Philodendron McDowell Care (#1 Guide for this RARE Hybrid!)

close up of the philodendron macdowell, a rare hybrid philodendron with deep lateral veins

One of our favorite terrestrial creepers! The rare Philodendron McDowell has large, heart shaped leaves such prominent lateral veins that they appear quilted. 🙂

Unlike epiphytic (climbing) Philodendrons, McDowells grow along the soil’s surface, so they never get very tall.

They are also easy to grow. Treat it well, and a new leaf will unfurl about every 4-6 weeks:

  • Place in bright filtered light; East, West, or South-facing windowsills are best.
  • Whatever you do, don’t overwater. Water only when the topsoil is dry to the touch.
  • Being a terrestrial creeper, use a rich organic potting mix that is also airy and well-draining. We like using an indoor potting mix with perlite, orchid bark, and charcoal.
  • Keep humidity levels between 65-75% – use a humidifier if needed.
  • Average room temperates are fine.
  • Fertilize to boost growth. Use a liquid houseplant fertilizer monthly during the growing season.

Let’s dive into the details.

What is the Philodendron McDowell?

The Philodendron McDowell is a gorgeous hybrid created in 1988 named after the creator’s friend, Dean McDowell. Its parent plants are the Philodendron Gloriosum and the Philodendron Pastazanum.

With stems that grow along the surface of the soil, this Philodendron sends down deep roots and grows giant, heart-shaped leaves.

Because their main stem grows horizontally, they only reach about 3 feet tall (91cm).

Caring for your Philodendron McDowell

Light

Being a terrestrial creeper in nature, your Philodendron McDowell is used to staying close to the ground. It doesn’t receive any direct light in the wild, as layers and layers of trees shield this plant from direct sunlight.

As a result, your Philodendron McDowell prefers partial shade when kept outdoors.

Indoors, it does best in bright but indirect light. Choose an East, West, or South-facing window.

potted philodendron mcdowell with two large heart-shaped leaves
Copyright © 2022 FoliageNature. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

You’ll know your plant needs more light if they grow long petioles (leaf stalks) and have longer internodes (lengths between nodes.)

On the other hand, exposure to harsh sunlight will burn its leaves. To acclimatize your plant, you’ll need to gradually expose it to longer periods of sunlight over a week or two. Still, never place your plant in the direct afternoon sunlight.

Water

Watering is an essential aspect of Aroid care, especially as overwatering is one of the most common problems.

While essential to get right, the good news is that it’s simple.

  • Water your Philodendron McDowell when the top 2 inches of soil is dry. Check the moisture level by placing your fingers in the soil.
  • If the soil is dry to the touch, then water it.
  • Use room temperature water. Rainwater or distilled water is best, though tap water is fine too.
  • Water slowly, near the base of the plant, close to the soil level. Don’t wet the foliage. We like using a long-spouted watering can for this purpose!
  • Water until excess water escapes from the drainage hole at the bottom.
  • Empty the saucer.
  • Don’t water again until the top 2 inches of soil is dry.

Using this method, you’ll naturally see that your plant’s watering schedule adjusts as seasons change and its growth rate slows.

Container Size and Type

Unlike climbing plants, your plant has a creeping habit, so it needs a sufficiently wide container. It also has quite deep and established root systems.

Depending on the rootball size, a pot that is around 10-20 inches (25-50cm) wide and 10 inches (25cm) deep is ideal.

Another tip: use a container with drainage holes so that your plant’s roots are never left sitting in a stagnant pool of water, which invites root rot.

We like using terracotta planters, as these are breathable.

Temperature

Your Philodendron McDowell thrives in temperatures between 55 – 80 degrees F (13-27 degrees C). This plant can be a little slow to react to unfavorable temperature changes.

But you’ll soon spot signs like yellowing leaves and slower growth.

They can be kept outdoors in mild climates. USA hardiness zones 9b-11 are ideal (find your zone here).

If your outdoor temperatures are outside this range, we suggest keeping this beauty as an indoor plant. They’d be much happier.

Humidity

Ideal humidity levels are on the higher end of the scale: 65-75%.

You’ll know the air is too dry for your Philodendron McDowell when you spot yellow halos and browning leaf tips.

Our advice? Get a humidifier. All the misting in the world doesn’t elevate humidity levels long enough for your plant.

Most houseplants do well in high humidity, so a humidifier is a gift that keeps giving… to all your plants!

Flowering

Like most Aroids, your Philodendron McDowell is well-loved for its lush foliage rather than flowers. They produce a simple inflorescence: a green modified leaf, a spathe, a central cream-colored spadix.

