Contrary to popular belief, these two are not the same houseplants. Some people even make mistakes one for another. And that’s because they look alike!
So, I have written this pothos vs. philodendron comprehensive article for the new home gardeners. You will also learn about all the philodendron and pothos varieties too.
In the end, you will see both of them are quite distinguishable from one another. Stay tight!
Differences Between Pothos & Philodendron
There are more similarities than differences between the two. Both of them are from the same Araceae family and climb wildly.
However, there are several obvious and complex differences between the two as well. Some are quite observable to your naked eyes and some are quite scientific.
You can tell them apart by observing the differences in their leaf shapes & texture, growing requirements, growth habits, taxonomy, aerial roots petioles.
- Different Leaf Shape
With various color variations like yellow, golden, and white, the 3-4 inches long leaves of pothos (Epipremnum Aureum) are pretty thick and heart-shaped with a chordate base.
On the other hand, the large lobe-shaped with deep natural cut philodendron leaves are somewhat pinnate.
- Presence of Cataphylls
New leaves on a trailing philodendron actually emerge from the cataphylls. Cataphylls are essentially smaller leaves that protect the new leaf when growing by encasing them.
Until the leaves are unfurled, they remain on the plant. They dry and fall off when the leaves unfurled eventually.
The above case is completely different for the pothos. Their leaves do not grow from the cataphylls. Instead, the new leaves grow and unfurl from the older leaves.
- New Growth Color
During the growing stage, the color of the heartleaf philodendron leaves is different than the main plant. This is not the case for the pothos.
If you take some time and observe closely, the foliage of emerging philodendron may have a brownish or pink tint.
Of course, it will be different for the philodendron varieties as well. For some varieties, the new foliage may have olive color but the main plant may have a deep green color.
This difference in new foliage is not observed in pothos. The new leaves may have a lighter shade than the original but they won’t emerge completely different.
- Texture of Leaf
The leaf texture between the two is different as well. If you hold or touch the pothos leaves, you will have a waxy feel and notice the rough textures if you notice closely.
In contrast to pothos, the leaf texture of the Philodendron is glossy with a smooth texture.
So in a nutshell, the texture of the Philodendron leaves is smoother than the pothos.
For the pothos, you will have a matte feeling due to the slightly raised top part. For the Philodendron leaves, you will have a glossy and smoother feeling due to the even top side.
- Aerial Roots
Aerial roots can absorb nutrients and moisture even though they grow above the ground. Both of the houseplants use their aerial roots to climb and anchor for support as well.
Yes, both of them are climbing plants. But still, you can distinguish between the two based on the number of roots per node.
Both of them use the nodes to attach to their surrounding objects when creeping up.
Whereas philodendrons have multiple climbing roots per node, pothos has one large root per node only. That’s the obvious difference between pothos versus philodendron.
In case you are wondering what are nodes in the first place, these are the knuckle-like stem parts from where the leaves emerge.
Aerial roots for both of the plants are aggressive in nature. They can attach themselves to any rough surfaces.
So, unless you keep those plants contained, they will climb and leave dark root marks on your walls or furniture when you remove the roots from them.
- Rounded Vs. Grooved Petioles
Observe their petioles and you can distinguish them clearly.
If you are wondering, petioles are the small stalk that both of them use to attach the leaves to the stems and provide support to the leaves.
Like the leaves texture, the petioles of the philodendrons are smooth and round. But it’s grooved and textured for the pothos.
But the dark coloration on the inside of the pothos’ petioles makes the groove invisible often. So, you can differentiate the petioles between the two only by feeling them.
- Unique Stipules
Stipules grow in pairs at the leaf stalk’s base and they are basically leaf-like appendages to the leaves. And a stipule grows differently between pothos and philodendron.
Whereas the papery alike stipules of the pothos are fused to the petiole and stem and they can grow up to 38 cm long, it’s completely free for the philodendron.
Until the leaves of the pothos fully expand, the stipules keep enclosed to the petioles.
