The shingle plant is one of the most unusual houseplants you can grow. Its funky growth habit is responsible for its current popularity among houseplant enthusiasts (myself included!). Shingle plants have a vining stem that clings to trees, rocks, and other structures and climbs up them. Its leaves sit flush against whatever structure the plant is climbing. When the plant is mature, the leaves overlap slightly, making them look like green roofing shingles. In this article, I’ll share essential information on how to grow shingle plants, including watering, feeding, repotting, and propagation.
What is a shingle plant?
There are two species of shingle plant that are commonly grown as houseplants. The first is known botanically as Rhaphidophora hayi and it boasts solid-green leaves. The second is Rhaphidophora cryptantha, and it looks very similar but has silvery leaf veins on the otherwise green leaves. Both species have leaves that create the shingling effect as they climb. This article provides care information that is pertinent to both species. In a later section of this article, I’ll introduce a third plant known as the shingle plant (Monstera dubia), though it does not maintain its shingling growth habit throughout its life and grows quite large.
Meet the shingle plant
The shingle plant (also called the shingle vine) is a tropical perennial climber native to the lowland rainforests of Southeast Asia, including the island region of Papua New Guinea known as the Bismarck Archipelago. It is now also found in wild spaces in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, and a few other tropical climates.
In its native habitat, when the plant is very young, it creeps along the ground in its juvenile form. When it encounters a tree, rock, or another vertical surface, the mature form of the plant is triggered, and it begins to climb. At that time, the velvety leaves (with or without silver veining) increase in size as the plant continues to grow.
Because this is a tropical plant that does not survive freezing temperatures, it is most often grown as a houseplant here in North America. However, in Florida and other tropical regions of the world, it can be grown outdoors as a unique landscape plant. The Rhaphidophora cryptantha and Rhaphidophora hayi care tips offered in this article are focused on growing this plant indoors as a houseplant.
Each mature leaf can grow 3 inches in length, and the 1-inch diameter vines of a healthy plant can climb 8 to 10 feet tall if conditions are right and it has enough room to grow. Shingle plants are available from companies such as Costa Farms and other houseplant growers.
The best light for a shingle plant
The shingle plant is tolerant of low light conditions, but it prefers bright indirect light if possible. Here in the northern hemisphere, the natural light provided by an east- or west-facing window is the best light for shingle plants, though a north-facing window without obstructions works too. Avoid the very bright, direct sun of a south-facing window. Overexposure to direct sunlight can lead to washed out, pale leaf color.
If you don’t have the right window exposure for natural light, shingle plants are a good candidate for a grow light stand, free-standing grow light, or greenhouse cabinet. They like very warm temperatures and high humidity, making a closed greenhouse cabinet extra beneficial, at least until the vines climb too high for the cabinet.
If given the proper conditions, the shingle plant develops flowers, though they are barely noticeable beneath the leaves. The flowers are small spathes, which is typical of the popular aroid family to which this plant belongs.
The importance of high humidity for shingle plants
As mentioned, the shingle plant requires high humidity. Unlike many other tropical plants that perform okay in the dry conditions of a home, shingle plants languish in low humidity.
Three easy ways to increase the relative humidity around the plant are to:
- Place a cool mist humidifier near your shingle plant. Set it on a timer to run for several hours a day. Be sure to refill it every night.
- Group your shingle plant close to other houseplants where the collective transpiration from their leaves increases the ambient humidity.
- Place your shingle plant’s pot on a pebble tray. Keep the tray filled with water around the pebbles, but make sure the base of the pot is not sitting directly in the water or it could lead to root rot. As the water evaporates, it raises the humidity around the foliage.
How and when to water a shingle plant
Shingle plants prefer moist soil. Since they are indigenous to tropical rain forests, do not allow them to dry out between waterings. Ensure your container has drainage holes to keep the soil from becoming waterlogged. Feel the weight of the pot immediately after watering to check its weight. Then lift it again every few days. It’s time to water again when the pot is substantially lighter but still has some heft to it. The average is every 7 to 10 days depending on how dry your home is.
Another way to gauge when to water a shingle plant is to stick your finger into the soil up to your middle knuckle. When the top inch of soil is lighter in color and your finger comes out dry, it’s time to water again.
