cold you can always wrap the growing point overnight to help protect it.  Usually even if a trunk is wiped out by a freeze, the plant comes back from the ground with multiple suckers.  To the left is a picture of my juvenile plant in March alongside a freeze killed bird of paradise, serving as a perfect demonstration of its endurance in cold winters.

In summary, I urge anyone going for "that rainforest look" to forgo unnecessarily killing less hardy philodendrons by planting them outdoors, and stick with this tried and true ambassador for tropical gardening where its not so tropical.  (okay, maybe you can grow some less hardy philodendrons at its base... I wouldn't be able to resist either.)

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  1. Hmmm...Interesting post! I didn't know there were two types of selloums. Anyway, Philodendron selloum is on my personal top ten list for this part of Florida. It is truly one of our easiest plants to grow, and I always recommend it to new gardeners. Here where I live, they do indeed get damage, unless planted in shade, in severe winters, but only to leaves. The crown does not die. It looks hideously ugly, but new leaves return quickly. Also, where I live, 'Xanadu' is a bit hardier and is one of our best evergreen groundcover/small "shrubs" to use. I plan to use this more after seeing its performance in my garden this winter.

    My favorite Florida tree is the Banyan! :D They are seen occasionally in our area, though most landscapes cannot contain them. Believe it or not, I've seen one growing in a suburban neighborhood right next to the road, literally cracking the asphalt! Have you ever been to the former Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven? They have the most amazing Banyan I've ever seen, trained and controlled in the most amazing way! I've been mesmerized by it since I was a little girl.

  2. I have a couple of these! The "trunk" of it is so unusual with its patterns! A really luxurious looking plant, for sure!

  3. Correction: I wrote "two" types but clearly you mentioned "many" types in this post. I should proofread my comments....

  4. This one is definitely for big gardens ;-) Love the foliage - very attractive. But I couldn't have this plant in my small container garden.

  5. I have seven of these on my property. A few are already showing signs of life. Sadly, the oldest of them, which is probably twelve years old and survived numerous frosts and hurricanes, is not showing any signs of life so far. Normally they are pretty tough. This was a bad winter this year.

  6. Hello RFG,
    I have scads of these beauties and I dearly love them. The plants located more out in the open lost their leaves this winter but are already coming back nicely. The largest ones under the canopy of oaks did just fine and I still need to give their spring trimming.

    I forget to even think too much about the uniqueness of selloum having been around it all my life. But it is magnificent and I need to appreciate it more.
    Great post.

  7. Love your idea of this tropical garden. There is one thing though as you mentioned. You cannot control it as it will grow wildly and give that "jungle" look in the garden.
    And that look is very often avoided by most gardeners in my region.

  8. Floridagirl: I'll have to go to Cypress Gardens! There's a huge one in Punta Gorda by the days inn that is a local landmark and has made it through lots of hurricanes including charley.
    Julie: Those patterns are pretty neat aren't they?
    Stephanie: I love your container garden. Very eclectic!
    Deborah: Sorry that you lost one this year! The larger stem in my tiny clump died too but hopefully yours will come back from the roots.
    Meems: I'll have see some pictures of yours! I tried looking on your blog but it was taking a while to backtrack...
    James: I've been reading up on Thai and Balinese gardens lately and as it turns out, my favorite gardens in the area require at least 50 gardeners daily to keep the growth in check! Luckily I have a small garden and can keep things manicured as needed. The frost helps out a lot too! All of my gingers were clipped by the cold and will come back even thicker!

  9. hahaha...I am just green with envy at the size of these plants! mine is a's just too cold here most of the time to take it out and plant it in the ground...she moves from sunroom to the greenhouse...and that is it! I wish I could have an outdoor tropical garden!

  10. My husband ,and I just bought a house in Fla ,and the split leafs are very old around the house. As you were saying the roots are doing damage to the house ,and my husband wants to get rid of them. How can I save these massive plants? Can they be dug up ,and moved? At the mercy of roundup.

  11. Anonymous:
    Congratulations on the new house! While it might be possible to relocate the plants with a lot of effort, I would worry about damaging the house in the process. I would recommend cutting them down, waiting to see if they resprout or die and if they survive, try transplanting it then. The root system will be smaller and the plant might be easier to dig up and move since it won't have to support all of that top growth. Let me know if you have any questions and again, congrats!

  12. How do you get rid of them? The previous owners of our home went nuts with them, they are overgrown!

  13. I would imagine that repeatedly cutting them to the ground would do the trick, but if you put an ad on Craigslist for 'Free philodendrons - you dig' I bet you could get someone to haul them away for you.

    1. Last fall I found someone's discarded plant at the compost pile (sans pot), it was still alive so we took it home and cut it apart and I made about 7 plants out of the one. I love finding these treasures.

  14. rose fabre here-- my philly is growing and wrapping air roots around a magnolia grand deflora-- it roots are very tight around the trunk-- will this hurt my tree?
    I don't want to lose either plant-- let me know please at, rosefabre@, as I don't have much time for research, thanks

  15. can I cut the air roots off, there are so many from my plant that it looks like snakes on the ground

  16. Hi, I have a question -- I have a split-leaf philodendron that start out as a small potted plant (20 years ago?) that sat on a brick wall that spans a narrow section of a concrete bed fishpond (I think the concrete is framed underneath by brick). The original pot was probably a 3 gallon container, and the plant has morphed out of the container, now has 4 trunks, and it's about 10 feet high at the tallest leaf. My question -- do I need to be concerned about it heaving the walls of the pond? It was never planted in the ground, but the long aerial roots have made their way into the ground and some are 15 feet or more long. Do then tend to find the path of least resistance, rather than tearing things up? I'd love to leave it, but I'll cut it down if you think it will do damage. Repairing the pond could get expensive. It doesn't seem to have caused any damage so far, and I cut it back from time to time and cut out the mass of roots that grow into the pond - they don't grow through the walls, just through the broken bottom of the pot. I'd love to hear your thoughts! I can send you photos if it would be helpful, I really am in a quandary here. :)

  17. We have several HUGE ones at the front corners of our home in Florida. The "trunks" on each are a good 4-6" diameter.

    The winds of the past couple of days knocked one to the ground and the only way it will now stay rather upright is by propping it upright with a board. This one has 3 major trunks, two of which had already bent out and away from the house with many old aerial roots, so it creates a real monsterosa of a plant. Can't find any aerial roots that are currently growing, so no way to air layer or root. Can I just cut off the trunks and hope that it will re-sprout? (There is one small leaf showing at the base of the plant).


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