Hailing from the Araceae family is the Rhaphidophora Decursiva (also known as Dragon Tail Plant 🙂 ), a rare but rapidly-growing vine with lush green leaves.
The word Decursiva means “downwards” in Greek, referring to the plant’s downward dangling leaves and branches. Grown as a houseplant under optimal care conditions, the Rhaphidophora Decursiva grows up to 5 feet (152cm).
This tropical houseplant is easy to care for, requiring conditions similar to that of its native home, the rainforest. Warm, stable temperatures between 65 and 80 degrees F (18-28 degrees C), humidity >50%, and ample bright but indirect light are ideal growing conditions. Use the soak and dry method of watering, and be sure to give it a moss pole to climb.
Let’s get into the details!
Rhaphidophora Decursiva’s transformation…
Before we go into care details – a quick note on your Dragon Tail’s transformation.
In its juvenile form, the Dragon Tail forms small oval-shaped leaves with no fenestrations. Over time, leaves enlarge and develop slits. Its final look resembles a fern or palm frond with deep pinnate lobes. How cool!
Caring for your Rhaphidophora Decursiva
Your tropical plant is accustomed to receiving lots of dappled light through the rainforest canopy, so an ample amount of bright but filtered light is best.
Place your plant on East-facing windowsills for it to thrive. If your home doesn’t receive much natural sunlight, you can use a grow light at 800-2,000 foot candles for 6 hours a day.
On the other hand, if you only have access to West-facing windows, be sure the place your plant 3 – 5 feet (0.9 – 1.5 meters) away from the window.
This is because the West sun is harsh and can scorch your plant’s delicate foliage. Placing it a little further away from the window reduces the light intensity.
Rhaphidophoras come from tropical regions, so they are used to a thorough soak. But they also have aerial roots and want to dry off quickly! Sitting in a pool of water for extended periods is a no-go.
What does this mean for watering requirements? Use the Soak and Dry method of watering:
- Check if the top 1 inch of soil is dry using your finger before watering. If the topsoil is still a little damp, hold off and check again in a day or two.
- When watering, ensure your plant is soaked such that excess water runs off the drainage hole. Then wait for the top 1 inch of soil to dry before watering again.
- How quickly the soil dries depends on evaporation rates, climate, and seasons. You should see that watering is more frequent in the growing months of spring and summer and naturally becomes less frequent in fall and winter. As a rule of thumb, this could be about once a week in the growing season and once every two weeks in the colder months.
- Always use a pot with drainage holes. If you use a saucer, please always empty out any excess water after watering!
- Use a potting mix that allows excess water to drain quickly (see Soil section for details)
If you live in a region where humidity is low (i.e. dry, desert areas), it’s a good idea to invest in a humidifier.
For the Rhaphidophora Decursiva, aim for at least 50% humidity, with 80-90% being ideal.
If you are unable to buy a humidifier, we understand. Here’s how to naturally increase the humidity in your home:
- Group plants together;
- Place your plant on a pebble tray with some water. Evaporation of the water on the pebbles increases the humidity levels around your plant;
- If your plant still can receive adequate sunlight, place it in the bathroom, where humidity is naturally higher.
Unsurprisingly, your tropical plant thrives in warmer climates.
Keep your plant in stable temperature conditions between 65 and 80 degrees F (18-28 degrees C) for optimal growth.
The Rhaphidophora Decursiva is not cold-hardy. Temperatures below 55 degrees F (13 degrees C) may kill your Dragon Tail! If you are placing your plant outdoors, be sure to bring it in during colder months.
Since your plant is an epiphyte, an airy potting mix is critical to healthy growth. It also enjoys a slightly acidic growing media.
Here is an ideal soil mix we recommend for most Aroids:
- Two parts potting mix
- 1 part perlite
- 1 part orchid bark
- plus a handful of charcoal
While the potting mix provides organic matter that gives nutrition to your plant, chunky perlite and orchid bark promote aeration and quickly drain water. Charcoal helps stabilize pH and kills impurities.
Rhaphidophora Decursivas are light feeders but can benefit from some added nutrition, especially when growing those massive leaves!
