Philodendron El Choco Red (Care #1 Guide & what to AVOID!)

The rare Philodendron El Choco Red is a climbing Aroid that is famous for its large, heart-shaped leaves that have a pop of color.

When young, leaves have bright red undersides. As it matures, it’s red coloring slowly fades to green. Leaves have a satin, almost velvety texture, and prominent light green veins.

Care-wise, the Philodendron El Choco Red is easy to grow.

  • Water deeply when the topsoil is dry.
  • Keep humidity to >60%.
  • Choose a chunky potting soil with plenty of amendments like bark and charcoal.
  • Sufficient light helps this variegated plant to grow.
  • Fertilize monthly at half strength using a gentle liquid fertilizer.
  • Prop it against a moss pole to support its climbing habit.

Here’s everything you need to know to help your Philodendron El Choco Red thrive!!

What is the Philodendron El Choco Red?

The Philodendron El Choco Red is an easy-going species from the Araceae family. It comes from the rainforests of the El Chocó region of Colombia, giving it its name.

Its scientific name is Philodendron rubrijuvenilum, meaning “red when juvenile”. 🙂

Caring for your Philodendron El Choco Red

Light

Like many houseplants, your Philodendron El Choco Red needs bright but indirect light. While it can tolerate lower light and even partial shade, colors will not be as vibrant and growth will slow.

For lush, healthy leaves, choose a bright spot in your home, but one that doesn’t have more than 2 hours of direct light. Many people underestimate what “bright indirect light” is. As a rule of thumb, when you place your hand next to your plant, the light it receives should be strong enough to cast a shadow.

For this reason, East-facing windowsills are the perfect home for your Philodendron El Choco Red.

side view of a large red heart shaped velvet leaf of a philodendron el choco red, also known as Philodendron rubrijuvenilum
Copyright © 2022 xbigbugx. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.

Water

Your Philodendron El Choco Red gets its name from its native habitat, the Chocó region of Colombia. It is known to be one of the wettest regions in the world, raining over 300 days a year (!), receiving more than 400 inches (10,200 mm) of rainfall.

This remote paradise is known for its waterfalls, lush jungles, and thriving ecosystem. 🙂

While your plant loves rainfall, it is an epiphyte (climbing variety) that doesn’t grow in soil in the wild. Instead, they have aerial roots (above-ground) that climb on trees, so as quickly as they get drenched, they dry off.

The key is to ensure that they get a thorough soak when needed, but can also dry off quickly. To do this,

  • Choose a terracotta planter as they are porous and water can evaporate easily from their surfaces.
  • Ensure the planter has drainage holes, so that water can drain out.
  • Use a well-draining potting mix (see Soil section below.)
  • Water only when the top 2 inches of soil is dry. Always check the soil moisture with your finger.
  • Water using a long-spouted watering can close to the soil. Avoid watering overhead and splashing water on the foliage. Wet foliage is a breeding ground for fungi and pathogen growth, and the risk is only higher for plants with large leaves like yours!
  • Water deeply, watering until excess water escapes from the drainage hole. Always empty the plant’s saucer!
  • Get into the habit of always checking the soil moisture frequently, so that your plant never accidentally dries out.

Check out more watering tips here.

Humidity

High humidity >60% is essential for your Philodendron El Choco Red’s growth. To increase the humidity levels in the home, you can go for the easy and effective way: using a humidifier. 🙂

Otherwise, let’s look at a few tricks we can learn from nature.

  1. The Philodendron El Choco Red comes from the lush jungles of El Choco where there is an abundance of rainfall. The evaporation of rain from plant surfaces and from the forest floor increases humidity levels. In the same way, pebble trays half-filled with water encourage evaporation, increasing humidity.
  2. Rainforests are home to densely packed plants and vegetation. These plants all transpire, which increases the humidity of plants in the area. In the same way, grouping plants together helps to increase the humidity of plants nearby.

Check out our guide for a step-by-step guide on using pebble trays and other ways to increase humidity.

potted philodendron el choco red with 2 long bumpy petioles and leaves, one mature leaf has green undersides while the other juvenile leaf has red undersides
Copyright © 2022 xbigbugx. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.

Temperature

Keep your Philodendron El Choco Red in temperatures between 65 – 85 degrees F (18 – 29 degrees C). They don’t like the cold and are not frost-hardy.

