Philodendron Erubescens ‘Black Cardinal’ Care Guide (2022)

philodendron black cardinal

The philodendron black cardinal is a dramatically colored modern hybrid with its roots in Central and South America.

The dark, almost black leaves of black cardinal have a contemporary look perfect for city lofts, but will also work in traditional settings.

If you’re looking for an easy-care plant with a wow factor, this is it.

Scientific NamePhilodendron erubescens ‘Black Cardinal’
Common NamePhilodendron Black Cardinal
LightBright indirect sunlight
WateringWater if the top inch of soil is dry
Temperature65 to 78ºF (18 to 26ºC)
Hardiness Zone10 to 12
Humidity70%
Soil TypeRich, quick-draining, loamy
Soil pH5.5 to 6.5 (acidic to mildly acidic)
FertilizingOnce a month in spring and summer
RepottingEvery 2 to 3 years
PruningBeginning of the growing season
PropagationStem cuttings or division
ToxicityToxic to humans and pets
Mature Size36 inches as a houseplant
Bloom TimeRarely blooms indoors

What’s Unique About Philodendron Black Cardinal?

The philodendron black cardinal plant was hybridized in Florida in the early 1980s as a low-care, self-heading and disease-resistant cultivar. 

Its parent plants are native to Central and South America, where they grow in tropical rainforests.

Philodendron black cardinal plants are prized for their deep burgundy leaves that appear almost black as they mature.

Growing philodendron black cardinal is pretty easy, even for a beginner gardener, as it requires hardly any care aside from regular watering.

As well, like all philodendrons, it’s excellent at filtering chemicals such as formaldehyde from indoors air, so it’s not just decorative, but also useful.

Philodendron Black Cardinal Care

While the philodendron black cardinal itself was developed in a Florida nursery, its family originates in the rainforests of Central and South America.

As a result, philodendron black cardinal plant care is the same as for any rainforest native.

Your black cardinal care should focus on keeping it out of the full sun in a warm and humid setting, in consistently moist soil.

Light 

The sun is bright in the tropical regions of Central and South America, but the tree canopy of the rainforests filters those rays for understory plants like the philodendron.

Philodendron black cardinal light requirements are for bright but indirect light. Ideally, that’s between 16,000 and 27,000 lux.

Black cardinal light needs are pretty flexible, though. While it won’t grow quite as well, it will tolerate low light levels for weeks at a time.

Still, you should find a spot for it where it will get several hours of good light a day, while keeping it out of the full sun, which will damage its leaves.

A north or east-facing window is perfect, while in a south or west exposure you need to keep it several feet away from the window.

Watering 

In the rainforest, philodendrons are used to rain at least every other day during its growing season, while things are much drier in winter and early spring.

Your philodendron black cardinal watering should follow a similar pattern.

In spring, summer, and early fall, water black cardinal whenever the top inch of soil has dried out. Slowly pour tepid water over the entire soil surface to ensure even absorption.

In winter, its watering needs decrease. Let the soil dry out almost completely, and then submerge the pot in a sink or pail full of water until it is saturated.

Always drain excess water completely and never let the pot sit in standing water.

Temperature 

In the tropical regions that philodendron black cardinal’s parents are native to, temperatures are decidedly on the hot side. 

However, it has been developed to tolerate more moderate temperatures.

The ideal philodendron black cardinal temperature range is 65 to 80ºF (18 to 27ºC). It will be perfectly happy in whatever temperature you are comfortable with.

If you want to provide a warmer temperature for black cardinal, move it outside to your balcony or patio in hot summer weather.

You will need to bring it back in as soon as things cool down in late summer or early fall, however, as it does not have much temperature tolerance under 55ºF (12ºC).

It can only be grown outdoors year-round in tropical or subtropical regions, as it has no frost hardiness at all. 

Humidity 

The native rainforests of the philodendron are very humid, with the relative humidity never dropping below 70%.

Thus, the ideal humidity for black cardinal is around 70%, but as a rule, the philodendron black cardinal humidity requirements for healthy growth are not that high.

In your home, philodendron black cardinal will usually be fine with a humidity level between 40 to 50%, although growth will be a bit slower.

To make it perfectly happy, place its pot on a pebble tray filled with water, or group all your tropical plants together to create a moister microclimate.

