Philodendron Atabapoense #1 Best Care Hacks

philodendron atabapoense with long, sword-shaped leaves in a pot

A rare aroid that is gaining popularity is the Philodendron Atabapoense. This lovely houseplant boasts glossy green leaves that appear heart-shaped at the top but are long and narrow through the leaf blade.

Thankfully, the Philodendron Atabapoense is a very easy-to-grow plant that can tolerate different conditions. It loves a well-draining soil and thrives in low to medium light in a warm, humid (>65%) location. Water only when the topsoil dries, and use fertilizer sparingly.

We’ll show you everything you need to know to grow this bi-colored beauty!

Origins

Being from the Philodendron genus, your Atabapoense is a tropical species. It is native to the Amazon rainforests of Brazil and Southern Venezuela. In nature, your plant is epiphytic, using its aerial roots to climb on top of other plants to reach for more light higher in the canopy.

In the same way, if given a moss pole, your plant wraps itself upwards and grows vertically. This is an essential aspect of care.

Philodendron Atabapoense vs. Billietiae?

While closely resembling the Philodendron Billietiae, the way to tell them apart is to look at the leaf undersides. The Billietiae has green undersides, but in contrast, the Atabapoense’s leaf undersides are an unusual burgundy-purple!

Caring for your Philodendron Atabapoense

Light

Your Philodendron Atabapoense needs low to medium light to thrive. Ensure that the light it receives is indirect sunlight. While it can tolerate some direct light (2-3 hours of morning or evening direct light), avoid direct afternoon light as this is when the sun is at its hottest.

For this reason, East-facing windowsills are perfect. When facing East, your plant receives gentle morning light and indirect light for the rest of the day.

Too much light results in pale, sun-scorched leaves. On the other hand, if your plant doesn’t have enough light, you will see that its petioles grow very long as it clamors to give its leaves more light!

Acclimatizing your Philodendron Atabapoense to higher light

If you’ve just bought a Philodendron Atabapoense, ask your seller where the plant was kept and the kind of light it receives.

While the Philodendron Atabapoense can tolerate some higher light conditions, it needs to be eased into this. Slowly expose your plant to gradually more sunlight to build up its tolerance, increasing the duration of leaving it in a sunny spot before permanently relocating it there.

close up of Philodendron Atabapoense elongated, sword-shaped leaves
Copyright © 2022 chvchv. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

Water

Like many Philodendrons, your plant is susceptible to being overwatered. Use these tips to guide you:

  • Allow the top 2 inches of soil to dry out before watering. Check the soil moisture with your fingers. With some practice, you should be able to feel if the topsoil is dry by sticking your finger in the soil. Tiny soil particles sticking to your finger is another way to determine that the soil is still moist.
  • As a rule of thumb, this should work out to be once or twice a week, but it depends on the climate and evaporation rates.
  • Water near the soil’s surface, and avoid wetting the leaves. Wet foliage encourages bacteria and pathogens to breed.
  • Water deeply until excess water escapes from the drainage hole.
  • Look out for signs that you need to adjust your watering frequency. Droopy, soft leaves, and stems signal overwatering, while crispy leaves indicate underwatering.
  • Like many Philodendrons, Philodendron Atabapoense is susceptible to being overwatered. An overwatered plant eventually leads to root rot. This is when roots start to brown and decay; they cannot carry out their normal function of drawing water and nutrients to the plant. As a result, plant death is inevitable if left untreated. If you have an overwatered plant that needs rescuing, check out our step-by-step guide here.
  • Because overwatering is more detrimental than underwatering, if in doubt, err on the side of underwatering.

Humidity

Like many tropical Philodendrons, your Philodendron Atabapoense does best in humidity levels above 65%. There are a few methods you can use to increase humidity levels if you live in an arid climate. But by far, the most effective and convenient method is using a humidifier.

Temperature

Ideally, keep your Philodendron Atabapoense in warm temperatures between 55 – 80 degrees F (12 – 26 degrees C).

Your plant is not cold-hardy, so you need to bring your plant indoors if you live in colder weather. Extreme temperatures will slow your plant’s growth and may cause permanent damage over time. Also avoid placing your plant near air vents or drafts, which create cold chills or temperature fluctuations.

Flowering

Like many Aroids, your Philodendron Atabapoense is prized for its glorious foliage rather than for its flowers. This is also because this plant rarely flowers when kept indoors, away from its native habitat.

However, if you happen to see this plant bloom, you will notice a purple-brown spathe (modified leaf or bract) with a long central spike (spadix). These are technically its inflorescence, not exactly the flowers per se. The flowers are reproductive parts that are numerous and small, and grow on the spadix itself.

Growth

Your Philodendron Atanapoense is a rapid grower. We love this as we are impatient gardeners! You can expect your plant to reach 4-8 feet (1.2 – 2.4 meters) tall at maturity. Its long, finger-like leaves can reach up to 30 inches (76cm) long.

As your plant grows, it climbs upwards, mimicking its natural growth habit in nature. Give it a moss pole to support its growth habit! As the plant grows, its long, finger-like leaves also gradually grow broader.

