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The Ultimate Rare Plant Care Guide: Philodendron Burle Marx Variegata

Updated: Mar 11, 2023

Buying a new rare or unusual houseplant is very exciting for plant collectors, either to add to your own collection or to buy for propagation and selling for your small shop.


It can be easy to get caught up in the buzz of caring for your houseplant, but assuming a houseplant’s care and getting it wrong can very easily lead to a rapid decline (and even death) of your new purchase.


So if you’ve just purchased a Philodendron burle-marxii variegata or are considering purchasing one, this blog will tell you everything you need to know about this houseplant including its history and appearance, care advice, investment profitability, and how to propagate it.


History, classification and distribution of Philodendron burle marx variegata

Philodendron burle-marxii variegata is a rare, shrub-like philodendron originating from Brazil. It is named after the famous Brazilian landscape artist Roberto Burle Marx (1909-1994) due to his involvement in its discovery.


Roberto Burle Marx had a great passion for tropical plants, in particular those native to Brazil. As part of his movement in the 1920s to celebrate Brazilian culture (in response to the heavy cultural influence from Europe at the time), he began to collect and grow indigenous plants in his garden in Rio de Janeiro (Mawrey, 2001, pg. 12). This fascination for native tropical plants grew and in the 1930s, he began to make frequent visits to the Amazon rainforest to study and collect samples of wild plants (Gregory, 1981, pg. 356).


By the 1940s, he had become a dedicated Botanist and owned around 20 species of plants named after him that he is thought to have discovered, including the Philodendron burle-marxii and Ctenanthe burle-marxii ‘Amabilis’.


Taxonomy

Domain: Eukaryota

Kingdom: Plantae

Phylum: Spermatophyta

Subphylum: Angiospermae

Class: Monocotyledonae

Order: Arales

Family: Araceae

Genus: Philodendron

Species: Philodendron burle-marxii


Distribution

Today, these Philodendrons are most commonly found naturally in the west part of the Amazon rainforest state in Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador.


Philodendron burle-marxii' on Kew Royal Botanical Gardens
Distribution Map, G.M.Barroso., 'Philodendron burle-marxii' on Kew Royal Botanical Gardens: Plants of the World Online. <https://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:192988-2#source-KBD> Accessed 24 November 2021


What does Philodendron burle marx variegata look like?

Philodendron burle-marxii variegata has bright green, oval-shaped leaves with pointed tips, reddish stems and yellow chimeric variegation. They are prolific growers and often produce multiple shoots from nodes and lots of aerial roots. They are epiphytic plants, meaning they grow on another plant or object by attaching themselves structurally with their aerial roots. By growing above ground, the plant is able to provide itself with access to more light and nutrients from organic debris that collects in the higher canopies (Petruzzello, 2020).


My Mother Pant - A Philodendron Burle-marxii variegata
My mother plant.

How do i care for Philodendron burle marx variegata

Overall, these Philodendron are pretty easy to look after! They are very low maintenance and drought tolerant plants and so can survive well (and even thrive) on neglect! As the variegation does add another level of maintenance to this plant, it's worth mentioning that these great plants do come in a non-variegated form too for those wanting an even easier version.


Light

I recommend providing these Philodendrons with as much light as possible. The more light they receive, the faster they will grow! This is because light plays a key part in a plant's photosynthesis process which produces sugars used for the plant's growth. This is important as 96% of a plant's dry mass comes from the sugars and oxygen produced by photosynthesis. Keep your plant within three metres of a large South/West facing window, or one metre of a small window that is East/North facing. Avoid putting this plant in intense direct sunlight as the variegated areas are very prone to burning (although it will be fine in very weak easy morning/evening sunlight).


Although the plant cells within the yellow variegated parts of the leaves do contain chlorophyll (and so can photosynthesis and produce food for the plant), they contain less than the green parts of a plant. Due to this, I'd recommend an equal level of variegation (between 40-60%) for optimal growth although this isn't always possible to achieve and depends somewhat on the plant's genetics.


A highly variegated leaf on a Philodendron burle-marxii variegate
An example of a highly variegated leaf.

Watering

I like to water these plants when the soil has completely dried out as I've found they can rot easily if the soil stays wet for too long. This is around every 7 days in the summer and as long as every 14 in the winter, depending on how warm my house is and how much the plant is growing at the time. I like to use filtered water for my plants to avoid any mineral/salt build-up on the inside of the plant pot but this is definitely not essential.


Temperature

I recommend growing these Philodendrons in temperatures between 21-28 degrees Celcius for the fastest growth. They can survive in temperatures as low as 16 degrees Celsius although any lower than this and they are at risk of cold shock. They are tropical plants and Amazon rainforest temperatures do not normally fall below 17 degrees Celsius, so the plant is not adapted to growing in temperatures below this for long/permanent periods of time.


Humidity

For best growth, grow these Philodendrons in humidity levels greater than 60% (I aim for around 70% with mine) as high humidity levels help to encourage the growth of aerial roots. Aerial roots can be trained back into the soil to add extra support and growth to the plant which will help it to grow faster too. These Philodendron make great houseplants as they can happily grow in natural home humidity levels down to around 40% (although I would advise against less than this).


what is the best Substrate and Maintenance for philodendron burle marx varigeata?

