Houseplants are all the rage again — and an army of nature-starved people with absolutely no prior gardening or plant-care experience is hoping to join the bandwagon adding some lovely houseplants to their homes. Have you already joined the “green wave”? Are you looking to add some beautiful indoor vining plants to your collection?
There are two names that won’t be able to escape your attention — pothos and vining philodendron. Both of these plants feature extremely large, and dare we say absolutely gorgeous semi-oval, glossy leaves with smooth edges and sharp tips. Both are famous for being easy-going plants that even complete plant “noobs” can successfully grow and care for in their homes.
As a total novice, you’d certainly be forgiven for thinking that pothos and philodendron plants, even when placed side by side, are simply two varieties of the same species or, for all intents and purposes, the exact same plant.
Although nobody except botanists could question that pothos and philodendron do have some striking physical similarities, they’re by no means one and the same.
Owing to the recent spike in houseplant popularity, you’ll even find houseplant “scammers” who sell seeds, cuttings, or mature plants online, hoping to trick novices into believing they’re looking at rare plant species.
If you are hoping to get serious about vining houseplants, or you’re deciding between pothos and philodendron vines at the moment, it’s good to delve a little more deeply into the characteristics and care requirements of both plants. This will enable you to tell the difference between the two, and to give the houseplant of your choice the best care possible.
Ready? Sit down and grab a snack, and learn to tell the difference between pothos and philodendron once and for all!
How to Identify, Grow, and Care for Pothos
Pothos (Epipremnum aureum) is a perennial evergreen and a climbing vine. The plant is part of the Araceae botanical family, most of which are tropical plants, and falls into the Epipremnum genus — which has around 50 different recognized species. Pothos is known by many different names — Devil’s Ivy or vine, golden pothos, ivy arum, marble queen, the money plant, and taro vine. It is native to the South Pacific, meaning this plant thrives in areas with high relative humidity levels.
Because it’s such a low maintenance plant, pothos is often grown as a houseplant and even new gardeners can enjoy the beauty of this plant without worrying about signing its death sentence the moment they bring pothos home.
- Pothos leaves of are often described as thick, glossy, smooth, and leathery as well as heart-shaped. They often come in a gorgeous vibrant green shade, though some variants offer other colors, including (rather sought-after) variegated leaves, largely white leaves, or golden yellow leaves.
- They sometimes have deep burgundy veins that many plant carers find especially attractive. These leaves can grow to be rather large; around three to six inches (eight to 15 centimeters).
- The entire plant can grow up to 20 to 40 feet (six to 12 meters) tall and three to six feet (one to two meters) wide when mature, though they can be pruned to be smaller and most pothos won’t grow to be quite that tall when grown indoors. They also produce small orange or red berries, which are toxic to humans and pets.
Are you looking for a specific pothos variant, but are you not quite sure which one to choose? Some of the best ones include:
- Marble Queen Pothos, which is a great choice for indoor gardeners who are seeking out variegated leaves, because this variety has absolutely stunning green leaves with striking white streaks.
- Pothos N’Joy also has gorgeous marbled variegated leaves with lighter colors around the edges.
- Neon Pothos may not be variegated, unlike our other choices, but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s any less vibrant or attractive! The bright “neon” leaves will definitely bring color to your home.
Caring for Pothos
Pothos does best in bright but indirect sunlight, so if you can place it in a spot that’s sunny in the morning but shady in the after noon, that would be ideal. Dappled sunlight, in which the sun pothos receives is filtered through the leaves of other plants, is another excellent choice.
Variegated pothos varieties have been all the rage recently — but even if you are lucky enough to get your hands on a pothos with variegated leaves, that doesn’t necessary mean the plant will stay that way. If pothos plants with variegated leaves don’t get enough sunlight, their leaves will often turn right back to a solid green color. However, if the leaves look paler than usual, that’s a sign that your plant is getting to much sunlight.
These plants will do just fine in regular potting soil and don’t mind either neutral to acidic pH levels. If you’re wondering what specific soil is best for pothos plants, shallow rocky or loamy soil are both good choices. When it comes to watering your pothos , it only needs occasional light watering, and does not like extremely moist soil. However, pothos plants will definitely appreciate the occasional mist. Because of that, it’s best to keep your pothos in well-draining soil, only ever watering it when the top two inches of soil are dry (which you can test using a wooden chopstick).
Keep your pothos in temperatures above 50 °F (10 °C) to keep it healthy. If you are looking for a specific temperature range, pothos plants usually prefer to be kept in conditions that range from 65 to 75 °F (18 to 24 °C).
Anyone interested in this plant should also know that it causes contact dermatitis and when caring for pothos, you should wear gloves to stay safe.
How to Identify, Grow, and Care for Philodendrons
Philodendron (Philodenron spp.) is a genus of perennial tropical evergreen vines. The philodendron genus is much bigger than the photos genus, as it’s “home” to 489 recognized species! Philodendrons are part of the Araceae family and are native to Mexico and the tropical areas of northern America. These plants are also often called parlor ivy or the sweetheart plant — referring to their heart-shaped leaves. They are fast growers, and like pothos, are also very easy to care for, even if you don’t have much of a green thumb.
