Pothos vs Philodendron: Differences and Similarities

Pothos vs Philodendron: Differences and Similarities

At first glance, Pothos and Philodendron might look to be the same. But, these are distinctly different plants with their own needs, growth habits, and physical attributes. While there are some key differences between these plants, they are also similar in many ways. They are both from the aroid family, are native to similar climates, and share a number of other commonalities.

In this article, we'll take an in-depth look at the similarities and differences between these two gorgeous plants. We'll take a brief look at their taxonomy, delve into their identifying attributes, and even give you some pointers on plant care. Whether you're having difficulty telling the difference or you just have a healthy interest in Philodendron and Pothos, this article will help you better understand these immensely popular houseplants.

Commonly Confused House Plants

Pothos and Philodendron are two of the most popular houseplants on earth. If you think one is beautiful, you will probably feel the same about the other. This is because they look strikingly similar. Not only do they have similar physical attributes, but they are both from the Araceae family and are plants capable of vining. People often display these plants in hanging baskets and other similar ways that also add to the confusion. 

With so many commonalities, these two have become some of the most commonly confused houseplants. So, how can you tell the difference? Let's first take a look at the taxonomy.

 Philodendron and Pothos Taxonomy

Taxonomy is a scientific term that refers to the study, classification, and noted differentiation of various organisms. This helps us understand the similarities and differences between philodendron and pothos. Taxonomy is practiced by everyone from professional growers developing cultivars, to amateur botanists who enjoy studying indoor plants. 

Though these plants are similar looking, a closer look at their taxonomy helps us understand a few fundamental differences between these two. Any plant that belongs to the Epirpermnum Genus can be categorized as Pothos. Philodendrons, on the other hand, are of the Philodendron Genus. They are, however, both members of the Araceae family.

Varieties of Pothos

The Epipremnum genus is home to a huge variety of Pothos plants. Each of these plants has its own unique attributes. The Pothos leaves can vary quite a bit and range in color from dark green to bright green leaves. There are also a number of different plants that belong to this genus including the Satin Pothos, the Jade Pothos, and the Golden Pothos (Commonly known as Devils Ivy or Epipremnum aureum). 

Each type of Pothos is unique and offers something distinct and beautiful to gaze upon. Whether you decide on Devil's Ivy or Neon Pothos, you'll be more than satisfied with its fantastically beautiful foliage.

Philodendron Varieties 

The Philodendron genus also includes a variety of different kinds of Philodendron. Some common names you've probably heard from this genus are heartleaf philodendron (also known as Philodendron Hederaceum) and Philodendron Brasil - a cultivar of heartleaf philodendron.

There are many beautiful types of Philodendron for you to enjoy. These plants are resilient, unique, and have powerful air-purifying properties. Whether you're team Philodendron or team Pothos, we can all agree that these are some impressively beautiful plants.

How to Tell the Difference

Can you tell the difference between Marble Queen Pothos and Heartleaf Philodendron plants? If you said "no", you're certainly not alone. These gorgeous plants are quite similar in appearance. Their leaves have a similar tint, they are similar in shape and form, and they are both known for their resilience and ability to adapt.

So, how do you tell the difference between Pothos and Philodendron? Well, there are several distinct physical features that can be easily spotted by an astute enthusiast. Let's take a look at how you can tell the difference between philodendron and pothos!

Distinct Petiole

The section of the plant that joins the leaf to the stem is called the "Petiole ''. Pothos Petioles and Philodendron Petioles have a few differences that are easy to spot. These are some of the most prominent physical distinctions between the two and can help you quickly determine whether you're looking at a Pothos plant or a Philodendron.

The Philodendron petiole is quite uniform and round, while the pothos petiole is not very round and has a distinct indentation. With age, the Philodendron will develop two edges called "cataphylls” that will eventually turn brown and feel papery to the touch. If you're looking for a sure way to tell the difference between these two, simply peep the petiole.

Aerial Roots

Another fantastic way to distinguish between Pothos and Philodendron is to look at the Aerial roots. Both of these plants form Aerial roots. These are roots that grow above the soil and allow plants to anchor themselves to their surroundings. 

Philodendron and Pothos have distinctly different Aerial roots. The Pothos aerial roots only have one root coming from each node and look like thick nubs. Philodendrons have much thinner Aerial roots and sometimes have more than one root coming from a node.

