Rhaphidophora Decursiva: Background and Care Guide
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Looking to add some of these qualities to your houseplant collection?
- Easy care
- Long life
Then look no further than Rhaphidophora decursiva, a tropical climber with truly stunning leaves.
In this post, you’ll learn all about Rhaphidophora decursiva’s care needs and the background of this intriguing plant.
Also, we’ll clear up some confusion about some similar (but not same!) houseplants that are often mistaken for the unique R. decursiva.
Rhaphidophora Decursiva Background
Rhaphidophora decursiva has two eye-catching characteristics:
- Massive leaves with deeply lobed fronds
- Extraordinary climbing growth habit
When young, Rhaphidophora decursiva sprouts leaves that are small and continuous.
But as they age, the leaves slowly develop more and more lobes around the edges, eventually developing deep lobes that reach nearly to the central vein. This gives the R. decursiva a delicate, fringed appearance, reminiscent of a palm frond.
This photo from Philly Secret Garden shows leaves that are just developing their lobes:
And the leaf size! In the wild, mature R. decursiva leaves can be up to 40 inches long and 20 inches wide!
Plus, these plants climb to tremendous heights! While in its natural habitat it can easily grow up to 40 feet(!!) from the end of the roots to the top of the foliage, as a houseplant it generally tops out at 5 feet.
R. decursiva is native to India and Southeast Asia, including Southern China in the foothills of the Himalayas. In these tropical forests, the descursiva plant germinates in midair, in the branches of a tree.
From there, it reaches its leaves towards the canopy and sunlight above. At the same time, the roots make their way down the tree trunk to the soil below, firmly attaching the plant to the host tree as they go.
These roots that develop above ground are known as aerial roots. Root sections take hold like this:
In its natural habitat, R. decursiva can develop incredibly thick roots that look almost like tree trunks themselves!
They can look something like this:
If you grow the Rhaphidophora decursiva as a houseplant, they won’t get quite this big though, so don’t panic!
This growth pattern classifies the Rhaphidophora decursiva as an epiphyte, or tree-lover, just like a couple of other tropical houseplants we’ve already profiled here on the site: the Philodendron Splendid and the Pink Princess Philodendron.
Epiphytes make great house plants because their natural habitat in the understory of a forest is actually very similar to indoor growing conditions. In both places, they experience limited light and a limited nutrient supply.
Thus the Rhaphidophora decursiva is adaptable to many locations inside the house. Its large leaves make the most of whatever sunlight is available, and its aerial roots are extremely efficient at processing the nutrients available to them.
Plus, with its vining habit, the decursiva plant is a great choice for training up a trellis, bookcase, shelf, or even across a wall. It adds a fun touch of the jungle to any home it lives in!
While Raphidophoras in the wild will bloom, this is much less common in decursiva plants grown indoors.
Like other Aroids, the flower of a Raphidophora will have a stubby yellow spadix sticking up from a leaf-shaped spathe.
What the Rhaphidophora Decursiva is NOT
Some sources call the decursiva plant a “creeping philodendron” (and sometimes even a “philodendron decursiva”.)
This is because its young leaves very much resemble those of a true philodendron:
- Solid dark green
- A pointed tip
- Oval body
And it does indeed creep: R. decursiva will slowly climb up whatever support it finds as it unfurls its ever-growing leaves towards the light.
But even though it’s often called a “Philodendron Rhaphidophora decursiva” or a “Monstera decursiva,” these are both incorrect.
The R. decursiva is neither a philodendron nor a monstera, even though at different stages of its life it looks similar to each. While all three of these plants belong to the Aroid family, they are each a completely different genus.
Where to Buy
The R. decursiva is a fairly rare plant, and you’ll have the easiest time tracking one down from online sellers.
There are several reputable vendors where you can buy the decursiva plant at Etsy right here. A few vendors that we personally really like would be:
These plants are a hot commodity and sell quickly. So if the above vendors are sold out just browse around Etsy and you may find more.
