Philodendron and Pothos are among the most popular indoor houseplants you can buy today. And they look incredibly similar. Anyone in the market for a no-fuss, low-maintenance houseplant will have a question about the pros and cons of Philodendron vs Pothos.
The question is: which of the two is better for your home? We’ll break down their differences below.
Related: 20+ Types of Pothos and Varieties
Philodendron vs Pothos
Both the philodendron and Pothos are tropical houseplants that are easy to grow and care for. They’re both native to tropical regions, but because they live in the forest canopy, they need little light to thrive. They also love humidity and moisture; their leaves will droop if you don’t provide enough water.
Here, we’ll discuss what makes them tick, what they need to stay healthy, and how to differentiate them at a glance.
What are Pothos?
Pothos (Epipremnum aureum) is a species of vine in the Araceae family, native to tropical regions of French Polynesia. The word, Pothos is actually used to refer to this particular species, its cultivars, and some unrelated plants with similar growing habits. This is an informal distinction but one you’ll find common in most nurseries and garden centers worldwide.
In addition to being known as Pothos, they are also known as Devil’s Ivy, Money Plant, Taro Vine, and Golden Pothos.
Most forms of Pothos form winding, climbing vines that can grow over 10 feet long and appear attractive on the walls of your home or office space. It’s easy for anyone who has ever grown Pothos (and most people have) to see why it’s so popular—the low-maintenance characteristics of Pothos make it a perfect choice for those looking for an easygoing plant that won’t require much effort on their part!
What are Philodendron?
Philodendron is a genus of just under 500 species of vining plants in the arum family, Araceae. The genus is native to tropical regions in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and various oceanic islands.
Philodendron has tons of species and diversity, and not all of them are used as indoor houseplants. However, the ones that do make it into this sphere tend to be very similar in appearance to Pothos plants, hence the debate of Philodendron vs Pothos.
These plants have similar growth habits to Pothos and share many of the same physical characteristics. Most cultivated Philodendrons tend to form vines that climb on a trellis or support. They are popular as houseplants because they can tolerate low light and neglect. They are also very easy to propagate from cuttings.
Pothos vs Philodendron: Physical Differences
In terms of appearance and growth, philodendrons and pothos plants have a lot in common. As houseplants, both are lush and tropical looking, with large green leaves and heart-shaped stems. They also both grow as climbing vines.
To tell them apart, the gardener needs to look at the following factors and use them to identify the differences.
The leaf shape is an easy way to distinguish Philodendron from Pothos. Philodendron leaves are heart-shaped, with a pointed tip, while Pothos leaves are flatter and uncurved.
The heart shape comes from the curve or dips forming on the leaf surface’s wider side.
This is a useful tip for identifying the plant, but it’s not foolproof. For example, some pothos plants have heart-shaped leaves, and some Philodendrons have flat leaves with irregular shapes.
It’s not enough to just check the leaf shape. You also need to take the other factors into account.
The leaf color and texture of philodendrons and Pothos are different.
Pothos leaves usually have a thicker, waxier texture. This can vary between cultivars somewhat, but in general, this holds true. Pothos leaves are generally thicker and slightly glossy.
The leaves of Philodendrons are usually thin and papery.
Pothos cultivars tend to be heavily variegated, with lots of greens and whites mixed in with darker greens and yellows. A common sign that a plant is a Pothos and not a Philodendron is the degree of variegation on the leaves.
Highly variegated leaves tend to belong to the Pothos category, but, of course, there are exceptions.
Related: How Often to Water Pothos
Aerial roots are the roots that grow aboveground. They’re common in philodendron and pothos plants but differ in how they appear on the stems. The aerial roots then dangle from the stem, looking like little vines. This is what makes philodendron and pothos plants so effective at climbing structures.
In philodendrons, multiple aerial roots form from a single node on the stem. Groups of roots emerge from the same node and seek out a supporting structure to latch on to.
In Pothos, only a single aerial root emerges from a single node. This single root then seeks out a support structure and begins to climb it.
You need to pay close attention to notice this difference, but it is there.
Philodendrons can grow in one of three ways. They are epiphytic, hemiepiphytic, or terrestrial.
Epiphytes live on other plants, such as trees and rocks. They form aerial roots along their stems and latch onto supporting structures to grow ever upward.
Hemiepiphytes are plants that spend a portion of their life as epiphytes but then eventually set their roots down towards the ground and separate themselves from the supporting structure. These types of Philodendrons also have aerial roots.
Terrestrial philodendrons do not need a host plant to survive; they grow out of the soil into trees or walls where they can get sunlight and water. Unfortunately, these are incredibly rare and not commonly seen in cultivation.
All Pothos grow the same way; vines. They start out as a stem with a few leaves and nodes on it, then that stem sends out another joint, and those joints continue to grow until they are long enough to start climbing. They can be classified as Epiphytes.
How New Leaves Grow
Philodendrons grow new leaves in pairs. As a leaf grows, a single leaf grows out of the stem, and then another leaf grows out below that. These upper leaves are called cataphylls (a mini-leaf), and they serve the purpose of protecting the lower leaves while they are growing. This outside layer of protection falls off and exposes the full leaf once it’s fully grown.
Pothos do not form these cataphylls but grow as one large leaf without any protective covering until it reaches its maximum size.
Pothos vs Philodendron: Care Differences
Pothos and philodendron are both popular houseplants that can be grown indoors or outdoors in most regions of the United States. They have similar care requirements and look similar, but notable differences exist between them. These are the main differences between Pothos and philodendrons growing habits.
Both Pothos and philodendrons are considered low-light tolerant plants. They can survive in low light but don’t prefer it. Both types prefer bright, indirect light or diffused sunlight for optimal growth.
However, philodendron plants can handle lower light conditions for much longer than their Pothos counterparts. This makes them more suitable for indoor cultivation if the lighting is an issue.
Both Pothos and philodendrons can be propagated by stem cuttings, which is the best propagation method for both plants.
However, philodendron owners enjoy an additional avenue for propagation, offshoots. Philodendron plants will send out offsets from the base of the plant. These can be removed, potted up, and treated as new plants.
Pothos plants do not have this ability, which is why they are slightly less popular with indoor gardeners.
Related: How to Propagate Pothos Plants
Both plants have merits and drawbacks. If you’re considering buying one of these plants, it’s important to understand their differences so that you can make an informed decision.