This relatively new hybrid houseplant is a must-have for philodendron-lovers. Philodendron McDowell features massive ruffled dark green heart-shaped leaves with brilliant white veins – it’s a showstopper! McDowell is a rare philodendron worth seeking out if you are a fan of epic, striking foliage and no-fuss maintenance.
Origin and History of Philodendron McDowell
Philodendron McDowell is a cross between Philodendron gloriosum and Philodendron pastazanum. It was created by John Banza in 1988 and was named for a friend of his, Dean McDowell.
McDowell takes the huge heart-shaped leaf trait from both its parents, the vivid vein colors from P.gloriosum, and the slightly ruffled leaves from P. pastazanum. It’s unknown if this was an intentional cross or whether it just happened, but either way, we are super happy it did.
The parent species are endemic to South America, specifically Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Both philodendron species are creeping varieties that grow along the forest floor in these tropical regions. In this way, they are different from most other well-known philodendrons, which climb or trail up trees.
Mature Philodendron McDowell leaves look slightly quilted or pleated. Some also describe it as ruffled or puckered; either way, you can be sure the leaves won’t be flat or smooth, regardless of the words chosen to describe it. The tops of the leaves are slightly velvet to the touch, adding to the incredible appeal of this hybrid.
Philodendron McDowell Care Guide
In this section we’ll cover the details of Philodendron McDowell care such as watering, lighting, temperature, humidity, repotting, and more.
Since it is a ground-dwelling philodendron, the McDowell doesn’t grow as tall as other species. On average, Philodendron McDowell will grow 2-3 feet high. However, it compensates for the short growth with a massive spread, growing up to 6.5 feet wide. The heart-shaped leaves grow up to 26 inches long, and when a bunch are grouped together, it’s a spectacular sight.
If allowed to grow true to its nature, the stem-roots will extend out horizontally, not vertically – crawling or creeping instead of climbing. Putting the McDowell is a wide planter in an elevated location, like a platform, lets it grow naturally outwards. Alternatively, you can stake the stems on a moss pole or trellis and train them to grow up in an upright habit.
The leaf stems grow out from a central rhizome root at the soil surface. Each central root will produce dozens of leaves, which extend along its length. The McDowell is a slow grower, and it will take years for the rhizome root to reach its full extended size. In the in-between time, this philodendron will look a lot like an upright, vertical houseplant and may fool folks into thinking it will grow up and not out.
The leaf stems will reach and grow towards the light. If the light isn’t readily accessible, the stems will get awkward-looking and leggy as they struggle to thrive. For a rounded, more even growth, make sure there is enough indirect light and rotate the plant regularly to keep it from getting lopsided.
Before it reaches full maturity, McDowell looks like a cluster of long, narrow stems clustered together, each with a massive 2-foot long leaf at the end. The leaves start out curled, then slowly unfurl to reveal their beautiful veining, coloring, and size. It can take a month or more for a leaf to fully unfurl from when it sprouts!
One of the draws to this philodendron, as opposed to others, is that it stays at a manageable height. Once it reaches its mature growth, it’ll stop growing longer and focus on growing wider.
The best lighting is bright, indirect sunlight. It prefers a bit of shade or protection from the hot afternoon sun. Direct light will burn the leaves. Don’t put it in full shade, though, as that will inhibit growth and diminish the brilliant foliage coloring.
An east or west-facing window is preferred, where it can receive a good amount of light without being overwhelmed. It’s best to keep the plant a foot away from any window to prevent direct sunlight from scorching the leaves.
Consistently moist but not soggy soil is what this philodendron likes. It does not like drying out completely, so be sure to keep a regular eye on the soil moisture levels. The best way to ensure the soil is at optimal levels is to always check before watering.
Stick your finger into the soil – the top two inches should be mostly dry before watering again. If the soil is still very moist, let it wait a couple more days before watering. But, if the soil is dry, water right away.
When you water, add enough, so the extra drains out the holes in the bottom of the pot. If any ends up in the saucer beneath the pot, empty it, so the plant doesn’t sit in a pool of water.
Temperature and Humidity
The best temperature range for the McDowell is between 55-80F. It is not cold-tolerant and does not do well with rapid temperature fluctuations. Keep this houseplant away from air conditioners, heat registers, wood stoves, radiators, and door and window drafts.
Philodendrons like medium to high levels of humidity, being tropical plants. The ideal range is between 65-80%. Maintaining appropriate humidity levels can be difficult indoors, and you may need to supplement to increase the moisture in your home. If you have many tropical houseplants, a humidifier is a good investment.
Another option for increasing indoor humidity levels is to set up a DIY humidity pebble tray. Fill a tray with pebbles and place the plant on top of the rocks. Then, fill the tray with water. As the water evaporates, moisture is added to the room, and humidity levels increase. Group a bunch of plants on one tray, if you like, to get the most benefit out of the setup.
Soil and Potting
Choose a well-balanced high-quality indoor houseplant potting mix. It needs to be well-draining and retain moisture without getting sodden. Adding a couple of handfuls of perlite and coco coir to the potting soil is always recommended, as this increases the draining and moisture retention of the mix.
