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[Aroid-l] Philodendron Santa Leopoldina. Which one is it?

  • Subject: [Aroid-l] Philodendron Santa Leopoldina. Which one is it?
  • From: "Steve Lucas Exotic Rainforest" <steve@exoticrainforest.com>
  • Date: Tue, 13 Feb 2007 19:28:07 -0600


Philodendron collectors and experts:

This question is lengthy, so I apologize in advance.  There are at least five IAS members who have been having this discussion privately via email and we'd like to open this question up to all knowledgeable philodendron growers.   ESPECIALLY,  Dr.Gonçalves, Dr. Croat, Simon Mayo, and those in Brazil familiar with these species!

Almost all serious collectors know of the extremely rare philodendron in southeastern Brazil known scientifically as Philodendron spiritus-sancti.  Dr. Eduardo Gonçalves and Emerson Salviani published an informative article in the 2004 edition of Aroideana, volume 21 regarding the species.  According to these experts there are now only 6 known specimens of that very rare and endangered species left wild in all of South America.  According to a personal email from Dr.  Gonçalves several months ago it is endangered and near extinction due to the excessive clearing of habitat.  The location of the remaining 6 specimens is closely guarded.  

In Brazil, P. spiritus-sancti is apparently known as "Santa Leopoldina".  Santa Leopoldina is a town within the same Brazilian state where Philodendron spiritus-sancti  was first located.  The name Philodendron "Santa Leopoldina" was first introduced to the majority of plant enthusiasts in a 1983 International Aroid Society article by Bette Waterbury regarding her search for the plant.  Bette pointed out there were supposedly 4 variations of "Santa Leopoldina" in the wild.  That is the crux of this question!  Are those 4 variations all variations of the same plant?  Or are they different plants that have a similar blade.  Bette's article appears to imply the primary difference is the color on the reverse of the leaf, some are redder than others.  The true P. spiritus-sancti is noted on my graphic which you can see in a moment as species number 1. 

Plant sellers been selling a fair number of vaguely similar species using Philodendron spiritus-sancti's Brazilian name: Philodendron Santa Leopoldina.  "Philodendron Santa Leopoldina" is not a recognized scientific name.  In effect, it is simply a "common name".  But which of these plants truly deserve the name Santa Leopoldina?  You can find as many as 4 different plants, perhaps more, being sold on eBay using the pseudo-name Santa Leopoldina II, or III.  I personally own three different plants which were purchased with that name and none are P. spiritus-sancti

About a week ago I received this email from expert grower Michael Paschall in Australia which was accompanied by some excellent photographs including a photograph of the spathe and spadix of his plants.  Those photographs, and others, are posted on a "blind" link on my website.  I elected to post them blind rather than fill your email boxes with big photos.  Michael wrote,  "Eduardo id’d this for me , it came into Aus. many years ago as a Santa Leopoldina.  It has flowered a few times and has been spread around Qld a fair bit, it grows very well in sub-tropics.  Easily spotted with the d shaped very flat topped petiole with fine grooves and its tiny internodes."   Michael, myself, and others believe his plant is the species Eduardo is working on now as Philodendron 'Superbum'.  Michael calls it Pseudo-Santa Leopoldina.  In the photos this plant, along with the spathe, is denoted as specimen number 2.  

John Criswick from the island of Grenada sent photos to both Michael and myself of a plant he too knows as Santa Leopoldina.  That specimen has distinctly burgundy undersides but does not have the sharply pointed upper lobes of the true Philodendron spiritus-sancti.  I too have that plant, mine was a gift from Florida grower Russ Hammer.  Russ knew the plant as Santa Leopoldina.  Is it?  Michael knows this plant and one other I recently acquired as 'Roberto'.  That is two different plants known as 'Roberto' as well as Santa Leopoldina.  Those plants are seen on my illustration as numbers 4 and 6.  Are these one of Bette Waterbury's "four variations"?  Michael feels due to input from Eduardo they may be variations of Philodendron atabapoense.

I purchased another plant as Santa Leopoldina which Dr. Croat identified as either P. angustilobum or P. mexicanum.  At the present size it is difficult to discern which species it may actually be.  But that plant was also sold as Santa Leopoldina and it does not even come from Brazil!  It is from Central America.  That plant is noted as number 5.

I have always had a dislike for common names.  How can anyone possibly know what plant you are speaking of, or buying, if all you have is a common name?  Especially if numerous plants have the same common name!  I am aware that many of these pseudo-names apparently came from Tropica or Exotica.  But still, are they truly worthy of the name Santa Leopoldina?  Should knowledgeable growers be perpetuating a pseudo-name?

Rather than put a bunch of photos on this email I have elected to prepare a graphic on my own website.  That graphic is "blind".  It is not published to the web and cannot be found using a search engine.  You can only view it by clicking on this link:


I would really enjoy hearing back from other collectors who may have other plants not illustrated that were also purchased using the name Santa Leopoldina.  I would especially like to hear from Dr. Gonçalves, Dr. Croat, Simon Mayo, and any in Brazil who read these posts as to the validity of this name being bestowed on numerous plants.  And, if possible, verify if one of these plants is 'Superbum' or some as variations of P. atabapoense.  I realize Santa Leopoldina is a region, but can we honestly call every long bladed philodendron in that region of Brazil Santa Leopoldina? 

I'd especially like to know if there are, or are not (or were), four variations of the true Philodendron Santa Leopoldina!


Steve Lucas


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