Philodendron vs Pothos
Vining philodendron and pothos varieties are definitely some of the most popular houseplants around. In fact, they are often mistaken for one another. It can be tricky identifying philodendrons vs pothos at first glance. However, they are different plants with distinct characteristics and needs.
Are Pothos and Philodendron the same?
There are multiple differences that can help you identify philodendron vs pothos varieties. Specifically, taxonomy, leaf shape, texture & finish, growth habits/new leaves, aerial roots, and petioles. Let’s review these differences so you can be a pro at quickly identifying the two.
The term taxonomy is derived from the Greek “taxis” (arrangement) and “nomia” (method). Taxonomy is basically a system that helps classify plants by botanists. Thus, giving each plant a specific botanical name and grouping them into families. Although, many common names exist. Consequently, complicating things a bit.
Philodendron and Pothos actually belong to two separate genera. Pothos typically refer to plants in the genus Epipremnum. Whereas, Philodendron plants belong to the Philodendron genus.
Many plants are referred to as philodendrons. However, most are probably actually pothos. Philodendron and Pothos are indeed distant relatives. In fact, both belong to the same aroid plant family, also known as Araceae.
Multiple characteristics of Philodendron and Pothos leaf shape, texture and finish help differentiate the two. Specifically noticeable in the section where the petiole connects to the base of the leaf. Let’s review each leaf characteristic below.
An easy way to tell the difference between Philodendron plants and pothos is the shape of their leaves. Specifically, at the widest part of the leaf. Philodendrons are commonly called ‘heart-leaf’. And for good reason.
In particular, there is more of a pronounced heart shape in Philodendron leaves. Additionally, Philodendron leaves have a tailed apex which is the very point of the leaf.
Whereas, Pothos leaves tend to be more asymmetrical. In fact, their ends are shorter and less pointed.
Leaf texture is another way to differentiate Philodendron vs Pothos. Philodendron leaves are thinner and have a smooth surface. In fact, the topside has an even, almost velvety feel.
However, Pothos leaves are thicker. In fact, they have a slightly raised or bumpy texture. Additionally, their midrib is pretty well defined. Unlike Philodendron, which lacks this indention.
The leaves of a Heartleaf Philodendron have almost a matte finish that absorbs light. In fact, the variety named Philodendron micans, has the most velvety leaves of all.
However, Pothos leaves are waxy, with a bit of a glossy glow. In fact the crisp, shiny leaves of Pothos can grow 4-12 inches (10-30 cm) long. Ranging in colors of green, chartreuse, blue, or variegated patterns.
When a new pothos leaf grows, it extends and unfurls from an older leaf. Alternatively, a Philodendron produces a cataphyll that protects new leaves on the vine. A cataphyll is a paper thin, waxy, opaque sheath.
Instead of photosynthesis, a cataphyll’s main functions are storage, structural support, or protection. Definitely acting as a little protective layer for the emerging leaf, and then die. If you see a cataphyll growing from a stem node, then odds are it’s a philodendron and not a pothos.
Additionally, new philodendron leaves have a pink or brown tint. They darken as they mature. Pothos leaves unfurl a lighter shade than the original mature leaf color.
Aerial Roots allow plants to climb and anchor themselves for support. Attaching themselves to just about any rough surface. Both Philodendrons and Pothos have aerial roots that are used to absorb moisture and nutrients from the air. However, aerial roots on Philodendron plants and Pothos differ.
Pothos’ aerial roots are wider and stubbier. In fact, just one root extends from a node.
Comparatively, Philodendron aerial roots grow in groups of 2 or more. Specifically growing thin and rather spindly.
If you don’t like the appearance of these untamed looking roots you can trim them back. Although, it is best to wait until the off season. Doing so during the growing season may result in even more aerial root growth.
A petiole is a short stem that joins a leaf to a vine. The Pothos petiole has a grooved ridge and is not completely round. Additionally, as it matures, it forms brown, papery edges.
Philodendron’s petiole is fully rounded and uniform. Specifically, with more of a dramatic curve like you would see at the very top of a heart. Additionally, its petiole is typically brown in color. Or, a shade slightly lighter than its leaves.
Stems on pothos are thicker and typically the same color as its leaves. Whereas Philodendron stems are often a greenish brown or orangey-brown.
It is easy to see why Philodendron and Pothos are often confused with one another. perfect beginner plants. They have relatively the same care. However, the philodendron tends to be less drought tolerant and in need of more bright light in order to grow well. Ultimately they are both low maintenance and hardy plants.
Both Philodendron and Pothos are perfect beginner plants. They have relatively the same care. However, the philodendron tends to be less drought tolerant and in need of more bright light in order to grow well. Ultimately they are both low maintenance and hardy plants.
Pothos prefers bright, indirect light. However, they can adapt to low light. In general, Pothos want more light than Philodendrons do. Especially if they are variegated.
Although, Pothos do not tolerate direct sun, they can take more intensity than a Philodendron without getting sunburned. Additionally, Pothos tend to be a little more drought-tolerant, too.
Philodendron vs Pothos : Environmental Needs
- Tolerates lower light than Pothos
- Prefers warmer climate
- Grows up to 4 inches (10 cm) per week in ideal environments
- Tolerates low light enviornments
- Prefer higher humidity than philodendrons
- up to 5 inches (12 cm)/week in ideal environments
Indeed two of the best plants to clean indoor air. A NASA study found that Philodendron and Pothos remove common indoor pollutants. Specifically those found in cleaning products, carpets, and furniture. However, the study recommends having at least 15 houseplants for an average 2,000 square foot home.
Pothos or Philodendron both do something amazing when grown in their native tropical environment. They both produce juvenile and adult leaves. In fact, when grown as houseplants, we only typically see juvenile leaves.
It is pretty amazing how similar Philodendron and Pothos plants look at first glance. Now that you have learned a few key features, you will be a pro at discerning the two.
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