What to Do With Philodendron Aerial Roots

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The majority of Philodendrons can grow aerial roots, but only climbing species use them.

You can trim them if you like, but they can help your plant climb.

If you want your Philodendron to develop its aerial root system, an increase in humidity will help significantly.

There’s a distinct lack of information about Philodendron aerial roots out there in comparison to Monstera ones.

The reasons for this are firstly that Monstera aerial roots are useful – they’re very long and strong and can be used to make ropes, whereas a lot of Philodendron species drag their feet aerial root-wise unless you put them somewhere with 90% humidity.

Secondly, you can’t eat most aroids so there isn’t a lot of research done on them.

That does seem to be changing since the houseplant boom though.

Philodendron paraiso verde aerial roots
Philodendron paraiso verde aerial roots

What are aerial roots?

A lot of houseplants have aerial roots, particularly aroids like Philodendron.

Aerial roots are roots that grow from the stem. Most Philodendrons that have aerial roots use them to climb. They’re hemiepiphytes, so they begin life on the ground and then climb up trees into the forest canopy so they can get more light.

There is at least one species of Philodendron that germinates in the canopy and sends aerial roots into the ground, but the vast majority climb. Unfortunately, I can’t find any trace of it online. Perhaps it was a dream.

Philodendron brasil aerial roots
Philodendron brasil aerial roots

Can Philodendron absorb water through their aerial roots?

Yes, they can, but that isn’t their primary function.

If a Philodendron doesn’t have any aerial roots for whatever reason, that won’t put it at a huge disadvantage for getting moisture/nutrients compared to a similar plant with aerial roots.

It’s more of a backup plan, should something happen to the main root system.

That being said this study found that aerial roots are better at nitrogen uptake than subterranean roots. It was specifically done on houseplants, so I don’t know if that’s true of wild Philodendron.

What are Philodendron aerial roots for?

Philodendron aerial roots are primarily used for climbing. They begin life on the ground and then find a suitable tree to climb up so they can be closer to the sun and grow bigger leaves.

Some crawling Philodendrons still grow little nubby aerial roots, but I think they’re just just for decoration, rather than having an actual purpose.

Philodendron florida ghost aerial roots
Philodendron florida ghost aerial roots

What do Philodendron aerial roots look like?

It varies a lot depending on the species – some Philodendron naturally grow long aerial roots, others barely grow any at all. There are also a few species that grow their aerial roots about half an inch long and then they dry up.

The environment your Philodendron is kept in will also influence how its aerial roots look.

If you keep a heartleaf Philodendron in high (85%+) humidity, then its aerial root will look completely different to if it were kept in 60% humidity, and then different again at 40%.

Some Philodendron species will start developing their aerial root system if you give them something to climb, others won’t grow aerial roots under seemingly any conditions, even though they’re climbers.

Do all Philodendron have aerial roots?

As far as I’m aware, most Philodendron species have aerial roots. It seems likely that the formation of aerial roots on Philodendron predates their climbing preference on their evolutionary timeline.

However, climbing Philodendrons tend to produce more aerial roots than self-heading or crawling species, and they tend to be longer.

Philodendron golden dragon aerial roots
Philodendron golden dragon aerial roots

Climbing Philodendron

I have a list of crawling vs. climbing Philodendrons here, but most easily available Philodendrons are climbers. All of the heartleaf Philodendron are, such as:

  • Philodendron brasil
  • Philodendron micans
  • Philodendron hederaceum (the regular green one)
  • Philodendron lemon lime

I have many Philodendron, and they’re ALL climbers, except one (my Gloriosum). They all have quite different aerial roots.

My Florida green will grow aerial roots if it’s climbing – even if it’s just on a coir pole.

My Philodendron golden dragon goes through seemingly random stages of growing long, cream aerial roots, which then just shrivel up to strings.

Philodendron verrucosum aerial roots
Philodendron verrucosum aerial roots – that’s actually quite long for them

My Philodendron verrucosum cannot be convinced to grow aerial roots for anything.

They’re all climbing Philodendrons, and they’re all growing well (and within a foot of one another) and yet their aerial root systems are radically different.

Crawling Philodendron

I state in my crawling vs climbing Philodendron article that crawling Philodendrons don’t have aerial roots, but that actually isn’t *strictly* true. Whilst they don’t have long traditional aerial roots, they do have…something.