Here are some fertilizing tips:
- Choose a water-soluble, urea-free houseplant fertilizer. This one is our favorite as it is gentle and nutritionally complete.
- Use at half strength, once a month during spring and summer.
- During fall and winter, reduce this to once every two months.
Using a moss pole is a brilliant way to support your plant’s growth habit. It mimics their native environment in which the Dragon Tail climbs up trees to reach higher in the canopy.
Besides acting as climbing support, moss poles also promote healthy growth and more vibrant foliage. Read here to find out how to use a moss pole for your climbing plant.
Sorry, your Decursiva is toxic when ingested by pets and humans.
The word Rhaphidophora means “needle-bearer” in Greek. This refers to the calcium oxalate crystals commonly contained in stems and leaves of many Aroids.
These crystals pierce tissues, causing mouth burns, vomiting, nausea and gastrointestinal issues.
Though rarely fatal, you’d want to keep your plant well away from animals and children. If an accident occurs, quickly wash the affected area with tap water and seek medical attention.
The more space you give Rhaphidophora Decursiva to grow, the bigger it gets! But there are a few things to be careful of when repotting:
- Unlike some other houseplants, the Decursiva does not like to stay root-bound. So once you notice the rootball getting thick, repot it in a pot that is 2 inches bigger. As a rule of thumb, repottin should take place around once a year.
- Here are some signs your plant may be root-bound: your plant always seems thirsty no matter how much you water it; the leaves are small and not growing as quickly as before; roots are emerging from the bottom of the drainage hole.
- Ensure that the size of the new pot is only 2 inches larger than the original container. Having too big of a pot relative to the rootball size means having excess “unused” soil. As a result, too much water is retained in the soil when watering. This promotes waterlogged roots and invites root rot!
- Always use a fresh potting mix when repotting, as nutrients deplete over time.
Because this plant can grow to a monstrous size, keeping it contained in a smaller pot naturally restricts its growth.
There are a few methods for propagating your Decursiva. One of the most straightforward ways is through stem cuttings.
As with most plants, Spring is the best time for propagation, just before the growing season.
Propagating through Stem Cuttings:
- Identify a stem where there is at least one node and one leaf.
- Using garden shears, deliver a clean cut just below the node.
- Dip your stem cutting in a rooting hormone. This stimulates root growth.
- Now, transfer your stem cutting to a well-moistened potting mix (see the Soil section for our preferred mix).
- After a month, you should notice some resistance when giving your plant a gentle tug. This means roots have formed.
Another method is using the air layering technique. Here, you propagate your plant by allowing the aerial roots to establish in moss before separating the new plant from its parent.
Propagating through Air Layering:
- Wrap wet horticultural moss around the stem of your Decursiva, where aerial roots are present.
- Secure the moss with cling wrap and use twine to hold it in place.
- After you see the roots establish (you can see it visibly winding around the moss and multiplying), cut the stem and pot the plant in a fresh potting mix.
- Keep the soil moist for the first week. Thereafter, treat it as you would any Decursiva.
You can also occasionally find Decursiva seeds that you can grow.
Pests and Diseases
While healthy Rhaphidophora Decursivas are resistant to pests, they still may occasionally suffer from infestation.
Here are the usual suspects:
- Mealybugs or Spider mites: These pests suck on your plant’s sap, depriving your plant of nutrients and injuring its plant tissues. To remedy this, use an Insecticidal Soap spray. (For more information on how to identify Spider mites, read this.)
- Mosaic Virus (Tobacco Mosaic Virus): The Mosaic Virus attacks your plant on a molecular level. When infected, leaves are mottled and develop a mosaic appearance. You may also see bright discoloured spots. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for the Virus, and affected parts need to be pruned off and discarded immediately.
- Root Rot: Root rot is caused by excess water suffocating your plant’s roots or a moisture-loving fungus attacking the roots. If your plant is sitting in a soggy pot, gently lift it out from its container and examine its roots. If the roots are brown, black or smell bad, this is root rot. You will need to snip off infected roots and repot in fresh soil. (If the infection is severe, your plant may not be salvaged. Refer to the Propagation Section to see how to grow a new plant from stem cuttings.)
Why are the leaves turning yellow?
