Shingle plants, or Rhaphidophora hayi, have grown in popularity in recent years. These quirky climbing plants have an unusual way of growing that makes them fantastic to train around structures. If you have your eye on a beautiful trellis and have been searching for the perfect climber to match, keep reading to learn about the lovely shingle plant.
These unusual plants are native to the lowland rainforests of Papua New Guinea in an area known as the Bismarck Archipelago. They’ve spread to other tropical climates in Australia and Southeast Asia now, but their original home was on that single group of islands.
|Common Name||Shingle Plant|
|Botanical Name||Rhaphidophora hayi|
|Native Areas||Papua New Guinea (Bismarck Archipelago)|
|Sun/Light Requirements||Bright, indirect light|
|Water||Frequent, keep soil moist (not soggy)|
|Soil||Aroid, well-draining, slightly acidic|
|Temperature||60ºF and 80ºF,|
|Hardiness Zones||USDA zones 10 to 12|
The shingle plant has vibrant, lush green leaves that grow up to 3 inches long. There is pale white or green-ish veining branching out from the center of each oval-shaped leaf, and they’re all connected by a thick stem.
However, as gorgeous as the shingle plant’s leaves are, they’re not truly the star of the show. How they grow is what draws people in. The leaves grow closely together and press themselves flat against whatever surface they’re on. They overlap, one after another, giving the impression of shingles on a roof (hence the nickname).
Many other climbing and vining species wrap wildly around structures, sending growths out at odd or unpredictable angles. The uniformity of the shingle plant makes it striking in comparison. It provides a dense, pleasing sort of cover that can’t be replicated by less-tamed climbers.
How does the plant achieve this flat, uniform look? It sends out aerial roots that cling to nearby surfaces. Those roots anchor the plant down and allow the leaves to press themselves flat.
If you’re patient and invested enough, shingle plants can grow up to eight feet long with proper care! You might not see quite that much growth while it’s being kept indoors, but even as house plants, they have an average length of around five feet long.
This plant’s native area is quite small and specific, but it’s adaptable enough to show spread in other continents and countries. It does have certain ideal conditions, of course. Once you have the right environment and understand its needs, the shingle plant isn’t particularly difficult to care for, though. It just takes a bit of patience and endurance from the plant owner to get things started the right way.
Many species within the Rhaphidophora genus live to around three years, but with proper care and guidance, you could have your shingle plant for even longer!
Rhaphidophora hayi begins its life on the ground. As young plants, they climb and crawl until they reach a tree or some other surface. Only then do they begin their ascent upward. Since they don’t grow long enough to reach the tops of those trees, that means they spend their entire lives beneath a dense rainforest canopy. They receive filtered, indirect light as a result.
That’s precisely what they need as houseplants, too. Give your shingle plant plenty of bright, indirect light to prompt new growth. It won’t kick them into overdrive (remember, they’re slow growers even under optimal conditions), but they’ll stay healthy and vibrant.
They don’t do well with direct light, as it can bleach or burn the leaves, so keep them near north or east-facing windows if you’re growing them inside. On the other hand, they are tolerant of low-light conditions. Tolerant is, of course, the key term. They will live, but they won’t thrive.
They do quite well under grow lights. If you want a bit more control over how much light your plant receives, they’re fine with an artificial source.
Shingle plants are used to water. It rains frequently in the lowland rainforests they hail from, and even the dry seasons aren’t particularly dry at all. In the wild, these plants get rain every three days (on average). They’re not built to be drought-tolerant and you shouldn’t allow their soil to dry out.
Instead, keep their soil moist. Check frequently and water once the top inch or two of soil has dried out. Water it thoroughly, but take care to drain away any excess water. Shingle plants love a moist environment, but not a wet one. If your soil is waterlogged and soggy, it chokes the plant’s roots.