An interesting feature of many Philodendrons, including your plant, is that it produces variable leaf blades. No leaf is exactly the same as the other. This phenomenon is commonly known as morphogenesis, or natural variation within the species. It’s what makes your plant so unique!

Soil or Growing Medium

There are a couple of characteristics that your Philodendron Atabapoense needs in its potting mix. It loves an airy potting mix with some organic nutrients but one with excellent drainage. They also prefer a slightly acidic pH.

Striking the balance of a potting soil that retains some moisture but doesn’t hold TOO much is a tough one to strike. Here’s a potting mix we’ve found to work well for us. It has about 50% soil amendments to help with drainage:

  • 1 part perlite (for drainage)
  • 1 part orchid bark (for drainage)
  • 1 part peat moss (provides a slightly acidic pH and improves aeration)
  • 1 part indoor potting soil (for nutrients)
close up of burgundy underside of Philodendron Atabapoense leaf
The Philodendron Atabapoense has burgundy undersides, a unique feature!
Copyright © 2022 chvchv. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

Fertilizer

Unfertilized Philodendrons tend to grow slowly, so fertilizing is a good idea to maintain a healthy growth rate and encourage lush foliage.

We like to use a liquid houseplant fertilizer that is high in nitrogen, as this encourages lush foliage. Apply monthly during the spring and summer months at half-strength. Hold off fertilization in autumn and winter, as this is when growth naturally slows.

In the case of fertilizing Philodendron Atabapoense, less is more!

Repotting

Your plant has well-established root systems. Generally, you’d need to repot your Philodendron Atabapoense every 2-3 years. Here are some tips:

  • When repotting, use fresh soil. This is because nutrients in the soil deplete over time.
  • Choose a pot that is just 2 inches larger than the original. Using too big a pot relative to the rootball size will mean your soil will hold on to too much water, suffocating your plant’s sensitive roots.
  • The best way to tell that your plant needs repotting is to look out for any of these signs:
    • Water drains out from the pot immediately without being absorbed in all.
    • Conversely, your plant seems insatiably thirsty, no matter how much you water it.
    • Roots have started to circle up above the soil’s surface.
    • Roots have started to peek out the bottom of drainage holes.

Toxicity

Unfortunately, Philodendron Atabapoense is toxic when ingested by humans and animals. This is due to calcium oxalate crystals in the stems and leaves.

These calcium oxalate crystals can cause skin burns, gastrointestinal discomfort, and nausea when consumed.

Propagation

We can’t blame you for wanting to propagate this beauty. The good news is that it is relatively straightforward, with a high success rate!

We use stem cuttings in a water propagation medium for best results. Here’s how:

  1. Identify a healthy portion of the stem that is about 4-5 inches long, with at least two nodes and a few leaves. It’s important to have nodes and leaves as this is where new growth will emerge.
  2. Using sterilized garden shears, cut off this portion of the stem, just below the node. (You can sterilize your garden shears using 70% isopropyl solution.)
  3. Dip the cut end of the stem cutting into a rooting hormone to encourage rapid root growth.
  4. Remove any leaves from the bottom half of the stem cutting, as this will be submerged in water.
  5. Fill a jar with room temperature distilled water, or rainwater. Alternatively, use tap water that has been kept out overnight so that mineral salts have dissipated.
  6. Place the stem cutting into the water jar. Ensure at least one node is underwater but that no leaves are submerged.
  7. Place the jar in a warm spot with plenty of indirect light. If you can, place a humidifier next to the jar, and set it at 70%.
  8. Change out the water every few days, always replacing it with room temperature water.
  9. In around two weeks, you should see roots developing.
  10. When roots have grown about 2 inches long, replant your cuttings into a planter half-filled with a well-draining potting mix.
  11. Add more potting as necessary to secure the rooted cuttings in place, tapping down gently on the soil but not so hard as to compact the soil.
  12. Treat as you would any other Philodendron Atabapoense!

Pruning

Lightly pruning your Philodendron Atabapoense encourages your plant to grow healthy.

  • Prune off any dead, damaged, or yellowing leaves.
  • Be careful not to trim off more than one-third of the plant, as this causes too much shock to your plant.
  • Use clean garden shears that are sterilized in 70% isopropyl. This prevents contamination and the spread of disease.
  • When pruning, cut just above the node, in a downward sloping angle. This allows any water to run off the wound site, preventing infection.
  • Use sharp gardening shears to deliver clean cuts, which reduces trauma for the plant!
topview of long, philodendron atabapoense leaves
The Philodendron Atabapoense with elongated, sword-like leaves.
Copyright © 2022 chvchv. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

Common Pests and Diseases

Thankfully, the Philodendron Atabapoense is relatively resistance to pests and disease. The biggest threat to your plant is root rot from overwatering, followed by the likes of aphids, spider mites and mealybugs, which are common houseplant pests.

