4 Methods to Differentiate Between Pothos and Philodendron

by | Last updated Mar 25, 2022

Philodendron Pink Princess

philodendron pink princess
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*Pictured Philodendron Pink Princess (Philodendron Erubescens)

As homeowners and plant lovers, it’s common to misidentify plants. Two of these plants we frequently confuse are pothos and philodendrons. Given their similarities, this is not surprising at all! If you wish to distinguish them from one another, we must take a deeper look at their critical requirements, such as their taxonomy, leaf shape and texture, aerial roots and petioles, and growth habits. 

Taxonomy is the study of biological species classification into genera and families, and it gives emphasis primarily on plant nomenclature. Through this, we can determine that pothos and philodendrons are from different genera. Pothos is an Epipremnum, while a philodendron is an Epipremnum. However, pothos and philodendron are both members of the aroid plant family (Araceae).

To finally end the confusion, we’ll be discussing the four simple methods in differentiating pothos and philodendrons from one another. By the end of this list, you’ll know precisely how to spot which is which.

Pothos plant
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*Pictured Golden Pothos (Epipremnum Aureum)

Method #1: Check the Leaf

While philodendrons have delicate, heart-shaped leaves, pothos leaves are larger, thicker, and waxier. These differences in leaf shape are most noticeable where the petiole meets the leaf base. The base of a philodendron leaf is formed like the top of a heart, whereas the bottom of a pothos leaf is straight.

Method #2: Check the Aerial Roots and Petioles

Pothos and philodendrons both have powerful aerial roots that enable them to climb and vine over surfaces. Pothos has one sizeable aerial root per node, but philodendrons may have several tiny aerial roots per node, giving them a wild appearance. 

Moreover, petioles connect leaf stalks to the main stems of plants. Pothos have thinner petioles that attach to the stem. Meanwhile, petioles on philodendrons are entirely spherical. 

Method #3: Check the Growth Habit and New Leaves

If you wish to analyze the growth habits of either plant properly, check for their cataphylls. Cataphylls are tiny leaves that surround and protect the new leaf, forming fresh leaves on a trailing philodendron. 

They often remain on the plant until the new leaf develops, after which they dry out and fall off. However, this is not the case with Pothos. Pothos leaves do not emerge from cataphylls, but instead, they grow and unfurl from the leaf that came before them.

Method #4: Check Their Growth Differences

Pothos and philodendrons are both low-maintenance houseplants. They simply require light, soil, water, and a warm or humid environment. However, there are a few minor variances to be aware of.

Pothos are more tolerant to low light than philodendrons. If not provided enough light, philodendrons get leggy faster than pothos and produce small leaves. Pothos, on the other hand, takes longer to learn and is unaffected by low light. Pothos are also drought-tolerant and more manageable to propagate by cuttings than philodendrons.

photos n joy
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*Pictured Photos N Joy (Epipremnum aureum)

Conclusion

Don’t you just love learning more about plants? The most exciting thing about acquiring new knowledge about them is that you can become better plant caregivers! Today, we’ve learned to distinguish pothos from philodendrons and vice versa, ensuring that you can now correctly care for these house plants. In as simple as these four methods, you can quickly move up your ranks from novice to expert!

To learn more about the best house plants for your growing collection, Houseplant Advisor has got you covered! We’re your one-stop shop for care tips and plant information for your home. Subscribe to our newsletter now and join our plant-loving community!

Shelbi Clifford

Shelbi Clifford

Hi, I'm Shelbi! I am the founder of Houseplant Advisor - a blog for all things houseplants. Whether you are looking to add some green to your home or want to learn about how plants can help improve air quality in your space, Houseplant Advisor is here with the answers. Do you have any questions? Feel free to reach out and ask me anything!

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