Flowers are tiny and insignificant, growing on the spadix.

What’s more, it may take up to 16 years to flower!

close up of a philodendron mcdowell leaf - it has a quilted look, with light green veins
Copyright © 2022 FoliageNature. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

Growth

The Philodendron McDowell grows moderately when grown under optimal conditions, putting out a new leaf every 4-6 weeks.

At maturity, you can expect an indoor McDowell to be around 3 feet (91cm) tall; outdoors, this can be 6.5 feet (2 meters). Remember that your plant is not a climbing variety; instead they love creeping along the ground surface.

Though they have aerial roots, these are not used for climbing but rather for drawing nutrients from the air.

What are the little green spots on my Philodendron McDowell leaves?

If you look closely, you may spot extrafloral nectaries on the leaf’s surface. These are little green spots that are sugars that attract ants.

This is a natural occurrence that comes as part of your plant’s defense system.

The ants help protect your plant from pests 🙂

Dormancy

If you are keeping your plant outdoors, it may go dormant in winter. This is triggered by sensing lower light conditions and temperatures than what is optimal for growth.

This is nothing to worry about – it just means a slow or negligible growth rate, as your plant conserves its energy for the warmer months.

During this time, watering frequency naturally reduces. Hold off on fertilizer too.

Soil or Growing Medium

As a terrestrial Philodendron, your plant is used to growing near the forest floor, which is nutrient-dense. They need a richer, organic medium to grow compared with epiphytic (climbing) plants.

As usual, they also need an airy potting mix that retains moisture but is also well-draining!

With all that in mind, we love using:

Instead of perlite, you can also use vermiculite or coconut coir. They have the same function of lightening the mix and enhancing drainage qualities.

Fertilizer

Unfertilized Philodendron McDowells tend to grow pretty slowly, so we like using either:

  • a slow-release fertilizer like Osmocote;
  • a high-quality liquid fertilizer like Dynagro (use the foliage-pro version as the increased nitrogen encourages lush leaf growth).

Try it and see – it makes a huge difference!

If using the latter, fertilize every four weeks during the spring and summer months at half-strength. Hold off fertilizing in winter and autumn.

If you’ve just bought a Philodendron McDowell, do check with the seller if slow-release fertilizer has been added to the soil. You don’t want to double-fertilize and burn its roots!

the petiole of a philodendron mcdowell
The petiole (leaf stalk) of a Philodendron McDowell. See the slight pinkish tinge where the top of the petiole meets the leaf (it’s more obvious in person!)
Copyright © 2022 FoliageNature. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

Repotting

These Philodendrons don’t need repotting often. Only when you see that roots are peeking out of its drainage holes should you upsize the pot.

Water the day before repotting to reduce transplant shock. Also, always use fresh soil to replenish nutrients!

Toxicity

Like many from the Araceae family, your Philodendron McDowell is toxic when ingested by humans and animals. Keep this one plant away from pets and children.

If you’re looking for a pet and child-friendly plant, do check out Hoyas and Peperomias.

Propagation

The easiest way to propagate your Philodendron McDowell is to use stem cuttings or, to be precise, stolon cuttings. Stolons are modified stems and refer to the main stem of your plant that runs horizontally across the ground.

Wait until you have an established plant with at least 4-5 leaves before propagating.

Stolon Propagation Step-by-Step

  1. Identify a healthy part of the stolon with at least one node and one leaf. (Nodes are small nubs or “eyes” on the stolon, from which new growth emerges.)
  2. Using a sterilized knife of shear, cut the identified section of the stolon off. It should include the leaf and the node(s). Use a sharp blade to prevent trauma to your plant.
  3. Fill a pot with evenly-moist potting mix.
  4. Place the stolon cutting gently on top of the soil. Just your finger to gently press the stolon into the soil, but you don’t need to bury it. Your leaf will stay upright above the soil’s surface.
  5. Place your container in a warm spot with plenty of indirect light.
  6. Keep the soil evenly moist but not waterlogged.
  7. Within 4-6 weeks, you should see roots emerge from the cut ends.
  8. Treat your plant as you would any other Philodendron McDowell!

Pruning

Using clean garden shears, trim off any dead or wilted parts of the plant. This helps your Philodendron McDowell focus its energy on new growth.

Common Pests and Diseases

The three most common issues with your Philodendron McDowell are root rot, spider mites, and mealybugs.

Root Rot

Root rot is a headache for many gardeners. It results from overwatering your plant. If you see your Philodendron McDowell leaves turning yellow, chances overwatering may be the cause. Check if the soil is damp to confirm.