Here are some tips:

  • Use neem oil to eradicate spider mites, mealybugs, and aphids. Neem oil can also be used as a preventative measure to deter pests.
  • Inspect your plant every few weeks (looking at leaf undersides and axils, hard-to-reach areas) to check for pest infestation. Pests tend to multiply extremely rapidly, so it’s important to catch them early!
  • Inspect new plants before introducing them to your home. The main source of pests is cross-contamination or introduction to the home.

Troubleshooting

Why are the leaves yellow?

Yellow leaves in Philodendron Atabapoense are commonly due to overwatering. Here’s what to do:

  • Check the soil moisture to confirm.
  • Adjust your watering practices. Only water your plant with the topsoil is dry! Sounds simple, but it’s so important, and the only method that reliably works to ensure you are not overwatering your plant. If you water on a set schedule (X times a week), then you may be over or underwatering your plant as seasons change, and your plant’s growth changes over time.
  • If you are watering your plant correctly, another issue could be that you are using a potting mix that holds too much water. Check that you are using a well-draining potting mix with about 50% well-draining amendments. Using 100% indoor potting mix is typically too dense for your plant; it’s best to add amendments like perlite, orchid bark, or vermiculite to lighten the soil and make it more well-draining.
  • Always use a pot with drainage holes so that excess water runs off. Empty the saucer, if any, after watering.
  • Preferably use terracotta planters, which are porous, encouraging aeration.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you Pronounce Philodendron Atabapoense?

Good question! “Philodendron” is pronounced “fill-uh-den-druhn”. “Atabapoense” is pronounced “a-tab-a-po-ence”.

What’s the difference between Philodendron Atabapoense and Philodendron Billietiae?

The Philodendron Atabapoense and the Philodendron Billietiae are lookalikes. It’s true that they have similarly shaped leaves and a similar growth habit. The main difference is that the Atabapoense purple-burgundy leaf undersides, whereas the Billietae’s are green.

The Philodendron Billietiae also has orange petioles.

topview of philodendron billitiae leaves
The Philodendron Billitiae. While similar in appearance, this plant does not have the purple-burgundy leaf undersides of a Philodendron Atabapoense.

What’s the difference between Philodendron Atabapoense and the Philodendron Mexicanum?

Another lookalike to the Philodendron Atabapoense is the Philodendron Mexicanum. The latter even has maroon undersides on its leaves! To tell them apart, look closely at the leaf shape.

The Philodendron Mexicanum has long and unequal basal lobes, almost appearing like it has three leaves on each blade.

On the other hand, the Philodendron Atabapoense’s basal lobes are much shorter and stubbier than the length of its leaf blade. Here’s a photo to better illustrate this:

comparing the philodendron Mexicanum (left side) and the philodendron atabapoense (right side). leaves of the atabapoense are longer with short and stubby base lobes compares to the Mexicanum
The Philodendron Mexicanum (left), versus the Philodendron Atabapoense (right) with shorter basal lobes.

What kind of climbing support is best for the Philodendron Atabapoense?

A moss pole is an excellent option for your Philodendron Atabapoense. Check out our guide on how to use a moss pole.

Where is a good place to buy a Philodendron Atabapoense?

Etsy is a good place to connect with reputable online sellers of rare plants like the Philodendron Atabapoense. Do make sure that you understand the shipping and returns policy and check that your seller is well-established. Alternatively, look for specialized Aroid nurseries in your area.

You may choose to buy stem cuttings rather than a rooted plant, as prices for this rare Aroid can get high. Expect to pay around US$50-100 for a plant, depending on how large it is.

Similar Plants and Varieties

Philodendron Billietiae x Atabapoense

The Philodendron Billietiae x Atabapoense, as the name suggests, is a cultivar between parent plants Philodendron Billietiae and the Philodendron Atabapoense. The plant features the orange petioles of the Philodendron Billietiae and the long, glossy leaves of the Philodendron Atabapoense.

They need similar care to the Philodendron Atabapoense, so that you can use this guide!

Other Philodendrons we love

Large, heart-shaped Philodendrons:

Compact Philodendrons suitable for apartments or small homes:

Wrapping Up

The rare and exotic Philodendron Atabapoense is prized for its unique, sword-shaped, and bi-colored leaves. To care for your plant:

  • Give it low to medium levels of bright but filtered light; East-facing windows are ideal. Provide it with warm, tropical temperatures, as your plant is not cold-hardy.
  • Use a chunky, well-draining potting mix.
  • If you need to move it to a sunnier spot, do this gradually over a few weeks by exposing it to longer durations of brighter light, but never place it in the direct afternoon sun as this is too harsh. 
  • Water it once its topsoil dries; as a rule of thumb, this should work out to be once or twice a week.
  • Fertilize sparingly, applying a nitrogen-heavy liquid houseplant fertilizer at half strength once a month during the spring and summer months only;
  • Be careful not to overwater your plant, as it is susceptible to root rot.
  • Use neem oil to kill off houseplant pests.

If you love the Philodendron Atabapoense, check out the Philodendron Verrucosum next!

Deborah

Deborah is a plant enthusiast and founder of Gardening Collective.

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