- Different Lighting Needs
To grow and develop to the full potential of the pothos, they need indirect but bright light. That’s the same requirement for most indoor houseplants.
But it’s completely different for the philodendrons. Unlike many houseplants, philodendrons prefer low-light intensity to thrive.
So, you need to find dark areas in your room where there is no direct access to the sunlight for your philodendrons.
Don’t get me wrong. Pothos don’t like the direct sunlight as well. But it definitely needs brighter lighting needs than the philodendrons.
- Stress From Cold Tolerance
Philodendrons are less prone to stress from the cold temperature than the Pothos. Of course, a Philodendron does not grow in a cooler environment and can’t tolerate the forest. But the cooler temperature is worse for the Pothos.
- Distinguished Water Retention & Growth Rate
As you can remember, pothos has thick leaves. Because of this advantage, it can retain water than the philodendron for a longer period.
Because of its higher water retention period, it has become a drought-resistant houseplant.
On the other hand, philodendron is not drought-resistant as its leaves can’t retain water for a longer period.
Due to the same reason, pothos grows faster than the philodendron under the same ideal environment.
- Propagation Difficulty
Gardeners find it easy to propagate Philodendron than propagating the pothos. There are so many reasons behind it but the most obvious one is that both the variation of Philodendron can hold their variegation better in low light conditions too.
- Bad Vs. Good Feature
That should be enough to differentiate the two. No matter how you classify them, both of them are great to add beauty and brighten up your rooms.
Apart from brightening your room up, both of them are great living air purifiers plants as well.
They are proven to remove toxic elements like formaldehyde and benzene from the indoor air. So, the more you have them in your home the better.
However, I must warn about their bad side as well. Both the houseplants are toxic for your pets when consumed. Maybe that’s the reason pothos is known as the Devil’s Ivy as well.
So, keep your eyes on your pets too!
Types of Pothos And Philodendron: A Comparative Look
The above differences will vary among the various pothos varieties. Each of the pothos types is somewhat different than various philodendron types as well.
So, it makes sense to learn about their varieties as well. That way you can learn how each type of pothos is different than their various philodendrons counterparts. Have a look.
- Golden Pothos Versus Heartleaf Philodendron
It’s the most popular pothos variety. Many home gardeners love this variety because of its light but lime-colored leaves with yellow variegation. So, it will brighten up the areas wherever you place them.
If you compare the philodendron with golden pothos, you will notice some differences as well.
Well, first of all, the leaves of the golden pothos are larger than the heartleaf philodendron. In fact, double the size!
Whereas the leaves of the heartleaf philodendron can grow as large as 12 inches long, the pothos’ leaves can grow as large as 30 inches long.
Even the flowers of both golden pothos and philodendron are different.
Whereas the heartleaf philodendron produces either white or yellowish-white color flowers, golden pothos produces either green or purple color flowers.
But keep in mind that, golden pothos rarely produce flowers when placed indoors.
- Neon Philodendron Vs. Jade Pothos
Jade pothos is another popular variety among the pothos family. It’s a very common indoor plant because of its low-maintenance requirements.
What has made the jade pothos unique from the rest of its varieties is its notable vine feature. Meaning, when you place the jade pothos in a hanging basket, it can cascade elegantly.
The main difference between jade pothos and Neon Philodendron through its leaves. Whereas the leaves of the jade pothos are dark green in color, the leaves of neon philodendron are a brightly yellowish color.
- Brasil pothos Vs. Cordatum
In the pothos family, the Brasil pothos is another popular type that’s getting popularity among new home gardeners.
But you can differentiate between a cordatum and Brasil pothos by having a simple look at their leaves.
Whereas the color of both the cordatum and Brasil pothos is fully green, there is a yellow-like line in the middle of the Brasil pothos’ leaves.
Unique Pothos Care Guide
Yes, both the Philodendron and Pothos are mistaken as the same household plant, but as you have seen so far—they are NOT.