The most effective solution is to use a small humidifier to target the air around your plants.

Soil 

The soil on the forest floor in a tropical rainforest is moist and springy, with lots of decaying organic matter.

Your philodendron black cardinal soil needs to have similar qualities for optimum growth.

The best pH level for black cardinal is 5.5 to 6.5, or acidic to mildly acidic.

You can buy a commercial soil mix for your philodendron black cardinal; either an African Violet soil or aroid mix would work well.

The easiest soil for black cardinal is simply 100% peat moss, which will drain well while retaining a sufficient quantity of moisture. 

If you add some well-rotted compost it will be even better.

Fertilizer 

It’s a good idea to regularly use a philodendron black cardinal fertilizer to support the growth of big, beautiful leaves.

Because leaves grow best with lots of nitrogen, a fertilizer ratio of 3-2-1 or 5-2-3 will be ideal for your philodendron black cardinal, although a balanced 20-20-20 is also fine.

A liquid formula is the easiest fertilizer for black cardinal; just dilute it to half the recommended strength.

Use it once a month in spring and summer, and then give your philodendron black cardinal a rest in fall and winter.

If new leaves look pale, find a fertilizer with calcium and magnesium.

Potting & Repotting 

Philodendron black cardinal repotting only needs to be done every 2 or 3 years, as it has a slow growth rate.

Repotting black cardinal is necessary when you see roots growing out of the drainage holes, or filling up the pot. Early spring is the best time.

Go up just one pot size at a time, as too much soil will actually hinder your philodendron black cardinal’s progress.

A glazed or plastic pot will be best to keep the soil moisture constant. Just make sure it has good drainage holes.

Always replace the potting soil to prevent the build-up of pathogens.

Pruning 

You will hardly ever need to do any philodendron black cardinal pruning. 

Unlike its parent plants that naturally sprawl as their vines grow, this self-heading cultivar was developed to maintain a bushy, compact form.

For the most part, all you will need to do is trim off leaves that have started to die. This will not only maintain your philodendron black cardinal’s good looks, but also discourage disease and pests. 

When cutting black cardinal, always use sharp, sterilized scissors. Cut the stem right back to the soil level.

You should also wear gloves, as the sap of the philodendron black cardinal plant can cause a rash in sensitive individuals.

Propagation 

Since the patent for this cultivar expired in 2003, you are free to propagate black cardinal for any purpose whatsoever. 

The easiest method of philodendron black cardinal propagation is by division, which can be done when you are repotting your plant.

Once you’ve pulled the root ball out of its pot, clean off as much soil as possible, and try to gently pull apart the tangled roots. 

If necessary, you can use a sharp knife to separate them. Just make sure each new plantlet has both roots and at least one stem.

You can also take stem cuttings and root them in water or moist soil.

Also, make sure to check out our in-depth Philodendron brandtianum care guide.

Common Problems of Philodendron Black Cardinal

There are hardly any philodendron black cardinal problems to worry about.

Philodendrons in general are pretty hardy plants, and this cultivar was developed to be even tougher to kill.

If you do have problems with black cardinal, you will see it first in the leaves, so keep an eye out for any issues.

Pests 

There are not a lot of philodendron black cardinal pests to worry about.

The best way to keep them from infesting your black cardinal is by wiping down the glossy leaves once a month with a neem oil or insecticidal soap solution.

Aphids are little green bugs on the stems and undersides of the leaves. Take your philodendron black cardinal to the sink or shower and rinse them off.

Mealy bugs will look like little clumps of cotton fluff under the leaves. Wipe them off with rubbing alcohol.

Scale insects attach themselves to stems and under the leaves, looking like brown bumps. Scrape them off.

Diseases 

Your black cardinal was bred to be resistant to many common houseplant diseases, so there’s very little to worry about.

The most likely of the philodendron black cardinal diseases that you will see is root rot.

Root rot develops when a plant’s soil is kept too wet and the roots cannot breathe, leading to a fungal infection.

The leaves turn yellow and droop, and the stems get soft, while the roots turn black and smelly.

You may be able to save your philodendron black cardinal by cutting off all the infected parts and replanting what’s left in fresh soil in a disinfected pot.

