How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Philodendron Birkin
Want to know how to keep your Philodendron Birkin looking its best? These plants have become quite popular, which means you'll want to understand a bit more about the plant before welcoming one into your home. Covering history, care needs, propagating and common problems, gardening and houseplant expert Madison Moulton discusses everything you need to know about these wonderful indoor plants.
Variegated houseplants have taken over social media feeds across the world. Far from the beginner-friendly or low-maintenance plants houseplant owners started with, the rare and unusual are the new must-have.
When it comes to Philodendrons, it doesn’t get more unusual than the Philodendron Birkin. A relatively new cultivar and the sport of Rojo Congo, this plant has fascinating pinstripe variegation that has made houseplant collectors swoon.
With some extra care taken to provide the right lighting and manage moisture levels, these plants are quite easy to care for too. With this guide, we’ve got you and your new Birkin completely covered.
Philodendron Birkin Plant Overview
Plant Type Houseplant
Species Philodendron ‘Birkin’
Native Area Tropical forests
Exposure Bright, indirect light
Watering Requirements Moderate
Pests Spider mites, mealybug
Diseases Blight, Leaf Spot, Tipburn
Soil Type Airy and well-draining
What is a Philodendron Birkin?
Philodendron Birkin is a relatively new and interesting member of the Philodendron family. Its variegated leaves and captivating color have made it popular across social media as one of the most sought-after Philodendron types, alongside its cousins Philodendron Pink Princess and Philodendron Rio.
Philodendrons are the second largest genus of the Araceae family, with many members beloved among houseplant lovers. The name Philodendron comes from the Greek words for ‘love’ and ‘tree’, describing their growth habits in tropical jungle habitats.
This member of the Arum family is closely related to other popular houseplants like Anthuriums and Peace Lilies. They also look quite similar to another member of the family – Aglaonemas. Despite their similarities in looks, these plants come from completely different genera.
Like many other variegated houseplants, Philodendron Birkin is not found in the wild. This interesting cultivar actually mutated from another popular Philodendron, Rojo Congo.
Although it is a rare phenomenon, some plants are known to develop cell mutations with successive generations of propagation.
In the case of Birkin, a Rojo Conjo plant developed a genetic mutation known as chimeric mutation. This mutation left some plant cells unable to synthesize chlorophyll, resulting in the variegation patterns we see on the leaves.
Most plant mutations are temporary, fading out after a generation or two of propagating. However, the Birkin mutation was found to be relatively stable through successive generations. It was given the name Birkin and introduced to the market to become a social media sensation.
Birkin is a mutation of Philodendron Rojo Congo, which is itself a combination of Philodendron Imperial Red and Philodendron Tatei. That means you won’t ever find a Birkin in the wild, even in the tropical zones these plants are known to love.
But, even though they are lab-grown and reproduced by tissue culture, they still retain the environmental characteristics of the genus.
Philodendrons are native to tropical forests of the Americas, mostly distributed throughout South and Central America. They are often found grown nearby or along tree trunks, hence their genus name ‘tree-lover’.
Thanks to their rainforest habitats, they love warm temperatures and high humidity – conditions we are used to indoors. Most tropical plants, including those of the Philodendron species, make great houseplants as they appreciate the same conditions we humans do.
Philodendron Birkin has a very similar leaf shape to the Rojo Congo, but a completely different color. They are favored for their bright white variegation, appearing in a pinstripe pattern on some leaves. Other leaves have little to no variegation, making each one slightly different.
These plants do have a tendency to revert under certain conditions. Some leaves may lose their variegation and take on the same purple hue as the parent plant.
Although this may be unwelcome to those who want to retain the variegation patterns, it does make for an interesting look, unlike any other houseplant. Far from returning to a plain green, its purple colors make it even more unique.
Due to the higher levels of variegation, this plant is a slow grower. They can often survive for years on end in the same pot, never outgrowing its bounds. The long leaves can reach up to 8 inches long to the pointed tips but do so slowly, with the variegation intensifying as the leaves mature.
In the right conditions, these plants can reach a height of three feet, but will usually stick to around half that height or shorter in low lighting conditions.
Like other Philodendrons, Birkin leaves contain a compound known as calcium oxalate. Due to their crystal structure, these salts are incredibly sharp and do a lot of damage when ingested. Keep your Birkin away from all pets and children to avoid any accidents or trips to the emergency room.