If you want to grow your plant outdoors, do so only in USDA hardiness zones 9b-11 which provide ideal conditions for your Philodendron El Choco Red. In this case, ensure you choose a shaded spot for your plant. Light intensity is much higher outdoors compared to indoors.

Growth and Climbing Support

Your Philodendron El Choco Red is a climber, so provide it with a moss pole or trellis. We love using stackable moss poles that allow it to add on height as the plant grows. Climbing support also encourages faster growth and larger leaves. (Curious? Find out why here.)

Growing vigorously, we see them growing a new leaf every 3 weeks or so, during the spring and summer. At maximum height, they are around 3 feet (90cm) tall when kept indoors.

We love watching new Philodendron El Choco Red leaves grow. Baby leaves are covered by a cataphyll, a thin protective sheath that appears reddish-pink.

philodendron el choco red leaves being held up
Copyright © 2022 xbigbugx. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.

Soil or Growing Medium

As mentioned, a well-draining potting soil is important to prevent overwatering and root rot.

If you want to create your own mix, this is our favorite “recipe” for a thriving El Choco Red:

This mix works wonders for your Philodendron. The perlite and orchid bark provides aeration and drainage properties, while the potting mix provides nutrients.

Charcoal helps ward off pests and reduces impurities, while also lightening the mix. Our Philodendron El Choco Red loves it. 🙂

Fertilizer

In terms of fertilizer, choose a gentle but nutritionally complete mix. We love Dyna-Gro Grow for most of our houseplants.

Less is more in the case of Philodendrons, as you don’t want to risk fertilizer burn.

Apply the liquid houseplant fertilizer monthly at half strength during the spring and summer months, when your plant is actively growing. Don’t fertilize in autumn and winter.

long petiole and underside of a single philodendron el choco red leaf, leaf is red with green veins
Copyright © 2022 xbigbugx. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.

Repotting

The Philodendrons El Choco Red should be repotted when you see roots peeking out of its drainage holes.

Choose a pot that is just 2 inches (5cm) larger. Don’t “overpot”, as this increases the risk of overwatering. A larger pot means more soil compared to a small rootball, and too much water is retained in that higher volume of soil.

Water your plant the day before repotting to reduce transplant shock. Also, always use fresh soil to replenish nutrients in that potting mix!

As always, spring is the best time for repotting. 🙂

Toxicity

Unfortunately, your plant is toxic when ingested. Philodendrons contain insoluble oxalate crystals, like many other houseplant favorites like Monsteras and Anthuriums. When ingested by humans or pets, they can cause severe mouth irritation, burns, vomiting and nausea, and gastrointestinal discomfort.

potted philodendron el choco red with two leaves - one red, one green
Copyright © 2022 xbigbugx. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.

If you’re looking for pet and child-safe houseplants, try Hoyas, Calatheas, or Peperomias.

Pruning

As each leaf grows on an individual stalk, there’s really not much to prune when it comes to the Philodendron El Choco Red!

But if you do spot any dead or yellowed foliage, you can use clean garden shears to trim these off. We like sterilizing using 70% isopropyl solution.

Propagation

It is hard to propagate Philodendron El Choco Red through seeds because it just takes too long, and is a complicated process. Instead, you can propagate through stem cuttings or air layering.

Both are common methods. However, for the best chances of success, propagate only when you have a healthy, and well-established Philodendron El Choco Red, and propagate during spring.

Propagation through Stem (Stolon) Cuttings

A stolon is the main stem that grows horizontally along the ground. It can appear quite thick. Along the length of the stolon, you’d find upright stems growing vertically; and roots sent down into the ground.

  1. Identify a part of the stolon with a few nodes but minimal leaves. (Nodes are the nubby-looking thing on the stolon.)
  2. Cut your stolon in between two nodes, ensuring you use clean and sharp garden shears not to cause damage to your plant.
  3. Use a plastic container with a lid (a normal takeaway container works). Poke a couple of holes on the lid.
  4. Fill the plastic container with some potting mix (see the recommended mix in the Soil section).
  5. Place the stolon on top of the soil.
  6. Close the plastic container with the lid. This ensures high humidity for your cutting. Open the container for about an hour to refresh the air every few days.
  7. Place your container in a bright spot but away from direct sunlight.
  8. Within 4-6 weeks, you should see new growth emerge.

You can also choose to propagate your cutting in water, and once roots establish, transfer this cutting into a potting mix.