Growing Problems 

Similarly, you are not going to encounter many growing problems with your philodendron black cardinal.

If you do have what appears to be a sick plant, it might just need better growing conditions, which is easy enough to fix.

If the deep red leaves start reverting to green, or turning a sickly shade of yellow, your philodendron black cardinal is probably not getting enough light.

Other symptoms of too shady a location can include smaller leaves and short petioles.

On the other hand, brown leaf tips can mean that it’s getting too much sun. The other possibility is that the humidity is too low.

Toxicity of Philodendron Black Cardinal

Like all philodendrons, black cardinal is toxic to humans and animals.

All parts of the plant have calcium oxalate, which contains tiny crystals or raphides which will pierce delicate tissues and cause pain or swelling.

Because of its toxicity, care should be taken when growing philodendron black cardinal in a home with children and pets.

For Humans 

Philodendron black cardinal is toxic to humans, but only very rarely could be fatal.

While curious children may try to nibble one of the glossy leaves, they are unlikely to keep going, because of the pain caused by contact with the plant material.

Get your child to rinse and spit out anything that’s in their mouth, and give them a cold treat like a popsicle to soothe the pain.

You only need to take them to the emergency room if their tongue or airways become swollen, indicating a more serious reaction.

As for you, just take precautions when handling your philodendron black cardinal, as the sap can cause a painful rash.

For Pets 

Your pets can also suffer an adverse reaction if they try eating some of the foliage of the philodendron black cardinal. Cats, dogs, rabbits and other mammals are all equally at risk.

If your pet starts drooling excessively or wheezing, or has vomiting or diarrhea, you should not attempt to deal with it yourself. Take it to the veterinarian as soon as possible.

You should try to keep your philodendron black cardinal out of reach of pets and children. 

Because of its compact size, it can be kept on a high shelf, or grown in a hanging basket well above floor level.

Philodendron Black Cardinal Appearance

The unique philodendron black cardinal appearance has made it a very popular houseplant since its introduction 40 years ago.

There is really no other philodendron cultivar out there with such gorgeous, glossy, almost black leaves as philodendron black cardinal.

That foliage, combined with its low maintenance demands and compact size, have made it a favorite in a variety of settings.

Foliage 

The foliage of philodendron black cardinal is nothing short of fabulous, from when each leaf first unfurls through to to its mature color.

New leaves are a bright bronze-red, changing as they mature to first green and then finally a deep shade of burgundy that is almost black. The underside is reddish-green.

At any time you can expect to have leaves at all stages on the plant for a vibrant look.

The broad oval leaves are 12 inches long and 8 inches wide. 

The philodendron black cardinal leaves are very thick and leathery, and extremely glossy.

Keep them looking their best by wiping them down periodically with a damp cloth.

Flowering 

The black cardinal flower is a rare sight, even on plants growing outside year-round in a tropical climate. 

And when philodendron black cardinal flowering does occur, it’s not much to look at, compared to the foliage.

When it is blooming, you will observe a dark red spathe wrapped around a white spadix. They bloom in summer.

If a philodendron black cardinal does bloom and set seeds, they cannot be used to propagate more plants, as it is a hybrid that cannot be counted on to breed true.

The new leaves, emerging bright red, are much more colorful than the rare flowers.

Size and Growth 

The mature size of philodendron black cardinal is about 36 inches tall with a spread of 18 inches.

New leaf stalks emerge from the center of the plant, framed by the older leaves around and below it.

It has a slow growth rate and may take 10 years to reach its full size.

The philodendron black cardinal plant was bred to be self-heading, meaning that it naturally grows into a tidy rosette shape and does not climb.

As a consequence, there is no need to stake it. It can, however, be grown in a hanging basket, although it will not develop trailing vines.

Philodendron Black Cardinal Fragrance

There is no philodendron black cardinal fragrance.

However, although it has no scent, it will still make a very positive contribution to your home’s environment. 

Like all philodendrons, it has the ability to filter out chemicals such as formaldehyde, which is found in so many materials in the home, such as plywood and carpeting.

Its lack of smell, as well as its low maintenance and compact growth habit, make it a perfect plant for public spaces. 

Many institutions prefer to use scentless plants so as not to trigger allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. 

