The Philodendron Tortum is best known for its lancet-shaped (sword-shaped) leaves that are deeply pinnate, resembling a palm!
Long, finger-like foliage which appears twisted gives this unique plant a wild and unwieldy look. 🙂
Despite its unique appearance, caring and propagating the Philodendron Tortum is relatively easy.
- Like many tropical houseplants, a warm and humid climate is essential.
- Provide it with bright but indirect light when kept indoors.
- Watering is the trickiest part. Water deeply, and only when the topsoil is dry.
- Fertilize lightly.
- Propagating through stem cuttings or air layering has a high success rate.
Let’s dive into the details!
What is the Philodendron Tortum?
The Philodendron Tortum (scientific name: Philodendron Bipinnatifidum ‘Tortum’) is a rare houseplant native to Brazil.
It is known for its unique leaves. Some growers call this leaf shape a “skeleton key”, similar to that of the Philodendron Elegans and the Philodendron Polypodioides.
Caring for your Philodendron Tortum
Your Philodendron Tortum enjoys ample amounts of bright but indirect light. When kept indoors, West or East-facing windowsills are ideal.
Prolonged exposure to direct afternoon sun burns its delicate leaves, causing sun scorch. These effects are irreversible, so use gardening shears to trim off damaged leaves.
Watering is a key care component for Philodendron Tortums. There are two main things to take note of.
The first is when to water, the second is how.
When to water
Water only when your Philodendron Tortum’s top 2 inches of soil is dry.
Use your fingers to feel the soil, up to your first finger knuckle. If it still feels slightly damp, or if little bits of soil stick to your finger, don’t water it!
It’s as simple as that.
We don’t particularly like using soil moisture meters as we find them less than accurate. We prefer getting into the habit (and developing the skill) of checking moisture levels with our fingers.
How to water
The second thing to note is how to water. Being a plant with an established root system, it’s important to water slowly and deeply, near the base of the soil.
We like using a long-spouted watering can for this purpose. Water slowly, until the soil is saturated and excess water flows out of the drainage hole. Empty the saucer.
Then, water only when the topsoil is dry again.
This “soak and dry” method of watering is good as it thoroughly nourishes roots and encourages them to grow deep and strong. It’s much healthier for your plant than watering shallowly.
Using this method, you’ll notice that watering frequency naturally drops in winter, to approximately half as often as in summer.
Over and Underwatering
The good thing about Philodendron Tortems is that they respond quite quickly if they are over or under-watered.
It will give you feedback in the form of a droopy plant, and pale leaves. This means something is wrong.
Check the soil moisture, to determine if over or underwatering is the issue. Then, adjust your watering accordingly.
It’ll perk right back up!
Ideally, keep your tropical Philodendron Tortum above 70% humidity for best growth. It simply thrives when we use a humidifier to boost moisture levels in the air.
At higher humidity, we notice faster growth and importantly, more aerial roots. Aeriel roots make propagation easy, as these are easily rooted in soil or water.
That being said, it can tolerate average room humidity (40-50%), so don’t fret if you aren’t able to buy a humidifier right now. This hardy plant will be okay.
If you do want to give your plant a humidity boost but don’t want to commit to a humidifier just yet, here are some ways to give humidity a natural boost.
Hailing from the Amazonian rainforest, the Philodendron Tortum prefers a warm, stable climate. The hotter the better! Temperatures between 60-70 degrees F (16-29 degrees C) are perfect.
Drops below 55 degrees F (12.5 degrees C) results in stunted growth and wilting. Over a period of time, plant death may occur.
Luckily, ideal temperatures are also average indoor temperatures. So there’s likely nothing special you need to do for your plant in this respect.
That is, other than keeping it away from air vents and drafts!
Your Philodendron Tortum does produce inflorescences, comprising of a green spathe and a cream central spadix. However, flowers are small and insignificant, growing along the spadix itself.
When mature, the spathe turns a darker green on the outside and purplish-red on the inside.
As with many Aroids, this plant is much loved for its foliage rather than its flowers.
When grown indoors, your Philodendron Tortum grows up to an impressive 6 feet (1.8 meters) tall and 28 inches (70cm) wide.
This upright-growing plant doesn’t have long vines that trail downwards (like those in hanging baskets) like many other Philodendrons.
This Philodendron Tortum is considered an epiphyte (climbing), and does have aerial roots. You’ll notice them from time to time growing out of the stem, especially when it is kept in a humid environment. These roots serve to draw moisture and nutrients from the air.
