The philodendron plant is actually a common name for a large genus – roughly 900 in number – which is a member of the araceae family and aroideae subfamily. These plants have a wide distribution, ranging from tropical regions of the Americas all the way into Asia. Of the many varieties available, you may find a philodendron that trails, climbs or develops as a vine. Its foliage is large and alternate; pinnate, lobed or cut; and either heart, oval or pear-shaped. When mature, the philodendron plant develops an inflorescence that is made up of a waxy, bi-colored spathe that surrounds a spadix. The inflorescence may be cream, bright white or red, and may occur singly or as a large group.
The philodendron plant is absolutely one of the most popular houseplants today, but the history of its collection can be dated as far back as 1644, when the German naturalist Georg Marcgrave began acquiring them from the wild. Many other explorers sought to find out more about this extensive genus; the first such exploration was done by Charles Plumier, who managed to gather and classify at least six new species. As time went by, the philodendron began to increase in popularity, and by 1793 the species philodendron oxycardium was introduced to the English Botanic Gardens, and became a must have plant for any proper parlor. In the United States, the philodendron did not really take off until the mid-1930s when a nurseryman by the name of John Masek noticed the potential of this plant. Considering that they were easy to grow, not to mention low maintenance, he began propagating and selling them to florist shops. In addition to being a popular houseplant, philodendrons have also become a staple of artistic inspiration. Pablo Picasso, for instance, frequently used these plants to shape unusual scenes – such as his 1929 work, “Woman in the Garden,” where the nymph Daphne was transformed into a large brush of vines. More modern artists replicate this plant in vivid, often abstract shades, such as Mimi Little’s “Philodendron,” and Peggy Eyth’s “Tree With Split Leaf Philodendron.”
To pagans, the philodendron plant has long been considered a symbol of health, to others, it is thought to be an emblem for abundance and wealth. As a gift, these plants are frequently given in pots or hanging baskets to welcome neighborhood newcomers; to those who have just purchased their first home; or to wish the recipient well as they move on to a new path.