You will understand their differences better by learning how different caring requirements as well. Let’s check some of the Brazil pothos care requirements:
- Ideal Location
It’s a great air-purifying houseplant that prefers bright but indirect light. Also, make sure the place does not get too cold.
It grows well under moderate temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, it needs a higher humidity level like the tropical environment.
Do not keep it under direct sunlight. This will lead to discolored or scorched leaves!
- Ideal Soil
Any well-drained potting soil is ideal to thrive. Good drainage is the only requirement here. So, to ensure better drainage, you can mix perlite into the potting soil before planting the Pothos.
- Careful Watering
Like most houseplants, overwatering will cause root rot. To stay safe, make sure the top inch of the soil is dry between the watering.
Do not wait for too long once the top inch of soil is dry out. Waiting too long will cause the leaves to wilt. Keep watering until the water seeps out from the drainage holes of the pot.
- Apply Liquid Fertilizer
Pothos are well-known for being light eaters. It can grow well without needing any fertilizer at all.
But to keep it healthy, you can apply any balanced liquid houseplant fertilizer every 1 to 3 months especially during the spring and summer seasons.
It’s not mandatory. You can allow it to sprawl or keep it more compact. But to contain the growth and keep it fuller and bushy, you can prune the long runners.
If you want new branches to sprout and make the foliage full and bushy, cut the bare stems from the soil level. But if you love the vining look, let it grow naturally.
Do you want to keep the foliage looking fresh? If so, wipe the Pothos leaves with a damp cloth every few weeks on a regular basis.
- Disease Treatment
Sadly, a few insect types affect the plant occasionally. It can develop some diseases as well.
But if the older leaves turn yellow or brown and new leaves look great, it can be due to under-watering. Also, shriveled and wilted leaves indicate under-watering too.
Increasing watering and trimming back affected stems should solve the problem.
If you notice the foliage is losing its color, it mainly happens due to the shortage of ample light. So, move it to a brighter area.
If your Pothos is not growing at all and the leaves are turning black, the cold temperature is the culprit. So, move to a warmer location.
Mealybugs or other insects may affect your plant growth leaving powdery waxy residue. Use a cotton ball dipped in rubbing alcohol and wipe the affected areas.
Alternatively, you can treat your mealybugs infested Pothos with neem oil or insecticidal soap as well.
- Repotting Pothos
If root rot happens no matter how much you care for it, it will become droopy. You need to figure out whether it needs repotting or not.
To do so, remove it from the container and check the roots. If the roots look crowded and tightly circling, it needs repotting.
Repot the plants in a new container preferably 1 to 2 inches wider in well-drained fresh potting soil.
Philodendron Care Guide
After checking all the differences between the Philodendron and Pothos, you may decide to plan the Philodendron only.
This is great but you need to learn more about its proper care so that it can thrive well. Let’s see how you can ensure its proper care:
- Right Soil Type
The soil should be rich in organic matter with good drainage. And it’s highly recommended to replace the old soil with a new one every few years.
Let me explain why…
Philodendrons are very sensitive to salt and the salt can cause browning and yellowing leaves. The salt may accumulate in the soil through regular watering.
So, refreshing the soil every couple of years is a good idea.
- Ample But Indirect Sunlight
Like the pothos, it needs indirect sunlight as well. Direct sunlight will scorch the plant like many indoor plants. But how do you know it’s getting too much sunlight?
As the plants grow, it’s normal to see one or two yellow leaves occasionally. But if more and more leaves are getting yellow at the same time, it’s getting too much sunlight.
Too little sunlight is bad for the Philodendron as well. If the stems seem leggy and long, it’s probably not getting enough sunlight.
As a consequence, the vines or aerial roots will get stretched and there will be too much gap between the leaves.
The ideal location will be anywhere near the window where the direct sun rays can’t touch the Philodendron foliage.
If you are sure it’s not getting desired light and you have placed it in a darker area, get a grow light to supplement the light.