Buying A Philodendron Birkin
Philodendron Birkin is still labeled as a rare plant, but it is far easier to find than it was a few years ago. As they have become more common, their price has also dropped to a more reasonable rate than when they were first sold. Produced by Costa Farms, you should find Birkin easily at a local nursery or any chain store the company supplies. Probably not as easily when compared to a pothos, but pretty close.
Your best bet is to purchase from an online store. Unlike its cousin, Pink Princess Philodendron, Birkin is not sold out as often and can usually be purchased from online retailers without hassle. Ensure you purchase from a reputable company, as houseplants can take a lot of damage during the transporting process and need to be shipped correctly to ensure they remain healthy after purchase.
Many Birkins are available on online marketplaces too, such as Etsy. Here, you can be smaller plants for a reasonable price, or opt for more mature and established types with high levels of variegation. Although they come at a higher cost, they also have a higher chance of survival after shipping.
They are also relatively easy to propagate. If you can’t find a Birkin near you, ask a friend who has managed to get their hands on one for a cutting. The variegation in the new plant may be unpredictable, but it is an easy and completely free way to obtain your own Birkin plant.
How to Grow
Once you’ve purchased your Birkin, it won’t be difficult to keep it looking good. While they can be temperamental at times, Philodendron Birkins are generally easy to care for, needing similar care and conditions to many other houseplants.
These large leafy plants are fans of bright indirect light. Like many other foliage houseplants, they cannot handle direct light, but don’t appreciate lower lighting situations either.
When placed in low light, they may not show any signs of struggle for a few days or even weeks. However, over time, the plant will face stress due to a lack of energy and therefore, photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process that allows the plant to make its own food for survival. Without it, the plant will ultimately die.
Low light has an even greater effect on Birkins due to the high levels of variegation. As mentioned, this color change is due to a genetic mutation that leaves variegated areas without any chlorophyll. Less photosynthesis takes place, meaning they need more light to feed themselves and continue growing.
If the light levels are too low, your Birkin will begin to lose its variegation as the pinstripes slowly turn green again. The stems may also stretch toward the nearest light source, making your plant leggy and unbalanced.
The best position is in front of an east-facing window with bright indirect light for most of the day. If your windowsill receives direct sun, especially during midday or the afternoon when the light is more intense, cover the window with a sheer curtain to filter it.
Birkins are fans of moisture thanks to their rainforest habitats. However, they don’t like soggy or waterlogged soil that rots the roots and stems either. A fine balance is needed to keep them satisfied without overdoing it.
When your Philodendron is underwatered, the relatively thin leaves will begin to wilt and keel over due to a lack of water in the cells. As the cells are made up mostly of water, a lack of it leaves them unable to maintain the plant’s structure.
The leaves may also begin to brown at the tips, with the problem increasing the longer the plant is left underwatered.
Overwatering is also a huge risk. When your Birkin is left to sit in excessively moist soil for long periods, the roots lack oxygen and start to rot. When the ends are damaged, the water and nutrient transport systems are inhibited, leaving the stems and leaves without any water.
In severe cases of root rot, the leaves will begin to yellow and may even fall off the plant as it attempts to conserve resources. The stem at the soil line will become mushy too, unable to hold the plant up.
Needless to say, watering correctly is therefore incredibly important for the health of your plants. In small pots, water when the top inch of soil has dried out to maintain the right balance. In larger pots that hold more soil, two to three inches is preferred.
Test the soil with your finger every few days to determine the right time to water. It’s best to avoid watering on a schedule as conditions can change day by day, quickly leading to under or overwatering.
Houseplants, due to their indoor conditions and residence in containers, require specialized soil. Houseplant soil mixes are designed to drain well enough to prevent root rot, stay moist enough to keep the plants happy, and deliver enough oxygen to the roots to avoid suffocation.
You can purchase a soil mix designed for houseplants from your local nursery or online. These mixes have the right ratios for most houseplants, including your Philodendron Birkin. Some even come with fertilizer mixed in to give your plants a growth boost in the right season.
If you have a lot of houseplants and need to repot often, it is far cheaper to purchase the materials for a soil mix and make it yourself than to buy pre-mixed every time. It also allows you to tailor the mix to your plant’s specific needs and to the environmental conditions in your home.
The ideal soil mix for a Philodendron Birkin is a combination of potting soil, perlite, and coconut coir or peat moss.
The perlite – small white rocks of expanded volcanic glass – increases the space between soil particles to improve drainage and ensure the roots have enough oxygen. Coconut coir or peat moss retain plenty of moisture but aren’t heavy, lightening the mix and the weight of the container at the same time.