In its natural environment, the Philodendron Tortum is a root climber, living above 6.5 feet (2 meters) high on tree trunks.
Long and spindly, its leaves are deeply pinnate and palm-like. They can look a little sparse, as they have spaces between nodes of the leaves of about 1-1.5 inches (3-4cm).
Older leaves naturally turn yellow and fall away. This is not a sign of stress; rather your plant’s way of making way for new growth.
Soil or Growing Medium
Using the right potting mix is important for your Philodendron Tortum. This is a species that hates to be overwatered, so dense and heavy soils are a no-go. These types of soils hold on too much moisture and suffocate your plant.
We like adding perlite, orchid bark and charcoal to lighten ready-made mixes. Trust us, it does wonders for your Philodedron.
Ideally, mix together:
This makes for an airy and well-draining mix that still retains the right amount of moisture necessary for your plant to quench its thirst.
You can substitute perlite for vermiculite or coconut coir, which have similar aeration properties.
Pot size and type
A Philodendron Tortum grows quite quickly, so choose a pot that gives your plant some room to grow. Generous, but not oversized! Oversized pots leave too much soil unused, and again tend to hold on to too much moisture.
Also, use a pot that has drainage holes to prevent water pooling at the bottom of the pot.
A terracotta planter is a good choice, as porous material allows water to evaporate quickly, and air to pass through to the roots.
Fertilizing your Philodendron Tortum is important for a nutrient boost.
We like using Dyna-Gro Grow, which is nutritionally complete. The “Grow” version (NPK 7-9-5) is also formulated especially for heavily-foliaged plants, which honestly is most of our houseplants!
This formula is also urea-free, so is gentle on the roots.
- To apply, mix 1/4 teaspoon of Dyna-Gro to every 1 gallon of water.
- Use this water to water your plants, every time you water during the spring and summer months.
- This way, your plants get a steady stream of nutrients.
There’s no need to fertilize your plant in the fall and winter.
Repotting your fast-growing plant may be an annual affair, if your pot is small. Generally we repot every 1-2 years, when we see signs of the Tortum becoming root-bound.
Spring is the best time for repotting, as this is the start of the growing season. Your plant has some time to establish into its new home.
- Water your plant the day before repotting. This reduces transplant shock, and helps you dislodge your plant more easily from its pot.
- Place your plant on its side, using your fingers to work through the pot.
- Gently tease away the compacted soil to allow your plant to wriggle free. Try not to damage the roots.
- Choose a planter about 2 inches larger than the original pot. Don’t upsize more than this!
- Add fresh soil to the new planter, and re-plant your Tortum in its new home.
As with many Aroids, your Philodendron Tortum is toxic when ingested by animals and humans. Keep this away from your pets and kids.
If you’re looking for pet and kid-friendly houseplant options, check out:
There are two main methods to propagate your Philodendron Tortum. Luckily, both have fairly high success rates, if you have a healthy and developed plant.
If your plant has aerial roots, chances are even higher.
Propagating through Stem Cuttings
- Identify a healthy part of the stem that has at least one node on it, and one leaf. Even better if you spot aerial roots growing.
- Using clean garden shears, cut the stem just below the node.
- Prepare a large enough jar filled with room temperature water.
- Place the stem cutting in the water jar. The aerial roots, if any, and nodes should now be submerged. The leaf is of course above the waterline.
- Place the water jar in a warm spot with plenty of indirect light. If you have a humidifier, place this next to the cutting, and set at 70%.
- Change out the water every few days to prevent it from going murky.
- Within 2-3 weeks you should see some roots growing.
- Once the roots are about 1 inch (3cm) long, prepare a pot filled with potting mix.
- Plant your stem cutting into the potting mix.
- Treat your plant as you would any other Philodendron Tortum.
Propagation through Air Laying
Air layering is a propagation method that encourages roots to grow into damp sphagnum moss, before a cutting is made to separate the mother plant from the rooted baby plant.
It’s also a pretty straightforward method of propagation. You’ll need: clear cling wrap, sphagnum moss, garden ties or a rubber band, a mister, clean garden shears.
- Examine your plant, looking for long and established aerial roots growing out of a healthy node.
- Prepare sphagnum moss and clear cling wrap.
- Lightly wet the moss until its damp but not soggy.
- Take the sphagnum moss, and wrap it around the identified healthy node. It should form a little ball.