To water shingle plants, move the pot to a sink or bathtub and turn on room temperature water. Let the water run through the pot and out the drainage holes for several minutes. Using this method, the soil becomes fully saturated and excess fertilizers are flushed out, preventing fertilizer burn. You can also use the technique known as bottom watering, which is featured in this article.
Shingle plants are medium feeders when they are in a state of active growth, which is typically from early spring through early fall. During this time, fertilize your Rhaphidophora cryptantha or Rhaphidophora hayi plant every 4 weeks using a liquid organic houseplant fertilizer. Choose one that contains all three macro nutrients (N, P, and K). Do not fertilize shingle plants in the winter when they are not actively growing.
What kind of climbing board to use for a shingle plant
When it comes to offering a climbing structure for a shingle plant, there are many options. Often, greenhouses use a short wooden board that the plant quickly outgrows. When this happens, upgrade to a longer wooden board (like this 18” cedar board), a moss pole, coir pole, or moss board. I like to use poles for a lot of my climbing houseplants (including my Golden Goddess philodendron and Monstera adansonii) but find that shingle plants don’t cling to them as easily as they do to wooden boards.
Whatever climbing structure you provide for your shingle plant, use soft string, vinyl plant tape, or even plastic cable ties to hold the vine against the structure until it takes hold and the aerial roots grab onto it.
Interestingly, if your shingle plant reaches the top of its climbing structure, the leaves at the top revert to their juvenile form and grow smaller again, making it important to provide a taller structure for climbing as the plant matures.
When to repot
Every few years, shingle plants need to be repotted. This is a challenging task when there is a climbing structure involved. When the plant is three times taller than the pot’s height, it is likely time to transplant to a larger pot. You can use a standard plastic nursery pot or opt for a decorative ceramic one. Just be sure it has proper drainage.
Use a standard houseplant potting soil and do not put rocks or pot shards in the bottom of the new container. Contrary to popular belief, they do not improve or add drainage. Only drainage holes and high-quality potting soil can improve drainage.
Propagating shingle plants
Both species of shingle plants are very easy to propagate. Stem cuttings are the most direct route. Simply cut off a portion of the stem that contains at least one leaf and node. If it has an aerial root, all the better. Insert the cutting into a small pot of sterile potting soil, cover it pot-and-all with a plastic bag, and place it in an east- or west-facing window. Water it as needed, and it will be fully rooted in about 3 to 4 weeks.
Another option is to air layer your shingle plant. These plants root very easily when a section of the stem that is still attached to the mother plant has formed aerial roots. Simply wrap that section of the stem in moist sphagnum moss to surround the stem and roots and cover it with a plastic bag. The roots will grow into the moist moss. When they grow long enough to be visible from the outside of the plastic bag, it’s time to cut that section from the mother plant just below its roots and give it a pot of its own.
Possible problems with a shingle plant
Though the shingle plant is not prone to pest issues, occasionally aphids, mealybugs, or spider mites can take hold, especially if you take your plant outdoors to a semi-shaded area for the summer months. All three of these shingle plant pests are managed with insecticidal soap.
Rhaphidophora cryptantha vs Monstera dubia
As previously mentioned, another climbing vine also grown as a houseplant and called the shingle plant is Monstera dubia. It looks a lot like Rhaphidophora cryptantha with its silvery leaf veining. However, it’s important to be able to tell these two species apart because M. dubia requires different care than R. cryptantha. The shingle plant Monstera dubia also eventually grows very large.
Here’s how to tell the two plants apart.
- The vines and leaves of both of these shingle plants plaster themselves against whatever they are climbing. However, Monstera dubia’s leaves will grow very large and develop perforations and holes in them as they mature. They also lose their natural variation and turn a solid green. At maturity, these plants are very large. R. cryptantha, on the other hand, keeps its color and leaf shape and more petite leaf size even as it climbs.
- The tips of the foliage on the M. dubia point in a downward direction, while the leaf tips of the Rhaphidophora species point slightly upwards.
- The silvery color appears between the leaf veins on M. dubia, while the veins themselves are silvery on R. cryptantha.
Let the shingles shine!
Add a shingle plant to your collection of houseplants and enjoy one of the most unique growth habits you’ll find for indoor growing. If you want to be creative, you can even step out of the box a bit and try some different climbing structures. Perhaps mount a wooden board to a wall or find a large flat rock to situate nearby for the plant to climb. Concrete statuary and even fireplace bricks or stone masonry is another fun option. Don’t be afraid to show off your shingle plant!
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