Rhaphidophora Decursiva Care
Once you get your basic care routine established, it’s not too hard to keep your Rhaphidophora decursiva happy and healthy.
Here’s what it needs:
Appropriate Pot Size and Type
Choose a pot that is just a few inches wider and deeper than the root ball.
Because this plant has the potential to grow to a monstrous size, keeping the roots contained in a smaller pot will limit its growth. A small pot also eliminates the danger of excess soil that just gets waterlogged.
Always make sure that your pot has one or more drainage holes. And if it doesn’t come with one, invest in a plant saucer to protect your carpet and furniture.
Like other epiphytes, R. decursiva absolutely requires well-draining soil so that oxygen can reach its large roots. Avoid potting mixes that use peat, as these can easily become soggy and compacted.
You can easily “lighten” potting soil by mixing in some vermiculite or even some orchid bark.
These materials will increase the drainage and add air pockets to the soil structure, which an epiphytic plant like the decursiva appreciates.
As an understory plant, the decursiva likes bright but indirect sunlight. Try positioning it 1 or 2 feet back from an east or south-facing window.
Just keep an eye on your plant: If the light is too intense, it may cause leaf scorch. In the event of leaf distress, try moving your plant a little farther back from the window.
Give your decursiva plant a drink when the first 1 to 2 inches of soil have dried out. Use your finger to poke into the soil and check this.
Remember that we mentioned above that it’s absolutely essential to give R. decursiva well-draining soil?
Even if you’re careful not to water your plant too often, it could still suffer from overwatering if you water it on a saucer. The saucer causes excess water to pool, and your plant stays in a constant state of dampness as it absorbs this leftover water.
Instead, remove your plant from the saucer while watering. Then replace it after most of the excess water has run through the pot.
You should also occasionally give your decursiva a sponge bath. Since its leaves are so large, they will end up collecting dust, and washing them off will help keep them clean, healthy, and photosynthesizing.
As a tropical plant, R. decursiva likes temperatures in the mid-60 to mid-80 degrees Fahrenheit range.
However, it is not at all tolerant of extreme cold, and you may need to move it back from the window during the winter months to keep it from getting nipped.
While it does like tropical levels of humidity, the decursiva plant will adapt to low-humidity indoor conditions as well.
Using a plant humidifier (check out our breakdown of the best ones here) will deliver a consistent amount of humidity to your decursiva.
Other easy methods to boost its humidity include:
- Grouping it with other plants
- Keeping it in a kitchen or bathroom
- Placing a bowl or jar of water nearby
- Placing the pot on a humidity tray filled with damp pebbles
Do make sure to place your decursiva away from cooling and heating vents, as these emit dry air that tends to strip moisture from houseplants.
The large leaves of the Raphidophora call for a monthly application of a balanced houseplant fertilizer through spring and summer.
In fall and winter, the plant enters dormancy and does not produce new growth, so fertilize every two months.
This concentrated liquid formula is easy to use and should last a long time.
R. decursiva doesn’t need much pruning, aside from the occasional older, yellowing leaf. Until the plant is quite large, it is better to let it keep as many of its leaves as possible.
How to Re-Pot a Raphidophora Descursiva
There are several signs that it is time for you to re-pot your Raphidophora decursiva:
- All of its new leaves are really small
- It isn’t putting out new growth at all
- Its roots are starting to poke out from the top or bottom of the pot
- It’s always thirsty no matter how often you water
It’s also a good idea to re-pot most houseplants once a year, usually in spring. This refreshes the soil and its nutrient content on a regular basis to keep the roots fed.
To re-pot a Raphidophora decursiva without damaging it, follow these steps:
Step 1: Deeply water the plant three days before you plan to re-pot it, and then again the day of. This will help it slide more easily out of its pot.
Step 2: To help break the soil and roots away from the sides of the pot, tap it gently against a firm surface. You can also run a blunt knife or chopstick around the inside edge of the pot.
Step 3: Lay the pot on its side, tilt it slightly downwards and gently wiggle the root ball free. You can use your knife or chopstick to poke it out through the drainage holes, too.