Their leaves are very often described as heart-shaped and they certainly look very pretty! Philodendron leaves feel have a soft texture. The sizes of philodendron plants can vary greatly, depending on the species, though they mostly grow to be around one to 20 feet (30 centimeters to six meters — don’t worry, houseplants are much more compact than philodendrons growing in the wild) tall and one to six feet (up to two meters) wide. Like pothos, philodendron plants also produce small berries, which are again toxic.
We couldn’t possibly list all of the different philodendron variants, but popular choices include:
- Philodendron ‘Lemon Lime’, a charming cultivar with leaves that have both yellow and green colors.
- Philodendron melanochrysum, which has incredible dark-bronze leaves and is a rather fast climber.
- Philodendron Birkin has gorgeous variegated stripy leaves that have a base color of green with a pattern of white stripes all across.
Caring for Philodendron
Philodendrons thrive in moist (but not soggy) well-draining soil types. They appreciate soil that is high in organic matter. It’s important to note that philodendrons kept as houseplants will need their soil replaced every few years, requiring repotting — because of salts that collect after years of watering, which aren’t good for these plants. Parlor ivy prefers acidic pH levels. Like a lot of other plants, including pothos, it’s best to only water this plant when you notice the top layer of soil is dry.
When it comes to sunlight, philodendrons do best in dappled or partial sunlight. If you are keeping your philodendron as a houseplant, it’s best to keep it by a window with curtains. You will be able notice when your philodendron plant is getting to much sunlight, because it will start to turn a yellow color.
Though it will depend on the species, most philodendron plants won’t do well in temperatures below 55 °F (13 °C).
Pothos vs. Philodendron: What Exactly Are the Differences Between the Two?
Pothos and philodendron are indeed relatives, in that they both belong to the Araceae family. They are different enough to fall into entirely different genera, however — while the common name pothos is typically used to describe a very specific species, Epipremnum aureum, it also sometimes describes the entire Epipremnum genus. The common name philodendron is the same as the scientific name for its genus, namely Philodendron.
- Philodendron, the second-largest genus in the Araceae family, counts nearly 500 recognized species of tropical plants. Their leaves tend to be heart-shaped when they are young, and take on a spear-shaped form once they mature — and because of this habit, it’s possible to find differently-shaped leaves on the same plant.
- Epipremnum, a smaller genus, consists of plants native to China and nearby southern Asian counties, as well as those originating from Australia, New Zealand, and other Oceanic locations. All of the plants in this genus are mildly toxic to humans, and some species have mature leaves with deep indentations.
In terms of appearance, there are a few things novice gardeners can look for when they are trying to tell pothos and philodendron species or cultivars apart. This quick guide will help you tell pothos and philodendron apart:
- Pothos produces characteristically thick and waxy, glossy, leaves that are waterprooof. The species commonly kept as houseplants tend to have a distinct heart shape with a sharp tip at the end. Philodendron leaves are, on the other hand, thinner. They have a softer texture. Pothos leaves have a smooth base, while philodendron leaves can immediately be seen to have a sharp curve, creating the heart shape, as the stalk joins the leaf. In both cases, the leaves grow in an alternating pattern, meaning that you won’t see two leaves growing parallel to one another.
- Both plants have aerial roots — a feature that allows vining plants to spread in a creeping or climbing fashion. There are, however, differences in the way in which these roots are organized. Each pothos node has one aerial root, which tends to be quite prominent in appearance, while philodendron nodes usually have a few smaller aerial roots.
- You can also look at the plants’ petioles to check if you are looking at a pothos or a philodendron. These are the leaf “stalks” that branch out from the main stem they are growing on. Philodendrons feature curved petioles that curve toward the stem they are attached to in a semi-spherical shape. These petioles are more elegant and delicate. Pothos petioles, in contrast, can have mildly angular shapes, and are more woody in appearance.
Pothos and philodendron additionally have slightly differing care needs, and knowing which of the two you have will help you ensure that your indoor vining plant can remain strong, healthy and happy. Let’s take a look:
- Pothos and philodendron are both considered to be undemanding plants that grow very well as houseplants, and do not require a high skill level on the indoor gardener’s part.
- Both plants have adapted to shadier conditions, and won’t need full sun (at least six hours of sunlight) to survive — owing to the fact that they grow in the shadow of taller plants in their native zones. Philodendrons are generally more shade-tolerant that pothos plants, however.
- If you are looking for a plant that won’t need much watering, pothos — which has evolved to withstand longer periods of drought — is the better choice for you. Philodendrons are not very thirsty plants either, but they will need more water than pothos.
Pothos and philodendrons are each distinctly unique plants — but we’ll admit that they share a few striking similarities, not least of which is the fact that they’re both amazing houseplants that are easy to care for. Although the two thrive in similar conditions, knowing whether you have a pothos or philodendron will help you provide the best care possible!