- Take the cling wrap and wrap it around the moss.
- Use gardening ties to lightly secure the cling wrap onto the plant, keeping the moss and the wrap in place. But leave the top and bottom end of the wrap open, so that roots can grow out from either end.
- The node should only be in contact with the damp moss, not the cling wrap.
- Lightly mist the sphagnum moss, ensuring that the moss is damp but not soggy. Don’t let the moss dry out.
- In a 2-3 weeks, you’ll spot some roots growing through the moss.
- Once the new roots have developed to around 1 inch (3cm) long, cut off the stem just under the node.
- Plant the new baby plant in potting soil in its permanent pot.
- Treat as you would any other Philodendron Tortum.
Being a relatively fast grower, you’ll need to trim your Philodendron Tortum to keep it in shape.
First, sterilize your garden shears. We like to use 70% isopropyl solution. Then, prune off any leggy, damaged or wilted stems and leaves.
The best time for pruning is in Spring.
Common Pests and Diseases
Like many houseplants, your Philodendron Tortum may suffer the occasional attack from the usual gambit of houseplant pests. Scale, aphids, mealybugs and spider mites are the usual suspects.
To identify them,
- Scale – Look for small round bumps. At first glance, they may look like part of the plant. On closer inspection, they may appear like small barnacles.
- Aphids – Look for pear-shaped insects with long antennae that gather together. These come in multiple colors.
- Mealybugs – Look like small bits of cotton wool, clustering together at hard-to-reach spots. They have white segmented bodies.
- Spider mites – Look for tell-tale fine webbing on leaf undersides and stems.
The best defence against such pests is to keep your plants healthy. As an example, mealybugs are attracted to overfertilized and overwatered plants. Other things you can do:
- Inspect your plants regularly, and especially before introducing a new plant to your home. Cross-infection of plants is very common. Also, given how quickly they reproduce and spread, early detection makes all the difference.
- Use a dilute neem oil solution on your plants, as a preventative measure to ward off pests.
Why are the leaves yellowing?
There may be a couple of reasons.
As mentioned, the occasional old leaf that turns yellow is natural, as your plant sheds older foliage to make way for new growth.
However, if yellowing is not confined to the occasional old leaf, this is usually a sign of improper watering.
- Check the soil’s moisture to confirm if your problem is under or overwatering, the latter being more common.
- Underwatering is easily solved by giving your plant a good soak.
- But if you have a severely overwatered plant on your hands, check out our guide on rescuing your plant before root rot kills it!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is the Philodendron Tortum rare?
Yes, they are a rare species. Do expect to pay a premium for the Phildodendron Tortum!
While easy to propagate, the demand far outstrips supply, so plants tend to get snapped up quickly.
Where can I buy a Philodendron Tortum?
Chances are, you’ll need to look online for reputable sellers. We like to check out Etsy for our favorite sellers. Do expect to pay a premium for this plant.
A mature plant may set you back ~US$100, depending on its size. Smaller plants will cost ~US$30-60. Occasionally, you’ll also find stem cuttings for sale.
The Philodendron Tortum is a rare houseplant with a palm-like appearance. It is well-adapted to indoor temperatures and humidity, enjoys bright but indirect light, but be careful not to overwater.
If you enjoy the palm-like appearance of the Philodendron Tortum, there are a couple of other plants whose leaves resemble a palm frond. Check out the mature Rhaphidophora Decursiva, or the mature Cebu Blue Pothos.
Similar Plants and Varieties
Being houseplant enthusiasts, we are no strangers to Philodendrons. Here are some of our favorites:
- Philodendron McDowell
- Philodendron Micans
- Philodendron Pastazanum
- Philodendron Grazielae – stubby, heart-shaped leaves on a compact little plant.
- Philodendron Melanoneuron
- Philodendron Bonifaziae – a rare Philo with narrow, long leaves
- Philodendron Mamei (lightly variegated with silver patches, known as the Silver Cloud)
- Philodendron Pink Princess (pink variegation)
- Philodendron Brasil – vining plant with heart-shaped leaves the colors of the Brazil flag!
- Philodendron Birkin (cream-colored, stripey variegation)
- Philodendron Florida Ghost (light green and white variegation on lobed, ghost-shaped leaves (no kidding!))
- Philodendron Brandtianum (silvery variegation, known as the Silver Leaf Philodendron)
Deborah is a plant enthusiast and founder of Gardening Collective.