Although they grow up trees and over other surfaces as they mature, shingle plants begin in the soil. They’re only truly epiphytic as they mature and leave the ground behind in favor of living on trees instead. Their roots are adept at gathering everything they need to survive, and it’s your job as a plant parent to ensure they’re not choked by overly dense soil.
Reach for a light, airy mix for your shingle plant. They need soil that drains excellently but still holds the moisture they require. Mix or grab an aroid mix. Orchid bark, perlite, coco coir, worm castings, and perlite are all fantastic options when creating your own soil mixture. These plants prefer their soil to be slightly acidic, too.
Shingle plants aren’t particularly tolerant of low temperatures. They’ll be at their happiest in warm, humid environments, but most household temperatures will suffice. As long as you keep things between 60ºF and 80ºF, this vining plant will continue to grow.
It’s much more lively on the upper end of that scale, however, and shouldn’t be exposed to temperatures below 60ºF for long. If you live in an area with cool or cold weather, keep your shingle plant indoors and away from drafty windows.
Rhaphidophora hayi has fairly easy environmental conditions to meet, overall, but it needs a bit of extra effort when it comes to humidity. Its native environment is incredibly humid (80% to 90% humidity) and you won’t find those conditions in your home. Shingle plants require at least 70% humidity to grow. If levels dip much lower than that, the plant will stop growing completely. Luckily, there are plenty of solutions out there to increase and maintain humidity levels.
- Humidifiers – Place a humidifier near your shingle plant. If possible, grab a humidifier that produces warm vapor.
- Pebble trays – Put your shingle plant on a pebble tray and keep it consistently filled with water.
- Greenhouse cabinets – Greenhouse cabinets or tents are great solutions if you have extra space. You can purchase small greenhouse tents that are ready to go DIY a greenhouse cabinet from other furniture.
Shingle plants have a fairly long growing season, which runs from spring through fall. It’s the perfect time to fertilize them. They’re not too picky about their food, so get a balanced liquid fertilizer (10-10-10 formulas will be fine). Feed them once each month during the growing season and take a break during winter. There’s no need to feed them until spring comes around again.
Rhaphidophora hayi doesn’t require much help with pruning. It’s a tidy, neat plant all on its own. Trim away any dead or diseased leaves. If there are more extensive pruning needs (perhaps for a neglected plant or one not trained to grow up a structure), take care not to cut away more than a quarter of the plant at a time. Taking more than that could send your plant into shock.
Shingle plants primarily need direction more than pruning. The best thing you can do is find the right structure for it to climb. Some of the most popular options include
- Moss boards
- Cedar boards
- Moss poles
- Coir poles
Remember, shingle plants flatten themselves against surfaces, making them particularly attractive on wooden boards.
Stem cuttings are the best way to propagate your shingle plant. Remove a piece of stem a few inches long (four to six inches) with a few viable nodes at the bottom of the step. Remove any leaves at the bottom, but leave a few at the top of the cutting.
You can lay the cutting on top of most sphagnum moss if you have it or bury the end in moist soil. For best results, cover the container in a plastic bag to create a miniature greenhouse effect and maintain humid conditions. Place it somewhere warm with bright, indirect light, and keep the soil moist.
It takes a few weeks before you’ll notice new growth. When it happens go ahead and give your plant something to climb!
Since this plant grows slowly, you won’t repot often. Once every couple of years will suffice, though you’ll have to repot newly propagated cuttings within the first year.
Shingle plants are fairly resistant to pests, but a few of the usual insect menaces can cause problems. If you notice pockets of cotton-like material, you’re dealing with a mealybug infestation. Yellow spots on leaves indicate aphids. Spider mites are a possibility, too, but those indicate a double-edged problem. Your humidity is too low!
You can treat any of the common pests by wiping the leaves of your plant with clean water or alcohol and spraying them with neem oil.
There are plenty of climbing plants to choose from, but none are quite like the shingle plant. These luscious plants help create a cultivated, purposeful appearance. They’re easy to care for, as long as you’re up to the task of maintaining their desired humidity, so don’t be intimidated to give them a try!