- Overwatering. As with many epiphytes, your Decursiva is prone to overwatering. Using your finger, check the soil to see if it is moist – if it is, chances are you are overwatering your plant.
- Another possibility is using a growing media that retains too much moisture for your plant. See the Soil section for our preferred loose and well-draining mix. Also, ensure that you are not placing your plant in too big of a container, inadvertently promoting water retention.
- Yellow leaves could also signify underwatering. Check your plant’s moisture levels and read the Water section to confirm. Remember only to allow the top 1 inch to dry out; the layers underneath should still be slightly moist.
- Too little light is another reason for yellow leaves. Relocate your plant to an East-facing window for ample bright, indirect light, or use grow lights to supplement low light levels.
If you’ve exhausted all the options above, another possibility is that your plant is not getting enough nutrients. This reason is less common, as your plant is a light feeder. Read the Fertiliser section for details on how to give your plant a nutritionally complete diet.
Why is my Rhaphidophora Decursiva not developing holes?
We get it. Seeing your plant mature is one of the joys of gardening! The number one reason your plant is not developing fenestrations is a lack of sunlight.
Examine if your plant is getting ample (6-8 hours) dappled light. If you want to get scientific, you can use a light meter to check light intensity as well (should be 800-2,000 foot candles).
In winter, you might choose to supplement limited natural light with grow lights.
Why are my plant’s stems mushy?
This is usually due to overwatering. Check if root rot is present by gently lifting your plant from its pot and examining the roots. If the roots are black or brown and the infection is widespread, you may not be able to save your plant. In this case, check the Propagation section to grow a new plant in a fresh mix.
However, if the damaged roots are not widespread, snip off infected roots and repot your plant in fresh soil in a new container. Read the Watering and Soil sections to ensure your plant will not be overwatered and has an airy mix that does not retain too much moisture.
Why are the leaves turning brown?
When the Rhaphidophora gets too much sun, or if the sunlight is too intense, leaves start turning brown. Relocate your plant to a shadier spot. Since damaged leaves will not recover, prune off and brown foliage to make way for new growth.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where do I buy a Rhaphidophora Decursiva?
You might have guessed that the Decursiva is hard to come by. You will likely need to seek out private sellers online, like through Etsy. The upside is that caring for a Rhaphidophora Decursiva is relatively easy once you get your hands on one! 🙂
They are also usually affordable, ~US$15-20 for a starter plant.
Where does the Rhaphidophora Decursiva come from?
The Rhaphidophora Decursiva hails from the rainforests of China, the Indian subcontinent, and Indochina (think the foothills of the Himalayas; they have been found in altitudes up to 4,920 feet (1500meters)!). In its native habitat, it climbs on top of trees, sending thick aerial roots down host trees for stability and support. At the same time, it reaches upwards to receive more sunlight higher up in the canopy.
Is the Rhaphidophora Decursiva a Philodendron or Monstera?
Neither. Despite sometimes being called “creeping Philodendron” or the “Monstera Decursiva”, the Decursiva is neither a Philodendron nor a Monstera. Instead, it comes from the Rhaphidophora genus.
Rhaphidophoras are native to Asia and consists of around 100 evergreen climbers. A close cousin of the Decursiva is the popular Rhaphidophora Tetrasperma.
Do they have flowers?
Yes they do! Like many Aroids, the Decursiva has a stubby yellow spike (spadix) protected by a boat-shaped spathe. Tiny flowers grow on the spadix in the blooming season.
Similar Plants and Varieties
- Rhaphidophora Tetrasperma: a close relative, leaves of the Tetrasperma as much smaller than the Decursiva’s. Also, the lobes of the Decursiva appear more like long slits; while the Tetrasperma’s form more irregular round or oval holes.
- Rhaphidophora Hayi
- Epipremnum pinnatum (Cebu Blue Pothos): Often confused with the Decursiva, the leaves of the Epipremnum pinnatum have a bluish tinge, while Decursivas are a lush green with no blue undertone. The leaves of the Decursiva are also much larger than the pinnatum when fully mature!
- The Monstera Subpinnata resembles the Decursiva, having similar palm-like lobed leaves.
Deborah is a plant enthusiast and founder of Gardening Collective.
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