Philodendron ‘Burle-Marx’ Fills Space in the Shade

There never seem to be enough well-behaved, non-invasive-exotic, un-ugly spreading groundcovers for shaded spots. Some may feel with good reason that “spreading” and “well-behaved” do not fit in the same sentence. We’ll come back to that.

Philodendron 'Burle Marx'

Roberto Burle Marx (1909-1994) was in the eyes of many, including mine, the world’s greatest tropical landscape architect, although his style may not be for everyone. Among many activities, he fetched tropical Brazilian plants into cultivation. He had a special taste for Aroids, including Philodendrons. A Wikipedia check lists his Philodendron collection at 500 plants. The total number of Philodendron species is 700 or more.

One named for RBM in 1957, perhaps discovered by him, is Philodendron burle-marxii, often encountered in gardens as Philodendron ‘Burle Marx’.

It is slowly taking over the shaded north-facing impossible garden bed in front of my home. Garden friend Laure Hristov presented me a couple of branches with dangling roots in a garbage bag maybe 3 years ago. I planted the sad sticks in a mulch-covered bed in the shade, and here we are now with the bed blanketed. Success. And now more on well-behaved.

It would be easy to say the blanket-job is a little excessive, but I’m happy, it has not spread elsewhere, it gets along better then you might expect with the woody plants in the bed, and the plant is easy to thin or remove.

It had one interesting setback. A possum died hidden under the foliage, and before I discovered it (P.U.) a committee of vultures cleaned it up. During the feast they trampled the Philodendron down to compost. It bounced back with great vigor, perhaps a wee bit guano-fertilized. Vultures lack nice table manners.

Philodendron means roughly “tree lover,” and Philodendrons as a genus tend variably to be climbing vines, even sometimes epiphytic. They have long, strong dangly roots, and they grow fast. Burle Marx Philodendron within my experience (and a little Google experience) does not seem terribly interested in climbing (just a little at the base of a palm); it is far more of a spreader.

The roots dangle as cables, then expand when they meet the mulch.

The roots are a force to reckon with. They drop from the big fleshy stems like stout wires. Where they contact the ground (which can be merely decaying mulch which they seem to love) the roots expand into a bigger thicker branching appearance, covered with absorptive root hairs, almost a different organ from the root as it emerged from the stem. If I wanted to study “the power of roots” I’d take a hard look at Roberto.

A general note on Aroids. They bear toxic needle-shaped crystals, not good where nibblers may nibble. Also, perhaps in relation to those little needles, Aroids can cause skin irritation, which I suffer on my forearms. Wear gloves when handling. I feel a little itchy-irritated just from taking today’s photos.







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George Rogers

About George Rogers

George Rogers is the Chair of the Horticulture Program at Palm Beach State College in Palm Beach Gardens.