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Syngonium are an awesome plant for houseplant beginners. They’re pretty, cheap, widely avaible, and easy to care for.
This article is a whistle-stop guide to all things Syngonium. It’ll cover all aspects of their lives briefly and link out to more in-depth content where necessary.
The history, geography, and biology of Syngonium
Do I only include this bit because I get to colour in a map? Perhaps.
Where do Syngonium come from?
Syngonium are native to the top half of South America, and most of Central America. They’ve also been introduced (usually accidentally, sometimes on purpose) to a few countries in south-east Asia. Also Bangladesh, which seems to enjoy having various non-native aroids introduced.
Syngonium as a species don’t have any widely-used alternative names, but Syngonium podophyllum, the most common Syngonium houseplant, has several:
- Arrowhead plant
- Arrowhead vine
- Arrowhead philodendron
- African evergreen
- American evergreen
The word ‘podophyllum translates to ‘foot-like leaves’ in Latin. One can only assume that whomever named the plant had some weird-ass feet.
Nephthytis is a type of plant, but is unrelated to Syngonium, yet some Syngoniums have the word ‘Nephthytis tacked onto the end of their name. They’re distantly related, in that they’re both aroids.
What type of plant are Syngonium?
Syngoniums are aroids, so are in the same family as peace lilies, Philodendron, and Monstera. They’re part of the tribe Caladieae, as are Caladium and Xanthasoma.
How many different types of Syngonium are there?
There are 34 species of Syngonium, but most of these aren’t kept as houseplants. Most of the Syngoniums available on the market are cultivars of Syngonium podophyllum. Syngonium wendlandii are also pretty common.
There are around 100 Syngonium cultivars available – they’re popular with tissue culture experts because they have pink and white variegation which are very profitable. They just seem to have very manipulable genetics. There are albos, mottleds, pink splash, pink and cream splash, as well as cultivars like the ice frost that starts out white and fades to green over time.
Are Syngonium expensive?
They’re initially priced high (I assume to cover the costs of making them) and then prices drop off dramatically. Even the Albo, which was expensive for YEARS (I assume because people bought it as an alternative to the Monstera albo, is ow fairly reasonably priced. You can get decent-sized ones for about £30. The only issue is that they’re very popular and tend to sell out quickly.
Plants similar to Syngonium
They’re actually quite unique-looking plants. There are a few Philodendron that look a little Syngonium-esque, such as the Burle-marx. Schissogramma also look a little bit similar.
Caladiums also bear a passing resemblance to Syngoniums, which makes sense because they’re part of the same tribe. The easiest way to tell them apart is the growth pattern. Caladium grow from a bulb, and all the leave are one petioles that start close to the ground.
Syngoniums, on the other hand, are vines, and tend to grow one long stem. If you have multiple growth points you likely have multiple plants.
Are Syngonium toxic?
Yes, so try to keep kids and pets away from them.
That being said, the reason they’re toxic is that all parts of Syngonium contain calcium oxalate crystals. If ingested, calcium oxalate crystals can cause pain in the mouth and a severe stomach upset – enough to dissuade the muncher from trying to eat it twice but not enough to cause real damage.
Yes, they’re poisonous, but the chance of them causing long-term harm is very low.
Basic Syngonium care
Syngoniums are pretty easy to care for in that they’re very accepting of subpar care. However, if you look after them well, they’re very rewarding to grow. It’s not actually well known, but Syngonium, like Monstera deliciosa and Monstera dubia, have a mature leaf form that’s different from the juvenile one:
Now I understand why they call it the goosefoot plant.
Syngoniums are tolerant of low light but will do much better in bright, indirect light. Super bright light is wasted on them. The best light is a bright window (south or west-facing) but shaded out by another plant.
They do very well under grow lights, so if you fancy brightening up a dark spot, a Syngonium with a grow light would be a great addition.
Syngoniums are super dramatic and will droop when thirsty. I think they’re worse than peace lilies, because they droop further and take way longer to recover.
Ideally, they like to be kept evenly moist but they like very well aerated soil, so you can let them dry out quite a bit. I water mine weekly-ish in summer and monthly in winter.
I check moisture levels with a moisture meter, or gauge how much water’s in the soil by how heavy the pot is. In general, if you wait for a plant to tell you that it’s thirsty (i.e. by drooping) then you’ve waited too long BUT Syngoniums recover well, albeit slowly.
They’re not picky about water quality – I use tapwater and they don’t care. For more information on watering Syngonium, check out this article:
Medium humidity is great, but not necessary. Humidity levels of around 65% will ensure that leaves emerge intact, with no rips or deformed leaf lobes (low humidity can cause very strange leaf shapes in variegated Syngonium). However, Syngonium can acclimate to humidity levels of around 40% and grow perfectly well.
