How to Grow and Care for Rhaphidophora Decursiva

A side profile view of a Rhaphidophora decursiva plant in a white pot next to a bright window.

The Spruce / Cori Sears

Houseplants with fenestrated leaves are all the rage lately, so it’s no wonder that the Rhaphidophora decursiva (Rhaphidophora decursiva), otherwise known as the dragon tail plant, is skyrocketing in popularity. This close relative of the popular “mini monstera” (Rhaphidophora tetrasperma) is known for its climbing growth habit and large, dark glossy leaves that develop deep fenestrations as it matures. In fact, fully mature Rhaphidophora decursiva leaves are so deeply fenestrated that they actually begin to resemble palm leaves. While this tropical plant is also commonly called the “creeping philodendron” and “Monstera decursiva” it is a part of the Rhaphidophora genus, not the Philodendron or Monstera genera. However, all three of these genera fall under the same family—Araceae—which may cause some confusion. Like many plants in the Araceae family, Rhaphidophora decursiva are considered toxic to pets and humans if ingested.

Common Name Dragon tail plant, creeping philodendron, Monstera decursiva
Botanical Name  Rhaphidophora decursiva 
Family  Araceae 
Plant Type  Perennial, vine 
Mature Size  10 ft. tall (indoors), 4 ft. wide (indoors); 60 ft. tall (outdoors), 6 ft. wide (outdoors) 
Sun Exposure  Partial 
Soil Type  Moist but well-draining 
Soil pH  Acidic 
Bloom Time  Spring, summer 
Flower Color  Green, white 
Hardiness Zones  9-11, USDA 
Native Area  Asia 
Toxicity  Toxic to pets, toxic to humans

Rhaphidophora Decursiva Care

Despite its intimidating appearance, this stately plant is actually quite easy to care for indoors. If you have successfully grown other tropical houseplants such as monsteras or philodendrons, you will have no problems with this Rhaphidophora.

Tip

Don't forget to dust! These big, glossy leaves can accumulate dust fast. Use a microfibre cloth to dust the leaves regularly, or move your plant into the shower for a full-body watering every couple of weeks to clear off dust. Dust-free leaves are not only beautiful but allow the plant to grow properly and photosynthesize efficiently.

Two three-lobed leaves of a Rhaphidophora decursiva plant from below with framed art in the background.

The Spruce / Cori Sears

An overhead view of a tall Rhaphidophora decursiva plant with mature leaves at the top and small leaves at the bottom.

The Spruce / Cori Sears

Close up shot of the small juvenile leaves of a Rhaphidophora decursiva in a white pot.

The Spruce / Cori Sears

Light

In its native environment, this climbing tropical plant grows up tree trunks in the forest understory and is accustomed to dappled sunlight. When grown indoors, it does best in a location that receives several hours of bright, indirect light. Avoid prolonged periods of direct sunlight which can burn the plant’s leaves, but also avoid low-light conditions if possible. Ideally, this plant should be grown directly next to, or in front of, a bright window. You can also utilize grow lights for this Rhaphidophora if your home does not receive a lot of natural light.

Soil

As with most aroids, the Rhaphidophora decursiva prefers a soil mix that is rich, light, and airy, while still retaining some moisture. A mixture of equal parts houseplant potting soil, perlite, and orchid bark, or an orchid bark mix is perfect for these tropical plants. 

If possible, avoid using just houseplant potting soil, as convenient as it may be. While it may seem fine for a little while, over time the soil can compact and choke out this Rhaphidophora’s roots. Using additives like perlite and orchid bark helps to increase aeration in the soil and prevent soil compaction while still retaining enough moisture to keep the plant hydrated.

Water

This plant should be watered once the top few inches of soil have dried out. The “soak and dry” method of watering is ideal for this Rhaphidophora. This means that when it comes time to water, you should water the plant thoroughly so that the plant’s soil is thoroughly soaked through. Then, ensure that all of the excess water has drained from the pot via the pot’s drainage holes and allow the soil to dry out slightly before repeating the process. Keep in mind that during the fall and winter when the plant’s growth naturally slows down it will need less water, so you should cut back on the frequency of watering to prevent overwatering.

Temperature and Humidity

This tropical plant is not cold-hardy, which is part of the reason it makes an ideal houseplant. It prefers temperatures between 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (18 to 26 degrees Celsius) and is hardy in USDA zones 9 to 11. While the Rhaphidophora decursiva grows just fine in average household humidity levels, it will thrive if it is given some added humidity. Consider placing a small humidifier nearby, or grow your plant in a naturally humid room in your home such as the bathroom, laundry room, or even the kitchen. 

Fertilizer

The Rhaphidophora decursiva benefits from regular fertilization during the spring and summer months. Apply a balanced liquid fertilizer once a month during watering for best results.

Pruning

Pruning a Rhaphidophora decursiva is mainly for aesthetic purposes. Under the right conditions these vining plants grow quickly and may eventually outgrow your space. You can prune back the vines to control the growth, plus the stem cuttings can be repurposed for propagation. Always make sure that you wait until the spring or summer to prune since the plant is actively growing in these months.

Propagating Rhaphidophora Decursiva

Propagating Rhaphidophora decursiva is simple and fun to do. Similar to pruning, propagating should be done in either the spring or summer. If you have propagated other houseplants using stem cuttings then you will have no problem with this Rhaphidophora. Similar to many plants in the aroid family, this plant can be propagated by rooting its nodes in water. Here’s how you can do it in just a few steps.

