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There isn’t a lot of information available regarding the differences between crawling and climbing Philodendrons, simply because the vast majority of Philodendron species commonly available to houseplant enthusiasts are climbers.
Once upon a time, like…last year, you wouldn’t find crawling Philodendrons in a shop, so it didn’t really matter. But now you can! And I’m frequently seeing people on Facebook asking what the heck is going on, because their plant is creeping over the edge of its pot, and attempting a coup on the Ficus next door.
Which Philodendrons are crawlers?
Most of the more common Philodendron are climbers, so ones like:
- Philodendron micans
- Philodendron hederaceum/scandens (and its variants, such as brasil)
- Philodendron hastatum
- Philodendron pink princess
All of them are climbers. Some of them will trail, but they’re generally, especially the larger-leaved species, are happiest climbing.
I’ve made handy graphic detailing the more common crawlers here:
The crawling Philodendron you’re most likely to encounter in the wilds of the garden centre is the Gloriosum.
I got mine for about £6.99 as a baby:
There are a few different cultivars – some have whiter veining than others for example, but they’re all crawlers. Rather than climbing along a moss pole, they’ll crawl along the top of the soil.
What’s the difference between crawling/creeping and climbing Philodendrons?
The main difference is the growth pattern – there are physical differences, but it all links back to how they grow. You can hybridize crawling and climbing Philodendrons, and in most cases, the resulting offspring are climbers, so it seems like that’s the dominant gene.
It kind of makes sense – crawling just seems like a more dangerous way to live, because there’s a way higher chance of being trodden on, plus crawlers are more vulnerable to things like flooding, drought, and even fire.
Climbers also have access to more light as they grow, so they tend to produce larger leaves.
An example of a hybrid between a climber and a crawler is the Philodendron glorious, which is a Melanochrysum (climber) crossed with a gloriosum. As predicted, P. Glorious is a climber.
So, if you’re not sure if your hybrid plant is a climber or a crawler, look at the parents. If both are crawlers, it will most likely crawl, but if not, it will probably climb.
Crawling philodendrons crawl
This is the difference between climbers and crawlers! One climbs, one crawls!
Climbers grow against trees and attach their stems to their trunks using aerial roots. Their goal is to grow up.
Crawlers creep along the ground horizontally.
If you look at the new leaf emerging on my Philodendron verrucosum (climber), you’ll see that it’s growing between the last leaf and the other leaves – i.e. in the middle. This will help provide support as it grows up (because it hasn’t got anything to attach to yet):
I’ve circled the newest leaf.
Crawling Philodendrons, on the other hand pick a direction in which to grow and stick with it. Running out of pot space won’t deter them, they’ll just keep on creeping over the edge, looking for something (anything) that they can put roots into.
This is only a baby gloriosum so he hasn’t really established a growth pattern yet, but you can see he’s decided that he’s going to grow to the right. I’ve circled the emerging leaf.
Crawling philodendrons benefit from damper soil
Conversely, climbing Philodendrons prefer to dry out a bit more. Again, makes sense. In their natural environment the ground will have a lot more moisture available than the tree (and surrounding air) that the aerial roots are attached to.
You can either water your crawlers more often or grow them in a soil mix that retains more water than a typical aroid mix. ABG mix is a great option – it’s often used for terrariums and is well draining but retains a good amount of water.
Crawling Philodendrons take up more space
I mean floor/surface area. A climbing Philodendron may only take up the surface area of its pot, and then will climb vertically into space you weren’t using anyway.
Crawlers grow along in single file, taking up a tonne of room. Once my Gloriosum is bigger I’m gonna put it into this pot that my peace liliy is currently in:
I’ll remove the nursery pots and put a layer of leca in the bottom and then add in soil. The leca will allow me to use the pot’s self-watering capabilities without drowning my plant.
I’ll pot the gloriosum at one end, and it’ll crawl to the other.
Crawling philodendrons don’t grow aerial roots
The function of aerial roots in aroids is to help them climb. If you’re not climbing, growing them is a waste of time and energy.
Crawling philodendrons have a stolon
The stolon is the stem of a climbing plant but it runs horizontally along the ground. Stolons are less resistant to rot than stems, so it doesn’t matter too much if it gets buried. When you pot up climbers, the stolon should lay on top of the soil, because that’s how they grow, but if soil ends up covering it it’s unlikely to be an issue.
Another name for a stolon is a runner. Rhizomes are similar, but not the same. Some climbing plants will put out stolons if there isn’t enough light for them to grow properly. The plant is better off trying to find somewhere better to grow rather than producing crappy growth where it is.
One of the benefits of having a stolon rather than a stem is that stolons produce roots at every node. When you come to propagate, all the roots are pre-rooted, so you just need to cut the stolon and (gently) remove the node and its roots and pot it elsewhere.
Crawling philodendrons have smaller internodal spacing
Internodal spacing in climbing plants is often determined by light conditions. Crawling Philodendrons typically require less light than climbing ones (though it varies depending on species). As long as they’re fed and watered well, the internodal spacing is quite short.
Can you get crawling Philodendrons to climb?
You can, but they’ll fight you at every term. You can manipulate the stolon and grow it up a moss pole but you’ll need to be careful not to snap it. The small internodal spacing won’t help, and if you don’t watch it like a hawk it’ll start to crawl.
Can you get climbing Philodendrons to crawl?
Again, you could, but you’ll need to be extra careful about things like root rot. What you can do is take a load of wet sticks and root them in the pot to make it look like the plant is crawling. It will start to climb after a while though.
If you don’t give a climbing plant something to climb up it won’t automatically start to crawl. As we saw from my verrucosum, the new growth tends to come from the middle, so it’ll struggle to reach the soil and root.
If you took the plant out of the pot and lay it so the aerial roots were on the surface you could make it look like it was crawling, but it would resume its mission to climb.
Leaving climbing plants without something to climb tends to result in them looking a bit sad and lopsided, or they collapse under their own weight and snap.
How do you make crawling Philodendrons fuller?
Chop n prop, fellas, chop n prop.
As I mentioned before, the benefit of crawling Philodendrons is that every node is automatically rooted. If you have issues that resulted in leaf drop, then you can simply sever the stolon and the node should pop out new growth in time.
If you want a bushy crawler (is this slang for something or do just have a dirty mind??), cut the plant into nodes and arrange them in the pot. They will still crawl once they get going though, so try to arrange them in lines so the new growth has somewhere to be.
Do all Philodendrons climb or crawl?
Most Philodendrons climb or crawl, but there are a few that don’t fall into either category. They do their own thing, called self-heading. This just means they grow super bushily (?) and you won’t even see the stem until the older leaves start to die.
Examples of self-heading Philodendrons:
- Philodendron prince of orange
- Philodendron black cardinal
- Philodendron xanadu
- Philodendron moonlight
- Philodendron birkin
- Philodendron burle-marx
And there are the ones I affectionately call the anxious-avoidant Philodendrons. They’re the climbers that have been hybridized so they do climb, but really struggle to attach to anything unless you really pump up the humidity.
One example of this is the Philodendron Painted lady, which is thought to be a hybrid of a Philodendron erubescens and a Philodendron hybrid that Bob McColley bred himself (why is there no info on this dude?). Anyway, one is self-heading, one is a climber, so the resulting offspring will climb if conditions are perfect.
Other examples are the White Knight and Pink Princess.
I hope this was helpful – shoot me a question in the comments if you have one, and I’m now off to research Bob McColley. Dude is an enigma.