I have a confession to make: Sometimes I neglect our houseplants. Being easily distracted and somewhat on the lazy side, I often put off the rather important task of watering until my plants are crying out for attention and my wife steps in to save them. Surveying the plants scattered about our patio and living room, I realize that the one I’ve had the longest – that still looks the best with my brand of mistreatment – is the lovely nephthytis.
The young leaves of ‘Neon’ nephthytis have attractive red veining.
Photo Credit: Gerald L. Klingaman
My nephthytis enjoys a shady spot outdoors all summer long.
Photo Credit: Gerald L. Klingaman
If you're looking to inject a bit more color into your houseplant selection, Syngonium ‘Pink Allusion’ adds a wonderful pink shade through its leaves.
Photo Credit: Carol Cloud Bailey
Known botanically as Syngonium podophyllum, nephthytis is a slow-growing tropical vine native to tropical parts of Mexico, Central America and Brazil. Like many members of the philodendron family, this beauty produces leaves that change as it matures. While nephthytis is young, its foliage has arrowhead-shaped leaf blades 5-7 inches long. But as they reach maturity and begin to climb, the leaves develop two or more basal lobes that separate into individual leaflets that look like wings. These leaves are usually infused with shades of white or gray in the middle.
Don’t expect your nephthytis to mature too quickly. In fact, it can take a year or two before the plant begins sending out its sprawling stems, looking for something to climb. I usually prefer to grow the plant as a tabletop specimen in a 6-inch pot, so I keep these stems pruned off. (When the vines begin to get too long and the plant too shaggy, I just cut off the stems and use them to start new plants.)
Caring for nephthytis is easy: In spring, I trim the plant back and give it some slow-release fertilizer before moving it outdoors for the summer. I keep it watered during the hot months, but I don’t fret if it wilts occasionally between inspections. Come fall, before it gets too cold, I move it back indoors, which I’m sometimes lazy about, as well. In fact, over the years I’ve learned that nephthytis is pretty insensitive to cold temperatures (unlike many other members of the philodendron family). It can even tolerate temperatures down to 35 degrees F without any symptoms of chilling injury.
Inside the home, this tropical plant tolerates low light surprisingly well, surviving in any location that’s bright enough to read. But like most plants, it prefers to be within sight of a window. It isn’t a demanding houseplant, so don’t be too generous with fertilizer or water. Because of its relatively slow growth rate, slow-release fertilizers work very well and ensure good leaf color without overly stimulating vegetative growth.
If you like to dabble in plant propagation, and if your plant starts getting too big for your tabletop display, take some cuttings. (It’s easiest if terminal or single-eye cuttings are used.) You can get a number of cuttings by slicing one of the running stems into pieces, so that each piece has a leaf and stem segment. (For example, if a stem runner has 10 leaves, you can end up with eight single-eye cuttings and one terminal cutting that contains two leaves.)
All of these leaf segments can be planted into a single 6-inch pot and kept watered until the plants root and begin growing. Covering the pot with a plastic bag makes the job of maintaining uniform moisture easy until the already preformed root initials begin growing. In about two months, the leaf bud at the base of the petiole will start to grow, and because you put so many cuttings in the one pot, you’ll be rewarded with a nice full plant in no time.
So if you’re a bit of a lazy houseplant caregiver like me, consider adding nephthytis to your home décor! It’s a tropical beauty that won’t give up on you – even if you forget about it!