Philodendron gloriosum aerial roots
Philodendron gloriosum aerial roots

However they don’t *seem* to be able to develop them – or at least they need to be in contact with the soil.

With climbing Philodendrons, if they sense that there’s something nearby for them to climb, they’ll send energy to their aerial roots so they can grow and cling to whatever it is. This provides them with extra stability.

On crawling Philodendron, even an aerial root less than a quarter inch from the soil doesn’t grow into it. If you twisted the stem so that the aerial root was in contact with the soil it probably would grow, as rooting each node into the soil is how crawlers stay upright.

Examples of crawling Philodendron:

  • Gloriosum
  • Plowmanii
  • Mamei
  • Pastazanum

Self-heading Philodendron

Like crawling Philodendron, self-heading Philodendron, like Philodendron birkin, do have aerial roots, but they don’t tend to be very developed, and they stay quite close to the surface of the soil.

You can’t really do anything with them, as they tend to root directly into the soil. They’re physiologically the same as the aerial roots on a climbing Philodendron, but they behave more like subterranean roots.

Examples of self-heading Philodendrons:

  • Philodendron birkin
  • Philodendron imperial green
  • Philodendron Prince of Orange

Hybrid Philodendron

There are loads of hybrid Philodendrons available in the houseplant world. These are plants that have been specially bred to exhibit certain characteristics.

The most famous is probably Philodendron Pink Princess, though it has unknown parentage. There are also plants like Philodendron glorious, which is a hybrid between Philodendron Gloriosum and Philodendron melanchrysum.

If the hybrid has two parents with the same growth pattern, the offspring will inherit it – so two climbers will produce a climber. However, if one of the parents is a climber, the offspring will be a climber.

Climbing is the dominant trait, which further backs up the idea that Philodendrons are a climbing species, hence the aerial roots.

Crawlers and self-heading Philodendrons likely evolved later.

Hybridising houseplants often isn’t as simple as crossing two plants. Often the parentage is the result of a few generations of crossing certain plants – it’s incredible what can be done with tissue culture nowadays.

Philodendron pink princess aerial roots
Philodendron pink princess aerial roots

So what if a hybrid plant has several parents, all with different growth patterns?

Well, you end up with reluctant climbers, Philodendron Pink Princess being a prime example.

Now, not all PPPs are bad climbers – some are fine. The same with White Wizard, White Princess, and White Knight. It very much depends on the lab they came from, and the environment they’re kept in.

However, they’re renowned for being reluctant to climb – they don’t like growing aerial roots or attaching to stakes unless the conditions are perfect, and if, for example, a moss pole is *slightly* too dry, they’ll release their grip and you’ll have to start again.

Philodendron micans aerial roots
Philodendron micans aerial roots after they’ve been in a terrarium

What to do with Philodendron aerial roots

Philodendron aerial roots tend to be less of an issue than Monstera aerial roots because they don’t typically grow as long and start attaching to walls without you noticing unless you encourage them.

Whilst many people have tried it and claimed that it’s possible, I wouldn’t recommend trying to get a crawling plant to climb. You’ll be forever fighting with it. And if you try to get a climbing plant to crawl, you’ll probably end up with stem rot.

1. Cut them off

Cutting off Philodendron aerial roots isn’t usually worth it, because they’re so short, but if they’re longer than you want, or they just really freak you out, then you can 100% just cut them off.

Bear in mind that cutting the aerial roots will create a wound on the plant that disease and infection can enter into. Make sure that you use clean scissors, shears, or a knife to snip off the aerial root.

Also, there’s every chance that it’ll grow back, especially if your plant is living in conditions favourable for aerial root growth.

2. Bury them

Philodendron aerial roots aren’t usually long enough for you to bury, but if they are, you can.

Like Monstera, Philodendron aerial roots can turn into subterranean roots when they’re buried, so will provide your plant with more nutrients and water.

The aerial roots on the Philodendron micans pictured above only got so long because it was in a terrarium. I rooted it by burying them, and then snapped the roots trying to take a photo of them for this article. Oops.

You can also develop aerial roots (more on that later) and then take a cutting of the stem and bury the aerial roots. It can be a quicker way of propagating Philodendron than taking a cutting with no aerial roots.

Personally, I prefer rooting Philodendron cuttings in water, but I know a lot of people prefer propping in soil, and encouraging aerial root growth prior to cutting can really increase your chances of success.

