Philodendron rugosum, which is sometimes called the pigskin philodendron or sow’s ear, makes for quite the addition to any plant lover’s collection. These vining plants are rare and hard to come by but are highly prized for their textured leaves. Having one in your home will certainly make a statement – but not with much actual caretaking effort on your part. They’re easy to care for and fairly adaptable, so if you’re new to plant care and end up with a Philodendron rugosum there’s no need to be too intimidated by this sow’s ear plant.
What makes these plants so rare? They grow high up in the Andes mountains in Ecuador. Since its native area is difficult to reach (they’re said to grow at elevations of around 3000 to 5000 feet), they’re not easy to obtain in large numbers.
If you’re lucky enough to nab a Philodendron rugosum of your own, follow the tips in this guide to give it the best life possible. Philodendrons live long lives, and with the right care, you could have your original plant for 20 to 40 years! Once you get one of these rare beauties, hold onto it and do your best to keep it healthy.
|Common Name||Pigskin philodendron, sow’s ear plant|
|Botanical name||Philodendron rugosum|
|Light/Sun Requirements||Bright, indirect light or filtered light|
|Water||Frequent; prefers consistently moist soil|
|Soil||Well-draining, aroid, slightly acidic|
|Temperature||55°F to 90°F; cold intolerant|
|Humidity||At least 40%|
|Hardiness Zones||USDA zones 10-11|
The two most common colloquial names for Philodendron rugosum are both tied to pigs. The shape of its leaves earned the nickname “sow’s ear,” while their leathery texture gained the “pigskin” term. The leaves crinkle and wrinkle when they meet the plant’s thick stem, too, really driving home the illusion of a giant ear.
These plants sport dark green foliage all year and grow to massive heights. A fully grown Philodendron rugosum makes your home feel as if you’ve just stepped into a jungle. They can grow up to sixteen feet tall under the right outdoor conditions. If you’re keeping your sow’s ear plant indoors, though, expect heights of around six feet. Either way you spin it, these plants are large!
If you coax your Philodendron rugosum into flowering, it produces a spathe and spadix. The flowers aren’t large or showy. Instead, they line the spadix in tight clusters. The spadix is partly hidden sometimes, too, so don’t expect a big display when Philodendron rugosum flowers. Fortunately, its blooms are not the plant’s biggest appeal!
Philodendron rugosum doesn’t come with a long list of demands. Its needs are simply met and it’s an adaptable plant. Its rarity merits extra care for most people, but it isn’t difficult. Below, you’ll find all the most important things to know about caring for your sow’s ear plant. Use this guide to help it grow, thrive, and live for every bit of those 40 or so years!
This plant is adaptable. It can tolerate many different lighting conditions, including low light. Providing the best care isn’t about what the plant tolerates, though. For the best results and the happiest plant, give your Philodendron rugosum bright, indirect light. East-facing windows are particularly well-suited for this plant, but south-facing windows work just fine if you filter some of the light.
Avoid too much direct sun or too little light. Inadequate lighting can stunt this plant’s growth and result in less vibrant foliage. Since its leaves are its calling card, you’ll want to keep them as lively as possible. This plant is very fast-growing, too, so check your lighting situation if you think it’s lagging behind.
Philodendron rugosum prefers moist soil, so expect to water it fairly consistently. As with most plants, overwatering can result in root rot, so don’t leave your plant sitting in too much water. Check that the top couple of inches of soil is dry before watering.
The sow’s ear plant benefits more from other methods of watering, though. You can soak your plant instead, especially if it’s still in a nursery pot. Place it into a shallow container of water for up to an hour to give the roots a chance to drink up what they need. Remove your plant from the filled container, drain out any of the excess water, and place your Philodendron rugosum back into its spot in your home.
Watering from the bottom up keeps the soil perfectly moist, reduces the chances of waterlogging your plant, and cuts down on the odds of root rot and fungal infections.
Pigskin philodendrons aren’t terribly picky with their soil requirements. They prefer aroid mixtures that drain well. If you’re making your own, orchid bark, perlite, and peat moss are all great additions. Philodendron rugosum likes slightly acidic soil, too, so the peat moss helps keep things balanced favorably.
Organic, natural fertilizers or houseplant fertilizer mixes work just fine for Philodendron rugosum. Dose your plant one per month with a diluted liquid fertilizer. If you notice any signs of yellowing leaves or burning, you’re overfertilizing the plant and can cut back on the frequency.
They only need fertilizing during the growing season. For Philodendron rugosum, that runs through spring and summer.
Sow’s ear plants are incredibly adaptable when it comes to temperatures. They can live comfortably in a broad range, so anything from 55°F to 90°F is acceptable. That covers virtually all indoor settings and plenty of time outside, too. Philodendron rugosum isn’t cold hardy, though, so bring it inside once temperatures drop below that minimum 55°F and keep it away from any cold, drafty windows or doors.
Like its temperature and soil requirements, the sow’s ear plant can get by with varying levels of humidity. Higher humidity results in more lush, vibrant foliage, though, so keep it on the higher side if you want a beautiful plant.
It needs a minimum of 40% humidity, but placing it near a humidifier or misting it occasionally promotes better growth. Partner it with other plants requiring similar conditions and it will be easier to maintain humidity levels.
Pruning needs are very minimal for this plant. You’ll only need to keep an eye out for dead leaves and remove them when you see them. Otherwise, if your plant is getting too tall, you can cut away part of the stem and use it for propagation. Take great care not to remove too much, however. Taking more than two-thirds of the plant can send it into shock.
While the Philodendron rugosum is rare and difficult to find, there’s good news for the lucky owners of this plant. It’s easy to propagate and there are several different ways to do it! Once you have your hands on a healthy plant, time and patience may yield many others. Propagation with stem cuttings is the easiest method, but you can also use division or even air layering.
To propagate by stem cuttings, cut a four to six-inch piece of stem with at least two nodes at the bottom and two remaining leaves at the top. Leave your cut stem out for a couple of weeks until a callus forms over the end. At that point, you can plant it in your soil mixture with the nodes buried below the surface. Place it in bright, indirect light and keep the soil moist – just like the mature plant prefers.
In a few weeks, the root system starts establishing itself and you’ll begin seeing new growth. Just like that, you’ve successfully propagated an endangered plant!
As mentioned earlier, these plants are very fast growers when they’re properly cared for. They don’t like being root bound and they take up quite a lot of space, so go ahead and strap in to repot once a year. You’ll know it’s time to repot if you see roots crawling out of drainage holes or working their way out in other visible ways.
Go up one container size and make sure there’s adequate drainage in your plant’s new home. Repotting is a great opportunity to propagate the plant by division, too, as you’ll be able to separate sections and give them their own pots instead.
This plant is toxic. It might not cause skin irritation, but it’s best to wear gloves and keep your skin covered if you’re planning to handle it.
These plants aren’t overly susceptible to pests, but they can happen unexpectedly. Look out for mealybugs and spider mites – although proper humidity will usually keep the mites away.
This plant’s leaves are tough and sturdy, so most infestations can be handled by a thorough wipe-down. Gently clean or spray off the leaves and stems to get rid of any visible presence of insects. Follow that with a horticultural soap to keep them away.
If you get the chance to bring this rare, endangered plant into your home – do it! It’s easily cared for and doesn’t require a lot of knowledge or special effort. It’s happy under a variety of different conditions, it’s pest-resistant, and it will make a huge impact in any room. You’ll likely have to contact a specialty nursery or grower to get your hands on this plant, but that effort will yield decades of enjoyment.