Propagation through Air Layering

Air Layering is another method you can use to propagate your Philodendron El Choco Red. It’s a method that encourages the mother plant to root in damp sphagnum moss, before cutting off the rooted node as a separate plant.

For this, you’ll need to prepare a fistful of damp sphagnum moss, twine or gardening ties; and a clear plastic wrap (like cling wrap or a clear plastic bag). Read through the instructions once over before carrying out each step.

  1. First, gather the tools stated above.
  2. Poke small holes in the clear plastic wrap. You can use a pen or small scissors to do this.
  3. Identify parts of the Philodendron that have started to grow some aerial roots.
  4. Gently press a small ball of moist sphagnum moss against the surface of the node and the root. The sphagnum moss should encircle the node. You might need to hold the sphagnum moss in place with your hand.
  5. Using your other hand, wrap the whole sphagnum moss ball with the clear plastic wrap.
  6. Use twine to gently secure the plastic wrap (with the sphagnum moss underneath the wrap) to the plant, such that the moss and wrap will not fall off.
  7. Keep the moss moist by watering through the holes in the plastic wrap.
  8. In 3 weeks, you should see roots growing into the sphagnum moss.
  9. Cut below the node using clean garden shears to separate the mother plant from the node and aerial roots.
  10. Plant the new cutting into a potting mix.
  11. Ensure the potting mix is kept moist while your new plant establishes.
  12. Treat as you would any other Philodendron El Choco Red.
top view of large philodendron el choco red leaf
Copyright © 2022 xbigbugx. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.

Common Pests and Diseases

  • Spider mites, fungus gnats, mealybugs, aphids and thrips. These are the most common pests that love your Philodendron El Choco Red. Apply a neem oil solution repeatedly to eradicate these pests. (Click here for a step-by-step guide on how to use neem oil as a pesticide).
  • Root rot. Overwatering is Enemy #1 for many houseplants. Making sure that you water only when the topsoil is dry and using a well-draining potting soil are among the best things you can do for your plant.

If you have an overwatered plant on your hands, check out our guide on how to save it.

Troubleshooting

Yellow leaves

Overwatering is the most common reason for yellow leaves. Check the soil moisture to confirm.

Drooping Leaves

Improper watering (either too much or too little) often leads to droopy leaves. Check the soil moisture to confirm.

Philodendron look-alikes

Other Philodendrons

close up of the philodendron mamei plant
Beautiful silver and green leaf of Philodendron Mamei

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between Philodendron El Choco Red and Philodendron Verrucosum?

Both are climbing Philodendrons with similar heart-shaped leaves and a pop of red undersides so it’s easy to mix them up.

The easiest way to tell the difference is by looking at the petioles of the leaves. Verrucosums have hairy petioles (just look at the photo above!), while El Choco Reds have bumpy petioles with no hair.

On the whole, El Choco Reds also seem to have brighter red undersides than Verrucosums when young. However, there can be a lot of natural variation within a species, especially for Aroids, so just check the petiole to be sure.

comparison of leaf petioles of the philodendron verrucosum (left) and the philodendron el choco red (right). the Philodendron verrucosum has a hairy petiole, while the el choco red has a slightly bumpy petiole with no hair
Hairy petiole of the Philodendron Verrucosum (left); versus petiole of the El Choco Red (right).

Is the Philodendron El Choco Red rare?

Yes, it is rare. Popularity for this species has blown up thanks to its alluring red leaves. At the same time, it is native only to particular regions in Colombia.

Is the Philodendron El Choco Red a climber?

Yes, it sure is. They are epiphytic (climbing) Aroids, attaching themselves to host trees in the wild. We mimic this by providing ours with a moss pole to climb.

Where can I buy a Philodendron El Choco Red?

You’ll very likely need to look online to buy this rare Philodendron. Try Etsy. Expect to pay a premium for this rare species!

Wrapping Up

Philodendron El Choco Red is a stunning heart-shaped velvet leaf Philodendron. Uniquely colorful, this houseplant is eye-catching and relatively easy-going. To keep it happy,

  • Provide it with bright, indirect light. East-facing windowsills are ideal.
  • Water only when the topsoil is dry, but when it is, give it a thorough soak.
  • Provide it as much humidity as possible, at least 60%.
  • Use a well-draining mix. Amendments like orchid bark, charcoal, and perlite are ideal.
  • Fertilize monthly at half strength using a gentle liquid fertilizer.
Deborah

Deborah is a plant enthusiast and founder of Gardening Collective.