Definitely do not pull on the main stem to get it out of the pot– that runs the risk of snapping it off entirely!
Step 4: Brush away some of the old soil and inspect your root ball for any roots that are dead, discolored, or circled around the bottom or sides of the root ball.
Use a pair of sanitized shears to snip those guys off. Be careful not to take off more than a third of the roots at one time, though!
Step 5: Now, you can replace the root ball in a new, larger, pot or in the same pot with new soil. Place a small amount of fresh soil in the bottom of the pot– just enough to bring the top of the root ball within an inch of the rim.
Then add soil around the sides of the root ball, gently compressing it as you go with your fingertips, chopstick, or eraser end of a pencil.
Then tap the bottom of the pot against your work surface to settle the soil.
Step 6: Wait a few days before watering your re-potted Raphidophora. This will give the cut roots time to seal off their wounds and prompt them to spread out through the new soil in search of water.
Potential Problems with Rhaphidophora Decursiva
Although the Rhaphidophora decursiva is generally a problem-free plant, there are a few things to look out for.
Leaf Discoloration Problems
The leaves of a decursiva turn will sometimes turn yellow because of age, but also because of:
- Cold temperatures
- Too much light
- Not enough fertilizer
Try troubleshooting for these issues and see if that resolves the leaf discoloration. And, as always, be aware that certain diseases and insects can also cause leaves to discolor–more on that below.
Rhaphidophora decursiva is vulnerable to mosaic virus. An infected plant’s leaves can look like this:
According to the Penn State Extension, symptoms of this virus in plants include:
- Stunted growth
- Mosaic pattern of light and dark green (or yellow and green) on the leaves
- Malformation of leaves or growing points
- Yellow streaking or spotting of leaves
- Distinct yellowing only of veins
There is no cure for mosaic virus, and infected plants must be discarded.
Mosaic virus is transmitted through contaminated tools and containers, so it’s vital to only buy plants from vetted sources that practice good plant hygiene.
It can also be transmitted through tobacco products since that crop is also very vulnerable to this virus. So make sure to keep any kind of tobacco and its accessories away from your plant collection.
The insects most likely to take up residence on a Rhaphidophora decursiva are mealybugs, spider mites, and scale.
All three of these insects can be dealt with using the same basic protocol:
- Isolate the infected plant from any others that you have.
- Physically remove as many individuals as you can. For mealybugs and scale, use a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol. For spider mites, take the plant into the shower and spray it down to wash them away.
- Make sure to check the center of the growing points, the leaf nodes where they meet the stem, and the undersides of each leaf.
- Apply an insecticidal soap or neem oil to prevent re-infestation (both available on Amazon.) Repeat application a week later, and longer if necessary.
How to Propagate Rhaphidophora Decursiva
You can propagate a Raphidophora decursiva by the stem cutting method. We’ve covered this in detail in the propagation section of our care guide to Philodendron Splendid.
However, you can also propagate through another method known as “air layering.”
This method works with plants that naturally have aerial roots (roots that grow outside the soil). You may notice that your Rhaphidophora decursiva begins to develop aerial roots along with parts of its main stem or leaf stems.
This is where you can air-layer to propagate a new plant.
The steps are quite simple:
Step 1: Wrap a strip of damp horticultural moss around the stem, and secure with twine or wire.
Step 2: The aerial roots should quickly begin to respond and wind through the moss. Once they have visibly multiplied, cut away the stem below the moss and plant the cutting in a new pot.
Step 3: Keep the soil in the pot moist for the first week or so. After that, you can resume a regular watering schedule.
Frequently Asked Questions about Rhaphidophora Decursiva
Rhaphidophora decursiva is easy to care for, has stunning and huge leaves, and can easily fill up a large, sunny space in your home.
Simply give it a pole to climb up on, and you’ll have a big plant companion in no time!
And with this complete guide to Rhaphidophora decursiva care, you’ll be able to keep it healthy and thriving for many years to come.