Always plant philodendrons in containers with drainage holes. This allows the soil to drain thoroughly, which will prevent root root. A pot without drainage holes retains too much water and causes many problems.
The best planter for McDowell is long and rectangular, especially as it matures and creeps along. Round pots are okay initially when the root system is still small, but they won’t be adequate later on. The roots need space to move sideways and continually re-root into the soil. Hanging baskets aren’t suitable for this philodendron.
A monthly application of a diluted houseplant fertilizer is all the McDowell needs. Only apply fertilizer during the active growing season, from spring through fall. Don’t fertilize in the winter when the plant is resting and restoring its energies. Philodendrons aren’t heavy fertilizer feeders, so it will be fine if you forget a month.
Pruning isn’t necessary except to remove dead or dying leaves. Always prune leaves at the stem base and then water the plant thoroughly to reduce any residual stress. You may also want to prune to maintain size or remove leggy growth, but this will be yearly at most.
Repot your Philodendron McDowell yearly to replenish the potting soil and give the plant more room to grow. Only repot to a container one size larger; moving it to a much larger planter all at once can lead to overwatering issues.
Even after it has reached its mature height, it’s essential to repot every couple of years to refresh the nutrients in the potting soil. Your plant will stay healthier and live longer if you continue regular maintenance routines.
All philodendrons are toxic to people and animals. Keep children and pets away from this houseplant.
Philodendron McDowell Propagation
The best propagation method for the McDowell is through the roots, or rhizomes. It’s not difficult to do but does take a little time and precision since you need to remove the plant from the pot. Don’t rush it, and you’ll be fine.
Since the plant needs to be unpotted, the best propagation time is in the spring when you’re planning on repotting already – two for one, repotting and propagation. Only take cuttings from parent plants with at least three leaves and a healthy stem.
- Clean and sterilize a pair of sharp scissors.
- Carefully remove the plant from the pot and gently shake the soil away from the roots.
- Look to where new growth is sprouting from the main root stem.
- Choose a piece of the primary root stem (rhizome) where the new growth is, and there is at least one node. A node is the joint where the leaf stem connects with the central stem.
- The piece should have at least one leaf, but it’s fine if it has more.
- Place the cutting in a deep jar of water. The node must be all the way in the water.
- Put the jar in a location with bright, indirect light.
- Once a week, change out the water and top of the water, as needed.
- In 4-5 weeks, roots will form at the node.
- When the roots reach 2-3 inches long, they are big enough to be potted in soil.
Pests & Disease
Here are a few common pests and issues that you might run across when keeping Philodendron McDowell:
Thrips, Spider Mites, Mealybugs, and Aphids
These tiny little houseplant pests either suck the juice out of leaves and stems or eat the leaves. They are small and hard to see, but their damage is always noticeable, especially when there’s a large infestation. If you notice little brown spots, yellowing leaves, or a generally not thriving plant, you likely have a pest invasion.
The simplest treatment for all these pests is a neem oil application, repeated every 5-7 days until the bugs are gone. In a quart spray bottle, combine 1 teaspoon of dish soap with 2 teaspoons neem oil. Add enough water to fill it up and shake well. Spray the leaves, on top and underneath, and the soil, so you don’t miss any egg clusters or larvae. A commercial insecticidal soap also will do the trick in getting rid of these pests.
Here are a few of the most commonly asked questions about keeping Philodendron McDowell:
Why are the leaves of my Philodendron McDowell wilting?
Wilting is usually caused by insufficient water. This houseplant does not like dry soil or times of drought. If you see wilting or drooping leaves, water the plant thoroughly.
What causes yellowing leaves on my Philodendron McDowell?
Overwatering is usually the leading cause of yellow leaves. Eventually, the leaf will die and fall off. Overwatering also leads to root rot and plant death, so pay attention. Yellowing leaves is the first sign of a problem. Remember to always check the soil before watering; the top 2 inches should be mostly dry before adding water.
Is Philodendron McDowell rare?
Yes! Not only is Philodendron McDowell challenging to find, but it will also cost a pretty penny to buy. Expect to pay at least $100 but probably a lot more. Those giant pleated leaves with the contrasting veining, though – it may be worth it.
What are these odd things growing near the stems of my Philodendron McDowell?
These little growths that appear where new leaves are emerging are the rhizomes. They are vital to new development, producing roots under the soil surface and new leaves above the surface. This is the normal growth pattern of creeping Philodendrons.
Leave the rhizomes where they are above the soil – don’t bury them! They need to be partially exposed to grow properly. It may get mushy and rot if it gets buried, preventing or stunting new growth.
What causes dull leaves?
McDowell leaves should be slightly shiny and velvety to the touch. If they’re looking dull or lackluster, the plant is dehydrated. Reassess the watering routine, including checking the soil to ensure it is retaining moisture properly.
You’re a super lucky plant parent if you have a McDowell in your home. This philodendron is one of the most beautiful specimens, with its ruffled and contrasting velvety green foliage and snow-white veining – we can’t get enough of it. Take good care of the Philodendron McDowell, and it will bless you with gorgeous, giant leaves for decades.