3. Leave them alone

I tend to just leave Philodendron aerial roots to do their own thing. Even the ones with seemingly vigorous growth tend to shrivel after a while – I’ve never had a Philodendron grow aerial roots longer than six inches unless it had something to climb.

4. Use them to help your Philodendron climb

I highly, highly, encourage you to get your climbing philodendron on some kind of stake BEFORE they’re big enough to ‘need’ one. I have two baby Philodendrons, a Pink Princess and a Florida Ghost and they look RIDICULOUS on their Kratiste poles but at least when they’re bigger, their stems will grow straight up.

That Hoya also has its eye on the pole

Many of my other Philodendrons have been introduced to stakes later in life and it’s going to take a lot of chopping and propping before they’re a nice shape.

I mean, I quite like the haphazard approach, but also…they’d be more photogenic if they’re neater.

5. Put them in water

As I said before, Philodendron aerial roots are rarely long enough to put in soil or water, but if yours is, go for it.

Putting Philodendron aerial roots in water can be a good way to propagate them, whether you’ve taken a cutting or they’re still attached to the mother plant.

If the node is still attached to the stem, you’re basically layering it, but in water. If it isn’t, you’re just propagating it.

As with Monstera, putting Philodendron aerial roots in water can help increase turgor pressure, which can encourage a temporary growth spurt in your plant BUT you’ll have to keep the water there forever (which is just adding to your workload) or remove the node you’ve rooted and pot it up as a separate plant.

Philodendron splendid aerial roots

How to encourage Philodendron to grow aerial roots

There are a few ways to encourage Philodendron to grow aerial roots. I’m not going to include the option of putting them in water, because if you’re trying to grow them longer, chances are they’re not long enough to go into water without having to rig up some kind of irrigation system.

Increase the humidity

Humidity does bizarre things to Philodendron roots.

Heartleaf Philodendrons are actually climbing plants, despite most of us having them trail. In nurseries, they tend to be trained to hang, so their aerial roots are rarely more than little nubs. Sometimes they’ve developed further at the nursery but then dried up when you brought them home, so they look like sad little strings.

I put a heartleaf Philodendron in my terrarium, which routinely reaches 90% humidity. Now I already have quite high humidity, so my Philodendron brasil has quite well-developed aerial roots, despite being left to trail.

Nothing would prepare me for the aerial roots that developed on my heartleaf philodendron:

aerial roots on heartleaf philodendron

Horrifying.

The reason they grow all fuzzy like this is to increase the surface area, so they can stick to whatever they want to climb like velcro.

Over time, the aerial root will harden off and go brown and woody, and will bond to whatever it’s climbing like a limpet.

Most Philodendron will start putting out more developed aerial roots in high humidity, BUT it’s probably not worth living in 90% humidity. You could try a terrarium or a clear plastic box though. Make sure that the plant is also quite warm and in a bright spot for maximum results.

Give it something to climb

Very few Philodendrons will attach to coir poles, but most will appreciate a proper moss pole. Their aerial roots can bury into the deep moss and develop into a normal, subterranean root system, rather than an aerial root system.

This is like the supercharged version of putting the aerial roots in soil or water, because not only is the Philodendron developing a massive roots system, but it’s also growing up.

When climbing plants grow vertically, they produce bigger leaves because they think that they’re getting more light – regardless of whether they are or not.

I use Kratiste poles for my plants, because I’m too lazy to water moss poles. My Florida green grows wild aerial roots on it (as do 99% of my climbing plants) but my P. verrucosum remains unmoved and aerial root-less.

Wrap them in moss

This is kind of cheating because wrapping a node in moss won’t produce aerial roots – it’ll produce subterranean roots. However, since you’re probably wanting your Philodendron to grow aerial roots so it’s easier to propagate, then I thought I’d mention it.

air layering node

Wrap the node in damp moss and cover it with clingfilm (I secure the clingfilm with plant ties) and you should have roots in a few weeks.

In conclusion

  • Most Philodendron grow aerial roots
  • Crawling Philodendron don’t use their aerial roots, and self-heading ones just root them in the ground
  • Philodendrons don’t tend to grow aerial roots long like Monstera deliciosa
  • You can trim Philodendron aerial roots if you like, but they’re unlikely to do any harm.

Caroline Cocker

Caroline is the founder and writer (and plant keeper) of Planet Houseplant

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