Is it a Philodendron or a Rhododendron?


Philodendrons and rhododendrons share similar names but not much else. Philodendrons are tropical plants with stunning foliage that can be cultivated as large landscape plants or as hanging or potted houseplants. Rhododendrons are flowering, shade-loving shrubs that are generally grown outdoors, with a few exceptions.

Do you have trouble distinguishing between a philodendron and a rhododendron? The names of these two plants are so similar that it can be easy to mix them up if you do not know what to look for. It may come as a surprise that these two plants have little in common.

Get to Know the Philodendron

There are over 400 species of philodendron found across the globe, growing in a wide range of leaf sizes and colors. Florida landscapers and houseplant lovers everywhere are drawn to the philodendron for its tropical look and stunning foliage. Some philodendron species are small enough to grow as houseplants while others can reach the size of a tree.

Indoor or Outdoor?

The philodendron species commonly kept as houseplants are vining or self-heading types. Vining philodendrons are usually grown in hanging baskets or trained to grow on a trellis, while self-heading types make excellent potted plants for tables or plant stands. Philodendron scandens is one of the varieties that will perform best in the house.

Philodendron shrubs, on the other hand, are noticeably larger and do best outdoors. They can be grown in the ground and will do well in large containers (such as inside a pool enclosure arranged in pots around a deck). Philodendron selloum is a popular variety that grows to a spread of 10 to 12 feet and performs well in Central and South Florida.

Caring for Your Philodendron

Philodendrons are tropical plants native to rainforests in Central and South America and should be taken care of with their home environment in mind. If caring for an indoor philodendron, give your plants warmth, some shade or bright, dappled light, and plenty of moisture. Your landscaping varieties will thrive in sunny locations but can handle a decent amount of shade.

What is a Rhododendron?

The rhododendron is a very different genus than the philodendron and includes over 1,000 species! This woody, flowering plant is a member of the heath (or heather) family and includes small shrubs and large trees. 

Are Azaleas Rhododendrons?

Yes. Azaleas are in the genus rhododendron. All azaleas are rhododendrons, but not all rhododendrons are azaleas. Azaleas are deciduous and bear tube or funnel-shaped flowers. Rhododendrons are evergreen and have bell-shaped flowers.

Where to Cultivate

For the most part, rhododendrons are cultivated outdoors. They are favored by gardeners with shaded lots, as these plants thrive when protected from full sun. However, they still need some light to flower, so dappled shade is ideal. Too much sun or wind can damage rhododendrons; plant these shrubs in a sheltered area, like along the north-facing side of your home, to give them some protection.

A beautiful yellow- and orange-blooming variety for North and Central Florida is the rhododendron austrinum, also known as the Florida flame azalea. A few varieties can be grown inside, too, like the rhododendron simsii.

Rhododendron Care

Test your soil before planting, as rhododendrons require acidic soil, with pH levels between 4.5 and 5.5. Rhododendrons have a shallow root system, and so, especially in Central and South Florida’s sandy soil, they need regular watering during dry spells. In the first year after planting, expect to water your rhododendrons about twice a week. In the clay soil of North Florida, be careful not to overwater, as these plants may develop root rot if waterlogged.

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