- Temperature & Humidity Level
65°F to 78°F during the daytime and 60°F during the night are the ideal temperatures to ensure its optimal growth.
Like the Pothos, Philodendron is also a tropical plant. Like all tropical plants, it needs a higher humidity level for it to thrive. Brown leaves usually indicate a lower humidity level.
But if your place has a lower humidity level, it can still tolerate that. So, keep it away from the air-conditioning vent to protect it from the cool drafts.
To increase the humidity, you can mist the plant regularly.
Philodendron is a forgiving houseplant. Yes, you will have drooping leaves if you give it too little or too much water. But it will recover FAST if you correct the watering.
So, how do you know you are giving it the right amount of water?
To avoid overwatering, dip your index finger into the soil to check the moisture level. If it’s wet or moist, it does not need watering right now. But don’t let it deprive you of water either!
If the leaves are small and the growth is not as expected, it indicates your Philodendron needs fertilizer. Your plant is not getting adequate calcium and magnesium if the new leaves look pale.
So, it needs fertilizer to grow well unlike the Pothos. Luckily, any liquid houseplant fertilizer enriched with macro-nutrients will do the trick.
You should apply such fertilizer during the spring and summertime with water. Every 6 to 8 weeks apart, apply the same fertilizer during the fall and winter as well.
- Trimming & Pruning
They grow really FAST! Under the ideal growing environments, the vines can grow up to 10 cm per week! So, unless you control its growth, it will all around your living space.
Trimming the vines is a good idea to promote new growth on your philodendron. Pretty soon you will get a fuller plant with new string vines.
- Bugs or Diseases Infection
Unlike the Pothos, it’s not that susceptible to pest or disease infection. So, you don’t need to worry about that much.
But mealybugs can still attack it. So, apply neem oil or other appropriate insecticides to deal with it.
- Keep It Clean
You do not want the pores to become clogged with the leaves. So, use a soft and damp cloth to wash them regularly to keep the dust off.
As the plant keeps growing, it will burst the small pot eventually. That’s the reason you need to re-pot the plant every few years.
Also, you need to rotate the plant regularly to maintain an even shape.
Now, watch the video to learn how to care for it during the winter.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Which is better pothos or philodendron?
Answer: Both of them look beautiful when grown to fuller plants in the right environment. But beware of the fact that Pothos require more light and humidity than the philodendrons.
Are pothos and philodendron the same thing?
Answer: No, the two of them are completely different household plants. Both of them belong to separate genera where philodendron belongs to Philodendron genus and pothos belong to the Epipremnum genus.
Which grows faster pothos or philodendron?
Answer: Pothos grow faster than the philodendron.
Can you mix pothos and philodendron together?
Answer: Yes, both of them are tropical plants and have almost the same requirement to thrive like indirect light, humidity, and optimal watering.
Do pothos like to be misted?
Answer: No, philodendron needs to be misted if the area has a lower humidity level.
Is a philodendron an air purifier?
Answer: Yes. It’s well-known to remove toxic elements like formaldehyde from the indoor air to keep it clean.
Do pothos like coffee grounds?
Answer: Yes. When unwashed coffee grounds added to the soil, it increases the acidic content of the soil which the pothos love a lot!
To tell you the truth, it really does not matter to differentiate between pothos vs. philodendron to many home gardeners. But it’s still fun to know something very clearly what you love dearly.
Since now you know them very well including their differences and similarities, I hope you don’t confuse the two when shopping at your local garden store and buy the wrong one.
References/Sources of Information:
- Toxic Plants for Pet Birds By Niles Animal Hospital and Bird Medical Center.
- J. Chen, R.J. Henny, and D.B. McConnell, Development of New Foliage Plant Cultivars.
- Yin-Tung Wang, Kuo-Hsiun Hsiao, and Lori L. Gregg, Antitranspirant, Water Stress, and Growth Retardant Influence Growth of Golden Pothos.