Like most Philodendrons, the P. burle-marxii variegata prefers to be kept a little root bound due to their preference for soil that doesn't stay wet for too long. Keep your plant in a pot size in which their roots are snug and fill the pot as this will allow the soil to dry out fast enough between waterings.


Soil

I use my general aroid soil mix which is perfect for growing these! As an enthusiastic overwaterer, I designed my soil mix to be very well-draining in order to prevent my P. burle-marxii from staying too wet and developing root rot. I recommend you use the following 5 components in your substrate:


1. Coco coir

This provides the plant with key nutrients (including Phosphorus and Potassium) and is great for structure and water retention.


2. Perlite

This makes the soil well-draining and provides aeration which is essential for allowing the roots to 'breath' (they respire too!) and for helping to prevent the dreaded root rot.


3. Pine bark chips

These give the soil mix a chunkier composition and help with water retention. The roots absolutely love a chunky soil mix as this helps to encourage thick and strong root growth to support the plant and also helps to keep air pockets in the soil and aid drainage.


4. Ground charcoal

This acts as a filter to remove impurities from water, preventing mould from forming on top of your soil and this helps to absorb excess moisture in your soil mix.


5. Worm castings

These act as a natural organic fertiliser by slowly breaking down in the soil to release Nitrogen, Phosphates, Potash and 'live bacteria, fungi and microbes' (Willy Worms).


Chunky aroid soil mix
An example of my chunky coil mix, you can clearly see the bark and perlite.

Repotting

When repotting, I recommend only increasing the pot size by one or two sizes larger. One of the easy mistakes to make with this plant is to repot it into a pot size too large so I advise only repotting up one pot size at a time. For example, repotting from a pot size 6cm to a 7.5cm, a 9cm to a 12cm or a 15cm to a 20cm (which are all the most common pot sizes). This allows the roots to adjust to the new space without being swamped by large amounts of empty soil (which holds excess moisture and often leads to root rot).


Depending on the growth speed of your philodendron, I estimate repotting around once a year on average. Signs to look out for that your plant may need repotting are:

  • Slowed or stunted growth

  • The soil drying out unusually quickly

  • Roots growing out of the bottom of the pot.


If you suspect your plant may need repotting, simply pull it out of the pot and check the roots! If the majority of the pot is filled with roots which have grown to show the shape of the pot, then your plant is probably ready for a repot (if in doubt about what this looks like, look up pictures of root-bound plants online).


how do I Propagate Philodendron burle marx variegata?

The Philodendron burle-marxii is actually very easy to propagate! These plants love to grow long aerial roots, particularly when grown in high humidity, which really aids propagation. Simply cut the plant below a node (where the aerial roots will be growing out of) and put the cutting aside to allow the freshly cut end to callus over for between 6-12 hours.


Philodendron burle-marxii variegata aerial roots
An example of a node and aerial root on the base of my mother plant.

My personal preference for propagating these plants is in water, just pop the cutting in a cup of water and you're good to go! I like to use filtered water to avoid mineral build up on my cuttings and a heat mat to speed up root growth but neither of these are essential.


You can learn more about different propagation methods for aroids such as Philodendron in my blog post here.


To summarise...

Philodendron burle-marxii variegata is a beautiful and easy variegated houseplant that I think is amazing for beginners looking to take a dive into variegated plants. They just seem to tick all of the boxes for me!


Due to their shrub-like form, you don't have to worry about mounting them on a moss pole until they are fairly mature which makes them very low maintenance! From my experience caring for them, the variegation on these appears to be relatively stable (compared to other variegated plants) and can easily return if the plant reverts and is cut back. They are also fairly forgiving when it comes to overwatering which is great for those on a busy schedule and are very fast growers too so it doesn’t take long for your plant to get big!


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Bibliography:


Mawrey, Gillian., 'Roberto Burle Marx' in Historic Gardens Review, No. 8 (Historical Gardens Foundation: summer 2001)


GREGORY, FREDERICK L., 'Roberto Burle Marx: The One-Man Extravaganza' in Landscape Architecture Magazine, Vol 71, No. 3 (American Society of Landscape Architects, 1981)


Sakuragui, Cassia M., Mayo, Simon J., Zappi, Daniela C., 'Taxonomic Revision of Brazilian Species of Philodendron Section Macrobelium' in Kew Bulletin, Vol. 60, No. 4 (Springer: 2005)


Burle Marx, Roberto., 'A Garden Style in Brazil to Meet Contemporary Needs: With Emphasis on the Paramount Value of Native Plants' in Landscape Architecture Magazine

Vol. 44, No. 4 (American Society of Landscape Architects, July, 1954)


Petruzzello, Melissa., 'Epiphyte', Encyclopedia Britannica (12 Mar. 2020), <https://www.britannica.com/plant/epiphyte> Accessed 24 November 2021







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