If your plant is only slightly overwatered, relocate it outdoors, where excess water can evaporate quickly.

However, for more severe cases, you’ll need to dislodge the plant from its pot and inspect the roots.

Healthy roots are thick and white, while brown or black roots are signs of root rot. Roots are unable to breathe as they are drowned out by water.

As a result, they started to decay.

To save your plant, you’ll need to use sterilized shears to snip off the infected roots, then repot them in fresh soil.

Consult our step-by-step guide for details!

outdoors shot of giant leaves of a philodendron McDowell in the park
Growing outdoors, the beautiful giant leaves of a Philodendron McDowell

Mealybugs

Mealybugs are a common pest that attacks Philodendron McDowells. Attracted to overfertilized and overwatered plants, the best way to prevent these bugs is to ensure your watering practices are on point and you don’t overfertilize! You may use a dilute neem oil spray as a preventative measure.

Mealybugs are easily spotted as they appear as white, segmented insects about 1/10 – 1/4 inch (1/4 to slightly over 1/2 cm) long. 

To identify and get rid of mealybugs, check out our guide here.

Spider Mites

Spider Mites are another common houseplant pest. Not technically insects; these mites are smaller than mealybugs, so they are hard to identify directly.

However, you will know their presence when you spot tell-tale webbing on the underside of leaves!

These bugs suck on your plant’s sap, depriving it of nutrients.

Neem oil spray and insecticide soap are both effective against spider mites. Check out our guide on how to get rid of spider mites for more details.

Troubleshooting

Why does my Philodendron McDowell have yellow leaves?

Yellow leaves are most commonly a sign of inadequate light or overwatering. Ensure your plant gets at least 6-8 hours of bright but indirect light. Use a grow light if you need to supplement natural light.

If light is not the issue, check the soil moisture to confirm if your plant is overwatered.

Why does my plant have leggy stems and small leaves?

These are symptoms of inadequate light.

Relocate your plant to a sunnier spot, but one that is still away from direct afternoon light.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the Philodendron McDowell a hybrid?

Yes, it sure is.

The Philodendron McDowell is a hybrid between the Philodendron Gloriosum and the Philodendron Pastazanum.

Its scientific name is Philodendron ‘Dean McDowell’ (gloriosum x pastazanum).

Is the Philodendron McDowell rare? Where can I buy one?

Yes, they are somewhat rare. Being less available than other Philodendrons, it’s unusual to find them at your local nursery.

Look for your Philodendron McDowell online. They are on the pricier side, so do expect to pay a premium over “regular” houseplants!

Our opinion though is that they are worth it 🙂

What’s the difference between Philodendron McDowell vs. Philodendron Gloriosum?

closeup of philodendron gloriosum leaf
The Philodendron Gloriosum (above) has paler, white veins than the Philodendron McDowell

These two are parent and child so obviously, look similar.

Here’s how to tell them apart:

  • The Philodendron Gloriosum has velvety leaves, while the Philodendron McDowell has smoother leaves with a more glossy finish.
  • The Philodendron McDowell has prominent lateral veins (the veins that go from the midrib down to the leaf edges), giving the leaf texture a quilted look.
  • On the other hand, Philodendron Gloriosum has paler white veins than the McDowell’s.
  • The Philodendron Gloriosum also has an angular petiole, while the Philodendron McDowell has a rounded petiole.
  • Lastly, the Gloriosum has darker green leaves, while the McDowell’s leaves are a brighter green.

What’s the difference between Philodendron McDowell vs. Philodendron Pastazanum?

growing outdoors, the philodendron pastazanum, the parent plant of the philodendron mcdowell
The heart-shaped Philodendron Pastazanum

Similarly, when comparing the Philodendron Pastazanum and the Philodendron McDowell,

  • The Pastazanum has a round, green petiole
  • The McDowell has a round petiole with a bit of pink where the petiole meets the leaf. They also tend to have a pinkish hue around the leaf edges.
  • The McDowell’s cataphylls (the sheath covering new growth) are reddish instead of green like the Pastazanum!

Should I mist my Philodendron?

We don’t recommend it. Especially on large-leafed varieties, wet foliage can be a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi.

It’s much better to use a humidifier to boost humidity – it lasts much longer and without these risks!

Similar Plants and Varieties

Other large, heart-shaped leafed look-alikes:

Other Philodendrons can’t get enough of!

close up of the philodendron mamei plant
Beautiful large leaves of Philodendron Mamei, or Silver Cloud. Notice its silvery patches!
Deborah

Deborah is a plant enthusiast and founder of Gardening Collective.

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