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The Elusive Spiritus Sancti

(Feature img source: @la_condesa_flora_collective)

If you’ve been in the hobby for a bit, you’ve probably heard of the Philodendron Spiritus Sancti. The “holy grail” of Aroids, the Spiritus Sancti is only in a handful of collections and is found sparingly in the wild.

The Spiritus Sancti is native to the area of Espirito Santo in Brazil. It is recognized by its characteristically narrow leaves, long stems, and pointy lobes or “ears.” The leaves themselves are pendant shaped and can grow over 30 inches in length!

@umbotaniconoapartamento

The Spiritus is hemiepiphytic, which means that it spends most of its life as an epiphyte. Like most philodendrons, epiphytes grow on other plants, such as trees, and get their nutrients from air and rain. In the wild, epiphytes are found growing up the trunks of trees, so that’s why we use moss totems for their houseplant brethren! A hemiepiphyte’s roots eventually make their way down the tree and into the ground.

Epiphytes growing up the trunk of a tree. Source: Wikipedia

Like other Philodendrons, they enjoy steady and constant humidity and bright indirect light. Many growers even boast how easy they are to grow, unlike, say, the Monstera Obliqua. But they can only be reproduced by stem divisions, so you have to take the risk of cutting and rooting a top cutting. This is often a long and complicated process, ultimately adding to the rarity of the plant. It is possible to pollinate seeds, but finding specimens to breed aren’t easy. There has also been a lot of talk and research about developing tissue cultures of the Spiritus.

So why is the Spiritus Sancti so rare? Well, it’s simply the hardest to find Aroid out there. The plant is endangered in Brazil, which, unfortunately, has led to a lot of poaching. It’s safe to say that more of these plants live in private collections than in their natural habitat. That being said, many people enjoy acquiring the plant as a sort of conservation, letting it develop and thrive safely. Others are in it for the trophy aspect, having something that others can’t have. And others just really love plants. Regardless of why people want it, it’s on everyone’s wish list.

@FantasticGardensHawaii

But at what cost are people acquiring them? It’s hard to talk about the Spiritus Sancti without touching on the inevitable illegal poaching that goes on. People go into their natural habitat and take specimens from the wild. They cultivate them, cut them, and resell them. It’s the dark side of the plant world, and it’s something that many people accept as reality.

For example, how can you know for sure where your specimen came from? There isn’t really a certificate of authenticity that comes with these plants, ensuring they were sourced legally and ethically. But it is a risk people are willing to take to add this plant to their collection.

It’s important to take a moment to note that I am not going to take sides here about the ethics of sourcing plants but rather speak about it from a purely academic standpoint.

@NSETropicals

The price of the Philodendron Spiritus Sancti has recently soared, along with most rare houseplants. What once went for $1.5K is quickly auctioned now for over $13k. Many of these specimens cost more than most people spend on a car.

And although you can’t drive it or live in it, there’s something about the Spiritus that emotionally satisfies collectors. It’s something to cultivate, to admire, to nurture. It’s a rare bit of nature that many people will never get the pleasure of seeing. Ultimately, the Philodendron Spiritus Sancti is an amazing plant that some are lucky to have in their collections.

1 thought on “The Elusive Spiritus Sancti

  1. Thanks, Dee. Very interesting and provocative.

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