Even in your own home, especially if it’s a small space, this might be your own preference.

Suggested Uses for Philodendron Black Cardinal

A plant as dramatic in appearance as the philodendron black cardinal can be deployed in a wide variety of settings, both indoors and outside.

In a contemporary space, the dramatically dark leaves would stand out against a white backdrop.

As well, the compact shape of the philodendron black cardinal lends itself to repetition, so a row of these foliage plants along a balcony railing would be very striking.

In an atrium or lobby philodendron black cardinal plants can be combined with other plants to provide a varied tapestry of color and texture.

In a tropical climate they can be used as foundation plantings for private homes or public buildings to good effect.

FAQ

What is philodendron black cardinal? 

The philodendron black cardinal plant is a hybrid philodendron patented in 1983, developed in Florida from parent plants native to Central and South American rainforests.

How to identify philodendron black cardinal? 

The philodendron black cardinal plant has glossy, dark burgundy leaves that appear almost black when mature, and are 12 inches long and 8 inches wide.

How to care for philodendron black cardinal? 

The philodendron black cardinal plant should be grown in a bright location out of the full sun, in consistently moist soil and in a warm and humid environment.

How to grow philodendron black cardinal indoors? 

The philodendron black cardinal plant can be grown as a potted plant indoors at a normal room temperature, with bright, indirect lighting and regular watering.

How to grow philodendron black cardinal outdoors? 

The philodendron black cardinal plant can be grown outdoors year-round in zones 10 to 12. In temperate climates you can move pots outdoors to a shaded spot in summer.

How fast does philodendron black cardinal grow? 

The philodendron black cardinal plant has a slow growth rate, taking as long as 10 years to reach its full size when grown indoors or outside.

How tall does philodendron black cardinal grow? 

The philodendron black cardinal plant grows into a compact rosette form, 36 inches high and 18 inches across. It does not climb or have trailing stems.

How to make philodendron black cardinal grow faster? 

The philodendron black cardinal plant will grow at the fastest rate when it is given ideal conditions including bright, indirect light, warm temperatures and high humidity.

How to stake philodendron black cardinal? 

The philodendron black cardinal plant grows into a compact, self-heading rosette form that stays naturally upright, and does not have vining stems that require support.

How to pot philodendron black cardinal? 

The philodendron black cardinal plant should be planted in well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter in a plastic or glazed clay pot with good drainage holes.

How to revive philodendron black cardinal? 

If your philodendron black cardinal plant soil has dried out, set the pot in a sink or pail full of tepid water, and hold it down until the soil has become saturated.

Why is my philodendron black cardinal dying? 

Your philodendron black cardinal plant may have developed root rot from sitting in wet soil. Cut off all affected parts and replant it in fresh soil in a new pot.

Why is my philodendron black cardinal drooping? 

Your philodendron black cardinal plant may be too wet or too dry. Check the soil moisture and either give it a good soaking or replant it in fresh, loose soil.

How cold can philodendron black cardinal tolerate? 

The philodendron black cardinal plant will start to suffer if it is kept for any length of time at temperatures less than 55ºF (12ºC), and freezing temperatures will kill it.

How to get rid of pests on philodendron black cardinal? 

Philodendron black cardinal pests can usually be prevented by regularly wiping down both sides of the leaves with a neem oil or insecticidal soap solution.

Is philodendron black cardinal toxic to cats? 

Yes, the philodendron black cardinal plant is toxic to cats. If your cat starts vomiting or has diarrhea, take it to the veterinarian as soon as possible.

Is philodendron black cardinal toxic to dogs? 

Yes, the philodendron black cardinal plant is toxic to dogs. If your dog starts drooling excessively or wheezing, it will need to be taken to the veterinarian.

Is philodendron black cardinal toxic to children? 

Yes, the philodendron black cardinal plant is toxic to children. If your child has a swollen tongue or constricted airways, take them to the emergency room.

Is philodendron black cardinal toxic to humans? 

Yes, the philodendron black cardinal is toxic to humans. If you get the sap on your skin, you should rinse it off as soon as possible, as you can get a painful rash.

Does philodendron black cardinal have a scent? 

The philodendron black cardinal plant does not have a scent, making it a good plant to use in public settings where people with fragrance allergies may be exposed to it.

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