Humidity in excess of 70% is, in my experience, unnecessary and can actually slow growth. Ironically, this makes Syngonium a great terrarium plant because they grow pretty slowly in high humidity environments.
Again, they’re not fussy. Get yourself a houseplant fertiliser that has good review – I like the General Hydroponics Flora Series, and I see people rave about Dynagrow – and just use that.
There is barely any research into growing Syngoniums because they’re not grown as a commercial crop. They’re grown for the houseplant industry, which doesn’t benefit from you learning to care for your plants – it would prefer you keep buying replacements.
No one knows what the perfect Syngonium fertiliser product or regime is. There is only anecdotal evidence, which will be very dependant on the conditions the plant is kept in.
Pick a fertiliser, and use it. I feed my plants every other time I water, but you can water every two months if you like. If fertilising is a bit too much for you, just add a handful of worm castings to the soil once a year.
Don’t overthink it. There are no right answers (yet).
How to repot Syngonium
Syngonium are quite shock resistant, so don’t panic about repotting them. They may droop initially, but they’ll get over it.
My Syngonium is in a fairly chunky aroid mix. Here’s the recipe:
- 4 parts coir
- 4 parts perlite
- 4 parts bark/LECA
- 1 part worm castings
You can add charcoal if you like, but I think it’s unnecessary.
Syngoniums are very adaptable, and if you’d rather just use a store-bought houseplant potting mix, go for that. The only issue with these soils is that they tend to be a little dense and you can easily overwater. As long as you make sure the soil is nearly dry before watering, you’ll be fine.
Another favourite option of mine is to mix equal parts LECA and terrarium soil. I actually prefer it to making my own aroid mix because I hate soaking coir.
Syngoniums grow well in water and LECA. They switch to both hydro and semi-hydro without much fuss.
Again, not fussy. However, I’d avoid terracotta because Syngoniums often have sticky roots that can adhere to the inside of the pot. You can either soak the pot or rip the roots to get it out (a healthy plant honestly won’t care).
I keep my Syngoniums in plastic nursery pots because they’re super light so it’s easy to tell when they need watering.
Syngonium growth habits
Syngonium are sold as bushy plants, but they’re not. In the wild they climb trees and rocks, securing themselves to their hosts with their aerial roots. They grow on one long vine, and usually only have one growth point per plant.
Helping them climb
I like to train my Syngoniums to grow up kratiste poles. Moss poles are another option.
Making them bushy
The only guaranteed way to grow a bushy Syngonium is to put a lot of plants or cuttings in one pot and make sure it has good light.
Each Syngonium plant only has one growth point so you’ll need several to create a full look. If you keep it in low light then the gaps between leaves will get long and the plant will look leggy.
Syngonium troubleshooting guide
Syngoniums can get all kinds of problems but they’re not particularly prone to anything in particular.
Pests common to Syngonium
The pests you’re likely to encounter are:
Syngoniums aren’t pest magnets, but they’re also not pest-resistant. Keeping them healthy is using enough to ensure they don’t get bad pest infestations. Make sure you keep the leaves clean in winter, because the short days and subpar light sap their energy and make it harder for them to defend themselves*.
*I know the thought of a houseplant defending itself seems weird, but a healthy plant can make hormones that dissuade pests. They don’t actually go out and buy themselves some pesticides.
Learning how to deal with houseplant pests is something you have to figure out on your own. A lot of people swear by systemic pesticides but they’re banned in the UK so I prefer to use beneficial bugs. They’re much better for the plant AND my lungs so I’m not too bothered.
There are various problems you might encounter with Syngoniums:
The list goes on.
I can’t stress this enough, but most of these issues can be improved by getting your Syngonium better light. Even a sunburned leaf will cause the plant to produce more hormones to protect it from UV.
Light is energy, and Syngoniums need energy. Labelling them as low light plants is a marketing tactic, but the truth is that they can survive in lower light but won’t thrive, and will be more like to have issues.
How to propagate Syngonium
Syngoniums can be propagated in water or soil. You need to take a cutting that has a node (the bit the aerial root and leaf petiole emerge from on the stem) and put the node in water or soil.
I have an article on it:
In the wild Syngoniums produce spathe and spadix-style inflorescences and produce seeds (and fruits – I assume inedible, but can’t find any concrete info). In commercial cultivation, they’re cloned via tissue culture.
This article aimed to cover everything about Syngoniums as briefly as possible. If there’s anything you think I missed, please leave me a comment below, and I can make amendments.
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