Combine two parts potting soil with one part perlite and one part coconut coir or peat moss for planting or repotting. Add more or less of each material as needed, depending on the size of the plant and the conditions it is kept in.
Temperature and Humidity
Hailing from tropical forests of the Americas, most Philodendrons appreciate the same temperature and humidity levels. They like warm environments and high humidity to match their native habitats.
General indoor temperatures are suitable for your Philodendron Birkin, between 65F and 80F. Higher temperatures can lower the moisture levels in the soil and leaves, resulting in heat and water stress. Lower temperatures below 50F can damage the leaf tissues and cause the plant to stop growing.
As a general rule, if you’re comfortable indoors, your Birkin should be too.
They are slightly fussier about humidity due to their love of moisture in both the soil and the air. In rainforest environments, humidity is typically around 75% in the dry seasons and up to 90% in the rainy seasons.
They should be happy in humidity above 50%, but will appreciate rooms with humidity between 60% and 70% for optimal growth.
Improving Humidity Indoors
There are a few ways to increase humidity indoors if you cannot reach that level. Committed plant parents can mist their Birkin several times a day, but this will only improve conditions for a few minutes and can lead to the development of disease. Placing your plant on a tray filled with pebbles is also recommended often, but only improves conditions marginally.
To truly improve conditions, use a humidifier or place several houseplants around your Birkin. Humidifiers allow you greater control over the levels in the particular room and reproduce the rainforest conditions these plants love.
Giving them friends nearby also increases the humidity in the area, but they shouldn’t be placed too close together at the risk of the proliferation of pests and diseases.
As these plants are slow growers, they don’t use up nutrients in the soil quickly. However, they will get used up at some point, requiring a top-up from you in the form of fertilizers.
After a year or so of growth, during which the plants will be happy with the fertilizer in the soil from the growers, you can fertilize in spring and summer.
How often you fertilize will depend on your choice of fertilizer. Liquid houseplant fertilizers are easily absorbed by the roots but quickly wash away from the soil, meaning you will need to fertilize more often. Slow-release fertilizers are designed to break down over time but don’t give you much control over the release of those nutrients.
When using a liquid fertilizer, apply a half-strength amount once per month. This will stop the build-up of nutrients and salts in the soil due to the plant’s slow growth while preventing the flushing of the soil completely with frequent watering.
Slow-release fertilizers come in pellets or sticks that are mixed into the top layer of soil or buried. It’s important not to apply more than is recommended on the packaging as overfertilizing can burn the roots and leaves. They should only be applied once per year in spring to last the entire growing season.
General houseplant maintenance will keep your Philodendron Birkin looking as good as the day you bought it.
As the leaves are large and flat, they can easily collect dust and debris from our homes. As there is no rain to wash this debris off (like there is outdoors), this dust is left to hinder photosynthesis and gas exchange, slowing growth.
Every month or two, grab a damp cloth and gently wipe down the leaves. Be careful when wiping newer leaves as they tend to be more vulnerable to breaking and damage than older ones.
To replicate their stunning variegation patterns, Philodendron Birkins are best propagated by stem cutting. Stem cuttings are easy to root in water or in soil to produce a brand new plant at absolutely no cost. If you want to get technical and limit shock, you can also try air layering.
Before making any cuts, always start with a clean pair of shears or a sharp knife. When it comes to larger Birkins, a knife is the easiest way to make a clean cut without wounding the plant excessively. Make sure your knife is disinfected before you start to avoid spreading any diseases.
Choose a healthy stem to cut. The color and texture of the stem are a good indicator of its health, but you can also take a look at the size and color of the leaves to give you a better idea. Healthy stems are more likely to produce roots and grow into healthy plants.
Stems with aerial roots are also preferred. You should notice a few aerial roots growing around the base of the plant, indicating which stems are the best to choose.
Remove that stem with your knife below the node (the point where the roots emerge from). Cut the stem at an angle to increase the surface area and prevent the base from sitting flush with the glass when rooting in water.
If there are any small new leaves growing from the base of the stem, remove those before popping the cutting in a tall glass of water. Filtered or distilled is preferred as the chemicals in tap water can inhibit growth.
Replace or top up the water every few days to keep it clean and replenish oxygen. After the roots have grown one or two inches long, usually within a few weeks, transplant the cutting into a pot filled with soil mix.
