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If you’re a houseplant lover like me, you’ve more than likely owned both a pothos or a philodendron at some point in your life. 

These two beautiful species are easy to care for and grow in gorgeous vining patterns, making them exceptionally popular in the home. But, given their similar aesthetics, they are often mistaken for one another, even though distinct differences exist between them.

While it doesn’t matter much which one you’ve chosen to adopt, as their growth habits are similar, it is still a point of interest to determine how to tell them apart. Indeed, each has some specific needs which can make a difference to your growing success and their overall health and well-being.

In this article, we’ll take a look at what pothos and philodendrons have in common and what sets them apart. This includes an in-depth look at their taxonomy and appearance, as well as an investigation into their environmental needs. Ready? Let’s jump right in.

Pothos vs Philodendron: 7 Key Differences to Tell Them Apart

What is the difference between pothos vs philodendrons?

Pothos and philodendrons enjoy similar growing environments but differ in taxonomy, leaf structure, and reproductive habits. Their roots and petioles are also different. While their health needs are similar, pothos are more drought-hardy, whereas philodendrons can tolerate lower light conditions.

At first glance, it can be well-nigh impossible to tell a pothos from a philodendron and vice versa. Both are generally found growing in home environments, either as trailing viners or climbing up growing poles or other structures. The reason these beauties are so well-loved is because they’re pretty easy to look after, requiring very little in terms of maintenance.

That being said, there are some minor differences between the two that can affect how you handle them. Most of these have to do with their care, so before we delve into how to tell them apart, let’s have a deeper look at the dissimilarities in their care requirements.

Pothos vs philodendron care

Pothos and philodendron have similar needs to another popular houseplant, the monstera. They enjoy relative moisture, nutrient-rich soil, medium indirect light, and high humidity. Neither philodendron nor pothos are prone to pests and diseases but can fall victim to root rot, making incorrect watering practices their biggest threat.

In terms of the differences in their care, this is primarily related to light and water. Philodendrons fare better in conditions where there is less light (making them perfect for darker homes), whereas pothos don’t need water as often (although it’s never a good idea to deprive your plants for too long as an underwatered pothos can be a problem). 

Pothos also prefer more humidity and heat, which can be supplemented if necessary.

Philodendron Verrucosum, not a pothos
Philodendron Verrucosum

Are pothos and philodendron related?

Yes, pothos and philodendron are related, as both fall within the same aroid plant family, the Araceae family. However, they are separate, different plants that fall under separate genera. Specifically, pothos belong to the Epipremnum family, whereas philodendrons belong to the Philodendron genus.

This relationship may go someway to explaining why the pothos and philodendron look so similar. They also can look similar to other plants that are in the aroid family, including certain types of monstera, which I’ll get to shortly.

However, as you’ll see further down, there are a number of differences that help to set these plants apart.

Is monstera a pothos or philodendron?

While there are parallels between monstera, pothos, and philodendrons, they are not the same plants. Monstera belong to their own genus and are known for their relatively large leaves and signature fenestrations that occur as they mature. The reason they are mistaken for pothos and philodendrons is because all three species belong to the Araceae family.

Araceae is the blanket term for a family of plants more commonly known as aroids, and all aroids share some similar characteristics. Their most common feature is arguably their decorative leaves, which differ dramatically in size from species to species. For the most part, they are tropical plants and therefore do exceptionally well indoors.

Is Devil’s Ivy a pothos or philodendron?

Devil’s Ivy is a commonly used name for pothos plants, so-called because of their seeming invincibility despite poor growing conditions. Having originated in French Polynesia, this plant is now found all over the world and has adapted to thrive indoors. It is also often referred to as a Money Plant or Silver Vine.

Characterized by heart-shaped leaves, Devil’s Ivy has bright green variegation that remains saturated even in low light. Often, it also shows white or green spots and splatters. These plants are easy to look after, grow fast, and can be found in almost any nursery or garden center.

Interestingly enough, Devil’s Ivy can flower (like all plants in the Araceae family) but will never do so indoors. It is considered “shy-flowering,” which means it suffers from a genetic impairment that makes it unlikely to develop the necessary genes to produce a bud from its meristem.

Devil’s ivy - a pothos, not a philodendron
Devil’s ivy – a pothos, not a philodendron!

Pothos vs Epipremnum: What’s the difference?

There is no difference between pothos and Epipremnum. Epipremnum aureum is simply pothos’ scientific name, with Epipremnum being the overarching genus title of plants in this subspecies. All Epipremnum cultivars are part of the Araceae family, just like philodendrons and monstera. 

Epipremnum aureum refers to the pothos we commonly call Devil’s Ivy, which you can read more about in the previous section.

How do you tell a pothos from a philodendron apart?

You can tell a pothos and a philodendron apart by inspecting their petioles and by looking closely at their leaves, textures, and growth habits. There are also distinct differences in their aerial roots. Once distinguished, you’ll also find dissimilarities in how you propagate them.

