Pothos and vining philodendron varieties are arguably some of the most popular houseplants around due to their easy care, but they’re also often mistaken for one another. Both of them look great displayed in hanging baskets, as trailing plants and even climbing upon moss poles. And whilst, they may look similar at a glance, and have similar growth requirements and habits, there are a number of key differences.
Once you know what to look for, you will never wonder about it again.
First, let’s look at their taxonomy or botanical naming convention. What makes common names so confusing is that sometimes there are many common names for the same plant, plus plants can even have the same common name! For example, what one person calls Pothos, another might call Devil’s Ivy. But there is only one “official” botanical name. Both pothos and philodendron belong to the same aroid family (Araceae). Explore further though and you’ll find Pothos belongs to the Epiprenum genus, whereas Philodendrons are well…in the Philodendron genus.
Just to confuse things further, there is also a silver or satin pothos which isn’t actually a pothos at all. This specimen also has a vining growth and belongs to the Araceae family but belongs to the Scindapsus genus. Thankfully, it has a characteristically silver patterned foliage to easily tell it apart.
Spot the difference: satin pothos vs marble pothos.
Shape and Texture.
A couple of tell-tale differences between pothos and philodendrons surface upon closer inspection. Philodendrons have thinner leaves with a smooth soft texture. You’ll notice the leaf shape is heart-like with a prominent space between the two curved lobes at the petiole connection. In comparison, the pothos leaf is relatively straight at the base and more closely resembles a spade. These leaves are thicker and have a waxy feel and slightly bumpy texture to the touch.
Spot the difference: heart-shaped philodendron vs pothos.
Did we get it right?! Earlier in the year we predicted seven of the top trends of 2021.
Growth Habits and New Leaves.
Another way to distinguish the two plants is by looking at how it grows (aka their growth habits). A pothos leaf simply grows, extends and unfurls from a current leaf. This lighter leaf will darken as it matures. A philodendron leaf emerges from a cataphyll, which is a thin, waxy sheath. New leaf growth on a philodendron will often have a pinkish or yellow/brown tint to it which will darken and green as it matures. Once the leaves have opened and matured, the cataphylls will turn brown, dry out and fall off.
Aerial Roots and Petioles.
Both pothos and philodendrons have aggressive aerial roots that allow them to climb and vine around surfaces. However, as you can see in the photos, pothos aerial roots are thick, and there is only one per node, while philodendrons aerial roots are smaller and thinner, and you’ll see several at each node.
Petioles are the small stems that connect the leaves to the main stems of the plant. It’s what joins the leaf to the vine. The pothos petiole on the left is indented and curved inward. Whereas philodendron petioles are thicker and rounded.
Close up of philodendron aerial roots
Plant Conditions and Care Instructions.
Admittedly both these plants have very similar needs when it comes to the important things like sunlight, water, temperature and humidity and soil. A couple of differences we’ve observed. While both pothos and philodendrons can tolerate low light and infrequent waterings, philodendron need more bright light to grow well and are less drought tolerant. Additionally, pothos prefer somewhat higher temperatures than philos.
Though technical in parts, I hope this has helped you clarify the difference between the common pothos and philodendron houseplants.