Air layering is a slightly more complicated propagation method, but it does limit stress to your plant, saving the parent and the cutting at the same time.
Again, start by choosing a healthy stem. With your sharp, disinfected knife, make a 2-inch-long cut vertically along the stem and place a toothpick inside to keep it open.
Gather some pre-moistened coconut coir or peat moss and wrap it tightly around the stem. This will keep the area moist and promote root growth. Wrap the coir or moss in plastic wrap to hold it in place and retain moisture.
After a few weeks, you should see roots emerging from the peat moss, indicating it is time to transplant. Remove the cutting below the root growth with a sharp knife and plant it into a new pot with fresh potting soil.
Water immediately after potting to encourage new root growth and to anchor the cutting in place.
These slow-growing plants won’t require repotting often. Many owners keep them in the same pots for several years without any hassle.
However, even if they don’t outgrow their pots, the plants will require a soil refresh after a few years. Soil degrades over time, holding on to less water and nutrients. As it breaks down, it doesn’t provide an ideal environment for new root growth and can cause the entire plant to fall over as it loses its anchoring ability.
It’s best to repot your Birkin every three years, or sooner if you notice roots peeking through the drainage holes.
Follow these easy steps to repot your Birkin:
- Remove the plant from its original pot. If it is stuck, gently squeeze the sides to release it and turn it on its side to pull it out gently.
- Shake off the old soil to leave the roots exposed. Tease the roots gently, especially if they have begun to circle around the bottom of the pot.
- Fill the bottom of a pot one or two sizes up with the soil mix mentioned above.
- Rest the plant inside the new pot and fill in the gaps around the roots with more soil mix. Fill the pot until the soil line reaches a few inches below the rim.
- Press down gently around the base to anchor the plant in place and eliminate any large air pockets.
- Water immediately after repotting to prevent shock and saturate the roots in the new soil.
Philodendron Birkin is not a difficult plant to care for. But, that does not mean it is not without problems. From yellowing leaves to lack of variegation, these common problems each have quick fixes to get your Birkin back to good health.
Yellowing leaves have many causes but are most commonly a sign of overwatering. Although these plants love moisture, too much is not always a good thing. Leave the soil to dry out slightly for a few days and adjust your watering times. Repot if you suspect a severe case of root rot.
Yellow leaves are also caused by nutrient imbalances. You should know whether over-fertilizing or under-fertilizing is more likely based on your care routine. Either add fertilize or flush the soil and stop fertilizing and the leaves should return to normal.
Brown leaf tips are the result of underwatering or a lack of humidity. Due to their affinity for moisture, this problem is quite common. Water regularly to keep the soil moist and maintain a humidity above 50%.
While the brown will never return to normal, fixing the issue does limit the spread of the damage.
Spider mites, mealybugs and fungus gnats are common houseplants pests that affect Birkins. They feed on leaf tissue and plant sap or lay eggs on the leaves and soil that spread more bugs to the rest of your plants.
Remove them with an application of neem oil to suffocate the bugs and prevent any eggs from hatching. For fungus gnats, add sticky traps to the soil.
Lack of Variegation
Good sunlight is essential to maintaining your Birkins sought-after variegation. If the leaves begin to turn solid green, move the plant to a spot with bright indirect light and the variegation may return.
Don’t place them in direct sunlight or the leaves will burn and develop brown patches.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Philodendron Birkin toxic to pets?
Philodendron Birkin contains calcium oxalate crystals which are toxic to humans and animals when ingested. Keep this and all other Philodendrons away from your pets.
What causes the variegation in Philodendron Birkin?
The pinstripe variegation is caused by a genetic mutation in the cells. These mutations stop the cells from synthesizing chlorophyll which typically gives leaves their green color. They are known as chimeras due to the existence of two genetically distinct cells right next to each other, resulting in the white and green contrast.
How can I keep my Philodendron Birkin variegated?
Variegation can change according to the light levels this plant receives. Keep them in a spot with bright indirect light and they should maintain their color. Avoid any areas with moderate to low light levels – especially rooms with no windows.
Why are my Philodendron Birkin leaves white?
Young Birkin leaves can start out a bright white color, developing more green as the leaf matures. The brightness of the variegation is a quick way to determine the age of a leaf.
There is so much to love about this Philodendron cultivar. While it’s not the cheapest variety of Philodendron, there are many enthusiasts that would argue that it’s one of the most beautiful. From classic-looking variegation to broad leaves that fill out corners, Birkin is bound to become your favorite houseplant.