I’ll be the first to say that it’s challenging to tell pothos and philodendrons apart at first glance. Both are usually found indoors, love to vine and climb, and have bright green, heart-shaped leaves. However, once you get down to the nitty-gritty of inspecting them, you’ll quickly be able to tell them apart.

Usually, it’s quite easy to spot pothos on coloration alone, specifically because of their variegated leaves. However, there are many types of pothos and philodendrons, so this is not an exact science, and if you’re curious, it’s good to get to the heart of matters, so you know which species you’re dealing with.

Let’s look at the steps you can take to identify whether you have a pothos or a philodendron.

1. Petioles

The petiole is the scientific name for the small stalk that connects leaves to their main stems, and usually, they reveal everything you need to distinguish if you have a pothos or a philodendron.

A pothos has a larger, slightly flatter petiole that indents and extends into the leaf itself. Conversely, a philodendron has a thinner, rounded petiole that almost appears to be resting beneath the leaf, like a stubby node.

The petiole on a pothos vs philodendron which has a smoother one
The petiole on a pothos

2. Aerial roots

Both pothos and philodendrons have fast-growing, prevalent aerial roots that help these plants to attach themselves to varying surfaces. These roots are an interesting evolutionary tack that developed to help these species climb up larger trees in their natural environments so that they could make their way upwards toward the sun.

If you want to tell pothos and philodendrons apart, this is a very good place to start. Philodendrons have many aerial roots per leaf, whereas pothos only have one aerial root, which is thicker and knobbier and looks more like a node than a root when it first develops.

Additionally, philodendron roots look wilder, whereas pothos roots are slightly neater and more contained.

3. Leaves

Possibly the most confusing thing when telling pothos and philodendrons apart is their leaves. Both are decorative and usually heart-shaped, making them look identical at first glance. However, philodendrons are, in fact, thinner and more distinct, mainly because of their rounded petioles.

The shape of a philodendron’s leaves is also more distinct at its base, where it curves inward and often forms a slight indentation. Pothos leaves are straighter and flatter at the base.

In terms of color, philodendron leaves are usually more uniform (although it depends on your cultivar). A pothos tends to show variegation.

4. Texture

Don’t be fooled by their robust coloration – philodendron leaves are thin and delicate. Pothos, on the other hand, are more leathery and waxy and less inclined to damage.

5. New leaves (growth habits)

Once your pothos or philodendrons start growing new leaves, they have a dead giveaway that makes it easy to tell these two apart: Philodendrons have cataphylls, whereas pothos do not.

A cataphyll, in this regard, refers to the tiny, delicate encasings that shroud new leaves as they develop and grow. They look like little paper coverings that remain on the petiole until such a time that they dry, turn brown, and die away.

New pothos leaves simply grow and unfurl (like monstera) until they are fully formed and sturdy.

leaves on a pothos plant

6. Taxonomy

Once you’ve established whether you have a pothos or a philodendron, you can show off to your friends with taxonomy – should this ever come up in a conversation, of course. Pothos belong to the Epipremnum family, whereas philodendrons belong to the Philodendron genus.

While both fall under the Araceae family, their taxonomic differences make them their own species, in their own right, distinguished by the differences listed in the previous sections of this article.

7. Propagation

What proud plant parent doesn’t want to see their pothos or philodendrons producing pretty plant babies? You’re in luck – both of these species propagate extremely well. The reason for this is their aerial roots, making it easy to grow them from cuttings, either in water or directly into soil.

A key difference between the two, however, is that philodendrons can produce offsets that can be considered viable plants, whereas pothos cuttings need to be rooted first.

Can you plant pothos and philodendron together?

Because of their similar needs, pothos and philodendrons can be grown together and will have no trouble thriving. Both plants have similar requirements in terms of water, light, humidity, soil, and temperature. They also have similar growth patterns and shouldn’t compete for space.

While we’ve spent a lot of time in this article looking at the difference between pothos and philodendrons, the one thing we can all agree on is that both species are beautiful plants. And if you’re looking for a jungle bonanza, there’s no reason not to plant these lookers together.

example of a pothos vs philodendron

One of the benefits of co-growing pothos and philodendron is that they have the same care requirements, and both of them either trail or vine. Together with this, their bright color lights up any space, even if your home environment is not terribly sunny or bright.

You’ll also find that neither attracts pests or diseases, making them perfect for beginners and experts alike. One thing to note is that they may be prone to root rot, so take care not to overwater them, particularly when they’re still young and adapting to their environment.

Do pothos or philodendrons grow faster?

Overall, pothos are ever-so-slightly hardier than philodendrons and consequently tend to grow a bit faster. That being said, in ideal conditions, philodendrons are also fast-growing and produce new leaves almost weekly. The larger both species are, the quicker they grow.

Of the two, pothos are faster growers, but the difference is almost negligible and is not enough to identify its genus on alone. The reason it is considered the speedier of the two is because it tends to be more robust than its cousin the philodendron, so it is less inclined to be affected by environmental factors that may be impacting its growth patterns.