  1. Using a pair of sharp, clean pruning shears or scissors, take one or more stem cuttings from a healthy, mature plant. Each stem cutting should have at least three to four nodes along the stem, but no more than six.
  2. Remove the bottom leaves from the stem cuttings, leaving one to three leaves at the top of the cutting depending on how many nodes you have. 
  3. Place the stem cuttings in a glass container filled with fresh water so that the nodes along the bottom of the cuttings are submerged and the remaining leaves at the top of the cuttings sit above the surface of the water.
  4. Once the roots are at least one inch long the cuttings can be moved from water to soil. This will usually take at least one to four weeks. Prepare a small pot with a well-draining potting mixture and transfer the rooted cuttings to soil. Return the freshly planted cuttings to their original location. 
  5. Water the cuttings well, allowing the excess water to drain from the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. For the first one to two weeks, keep the soil evenly moist to help the cutting(s) roots acclimate to the soil. Then, you can begin to resume a regular watering schedule and allow the soil to dry slightly between waterings.

Potting and Repotting Rhaphidophora Decursiva

In ideal conditions, the Rhaphidophora decursiva is a fast-grower and may need to be repotted every year. If you notice that roots are growing from the drainage holes of your plant’s pot, or are circling the bottom of your pot it is time to repot. If you are unsure, you can gently pop the plant out of its pot to check on its roots. 

Always ensure that you wait to repot your Rhaphidophora until the spring or summer when the plant is actively growing. Since you will be watering the plant thoroughly after repotting, it is also best to wait until your plant needs to be watered to repot it so that you don't accidentally overwater it. 

Choose a pot that is one to three inches larger than your plant’s current growing container, and ensure you have fresh soil on hand. Remove the plant from its pot and brush away as much of the old soil as you can without damaging the roots. Then, move the plant to its new pot, filling the pot with fresh soil as you go. Return the freshly repotted plant to its original location and water it well, allowing the excess water to drain from the container.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

Rhaphidophora decursiva are not prone to any particular pests or diseases, but like most houseplants they are susceptible to a range of common houseplant pests. Keep an eye out for signs of mealybugs, spider mites, thrips, and scale and treat your plant with a houseplant insecticide at the first sign of an infestation. These tropical plants can also suffer from diseases like fungal leaf spot and root rot. Fungal leaf spot presents as small black or brown spots on the plant’s leaves, and should be treated by pruning off any heavily affected leaves and applying a fungicide regularly until symptoms stop. Root rot is usually a result of overwatering and can be identified by mushy stems or roots, and is fatal to a plant if it's not caught early. Prune off any affected areas immediately, and propagate any stems that are not rotted to save the plant.

Common Problems With Rhaphidophora Decursiva

For the most part, these tropical plants are easy to grow and do well when grown indoors. Occasionally, you may run into a few minor problems which usually indicate that something in the plant’s growing environment is not quite right.

Yellow Leaves

Yellow leaves can mean a few different things. Sometimes, yellow leaves are just a normal part of the plant’s life cycle and are nothing to worry about. If you notice the oldest leaves slowly turning yellow and dropping off, it may not be cause for concern. However, if your plant’s healthy, new growth is suddenly beginning to turn yellow, it may be a sign that it is either not receiving enough light, or is underwatered. Evaluate your plant’s growing conditions to determine what the most likely culprit may be.

Slow Growth

These Rhaphidophora are known for growing quite quickly when they are happy, so slow-growth is usually an indication that something isn’t quite right. First, be sure to observe the plant’s growth during the spring and summer before you conclude that it is growing slowly. Remember that most tropical plants go somewhat dormant during the fall and winter months (yes, even houseplants!) and will naturally slow their growth. 

If you are sure your plant is experiencing slow and stunted growth, the most common causes are a lack of light or nutrients. Ensure that your plant is receiving bright, indirect light. If you cannot provide it with any more natural light, you can add a grow light to your plant’s set up which should help. Also, be sure that you are fertilizing your plant regularly during the spring and summer months to provide it with the right nutrients. Lastly, check to see if your Rhaphidophora decursiva needs repotting. If your plant is severely root-bound it will slow its growth until it is given more room to grow into.

FAQ
  • Are Rhaphidophora decursiva rare?

    Compared to its cousin the Rhaphidophora tetrasperma, the Rhaphidophora decursiva is a bit more rare and elusive. That being said, while you may not be able to find this plant at the local supermarket or your nearest department store, it is being sold more often at specialty nurseries and houseplant shops than it used to be.  

  • Is a Raphidora decursiva a Monstera?

    While the Rhaphidophora decursiva is commonly labeled a Monstera due to its highly fenestrated leaves, it is not a part of the Monstera genus. Instead, it is a part of the Rhaphidophora genus, which is separate and distinct from the Monstera genus. Both the Monstera and Rhaphidophora genera are a part of the Araceae family, however.

  • Can I move my Rhaphidophora decursiva outdoors for the summer?

    These tropical plants are not cold-hardy, but they can be moved outdoors during the spring and summer months if desired. Be sure to acclimate your plant to its new outdoor conditions slowly though. In particular, keep in mind that the sunlight outdoors is much stronger than the sunlight your plant is used to indoors. Start by placing it in a shady location and gradually move it into a brighter spot as it gets used to its new environment. Avoid locations that receive direct afternoon sun as it will quickly scorch this plant’s leaves.

  • Does my Rhaphidophora decursiva need a moss pole?

    This plant has a climbing growth habit, so it is recommended that you provide it with some type of support to climb as it matures. You can use a moss pole, or something a little simpler such as a trellis or a large stick or bamboo support. While these tropical climbers can technically grow without a moss pole or support, they will never reach full maturity unless they are given something to climb.

Article Sources
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  1. Children's Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service. "Rhaphidophora." childrens.health.qld.gov. N.p., n.d. Web.