Sheath 

These plants also have very distinctive sheaths. If you look at where the petiole and the leaf meet the vine of the Philodendron, you'll notice a white or brown sheath. As Philodendrons age, they develop a sheath that is white at first, but eventually develops a delicate, papery feel and turns brown.

You can be certain that you're looking at a Pothos plant if this sheath is not present. Unlike Philodendron, Pothos do not have sheaths. The sheath is one of the main physical distinctions between Philodendron and Pothos and is a great way to quickly identify which plant you're looking at.

Leaf Shape and Variegation

Knowing about the cataphyll, sheath, and aerial roots will certainly help you identify Pothos or Philodendron. But, one of the most distinct and apparent ways to identify these plants is by their leaves. Philodendron has heart-shaped leaves that you really can't miss. They also have a very smooth texture. This is very different from the Pothos leaves which have a slightly rougher texture and are not at all heart-shaped. 

Differently colored zones on the leaves of the plant can also be a dead giveaway. When you see the growth of new leaves, they may look similar at first, but they'll soon develop distinctly different characteristics. The Philodendron leaf remains a rich green color that is uniform. Pothos develops some beautiful color gradients and will have dark green and light green colors on the same leaf.

Plant Care for Philodendron and Pothos

Now that you can tell the difference between these two lovely plants, let's talk about some of their different care requirements. We have a few simple care tips that will make a big difference! 

One of the many things that people love about these plants is that they are relatively low maintenance. You don't have to baby Pothos or Philodendron. They both are quite hardy and resilient and reward the grower with immense beauty for minimal effort.

While you don't need to check these plants every couple of hours for moisture to fertilize them bi-weekly, you do need to make sure that they're receiving the attention and care that they need. Let's take a look at how you can help your Pothos or Philodendron thrive!

Water

Water is one of the most important elements on the planet. All known life requires water to exist and without it, things can get bad pretty fast. While these plants are tough and somewhat drought tolerant, they much prefer to have water regularly. Pothos and Philodendron are native to humid regions of South America and Asia where it rains frequently. This means that they like a fair bit of water and prefer humid environments.

To keep these plants looking and feeling their best, make sure to water them every one to two weeks. During the hotter seasons, you may need to stick to a weekly watering regimen, whereas in the colder months you can ease up and water them once every two weeks. 

A good rule of thumb is to check the top 2 inches of soil for moisture. If the topsoil feels dry, it's time to water. If it is moist, you can't wait to water. The soil should never be soggy or over-saturated with water as this can lead to root rot and a number of other issues. Philodendron and Pothos have the same watering requirements.

Food 

A great way to stimulate new growth is to stay on top of your fertilization regimen. These plants are indeed low maintenance, but they sure do like to eat! You should feed your Pothos and Philodendron plants with a well-balanced fertilizer every 4-6 weeks. 

We recommend using a 10-10-10 or 20-20-20 fertilizer. These are well-balanced fertilizers that will provide your plant with the nutrients it needs to thrive. If you want to stimulate new growth and help your plant reach its full potential, don't forget to feed it!

Light 

These plants are impressively resilient and can adapt to various light settings with relative ease. That being said, if you keep your Pothos or Philodendron in a low low light environment, they aren't going to grow nearly as fast or be quite as healthy as they would otherwise. While these plants can survive low light conditions, they thrive in bright indirect light.

Imagine yourself in the jungles of South America. The sun is impressively bright, but direct sunlight doesn't make it past the jungle canopy. The goal with houseplants is to simulate their natural environment as best as you can. For Pothos and Philodendron, this means misting them occasionally to simulate the humidity they are used to and keeping them in bright light that is consistent, but indirect.

Light is essential to growth and can help you control the size of your plant. If you prefer to keep your philodendron relatively small, you can keep it in low light conditions to intentionally stunt its growth. If you want your Pothos to be as big as possible, keep it out of direct sunlight but in a bright sunny room.

Essential Takeaway

There are several distinct ways to distinguish between Pothos and Philodendron. Their differences primarily lie in their physical attributes. Philodendron has heart-shaped leaves that are smooth in texture and uniform in color. Pothos leaves are large, waxy, and often have white, yellow, or gold color fluctuations.

If you have a hard time telling the difference between these two, you can always look at the sheath. Philodendron sheaths start out white, but with age, turn brown and papery to the touch. Pothos do not have sheaths, so this is one of the easiest ways to know whether you're looking at Philodendron or Pothos. There are a number of different ways to distinguish between these plants. All you need to do is look closely!

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