Philodendron vs Pothos: Guide to Know The Plants Like a Pro

Some of us coped with the pandemic by filling our houses with popular houseplants. Even if your at-home office now looks like a tiny jungle, you probably haven’t collected every type of philodendron.

Approximately 450 species of this tropical plant exist worldwide. 

What’s more confusing? Philodendrons look physically similar to pothos plants. Although both members of the Araceae family, pothos and philodendrons require slightly different growing conditions. 

So how do you figure out the best care regime for your plant? The first step is learning to tell the difference between philodendron vs pothos. 

Know Before You Grow

Philodendrons and pothos (Epipremnum aureum) enjoy houseplant popularity in no small part because they require little maintenance. 

They both grow dark green leaves with a waxy shine. In the right conditions, philodendrons and pothos will climb and vine. 

Since they are similar in appearance, growing conditions might become the deciding factor when you’re choosing between the two. Both plants prefer tropical climates. But philodendrons survive suboptimal conditions better than pothos. 

Pothos need bright indirect light. Philodendrons, meanwhile, prefer indirect bright light or filtered sunlight. But philodendrons will also tolerate low light conditions. In particular, heartleaf philodendron plants can survive with very low light

Temperature toleration corresponds to these preferences. Pothos plants do best in temperatures ranging from 70 to 90 F. Philodendrons enjoy these warm temperatures but will also grow in slightly cooler environments. 

Humidity encourages plant growth. But if you simply want to keep a houseplant alive, philodendrons will tolerate environments with low humidity. Pothos not so much. 

Beyond those key differences, philodendrons and pothos require similar growing conditions. 

They like moist – but not soggy – soil. Standing water will harm or kill these houseplants. Yellow leaves, limp stems, and mushy roots all indicate that you have overwatered your philodendron or pothos. 

Fertilization is not absolutely necessary. If you do fertilize either, use a diluted houseplant fertilizer. Full-strength fertilizer can burn the leaves.

Philodendrons and pothos both grow prolifically in the right conditions – up to one foot per month. To multiply that growth, you can propagate both pothos and philodendron plants. 

To propagate, identify a stem that supports at least four leaves. Then, make a diagonal cutting below the leaf node. Place the cutting in a glass of water, refreshing the water every couple of days to maintain oxygen levels. Once the cutting forms roots, you can transfer the plant to a pot. 

How to Tell the Difference: Pothos vs Philodendron

When you first glance at philodendrons and pothos, it can be difficult to tell them apart. Both plants display glossy dark green foliage that will vine if you give them somewhere to climb. But if you look closer, you’ll notice a few differences between pothos and philodendrons. 

Growth Habit 

Growth habit is admittedly a tricky metric for distinguishing philodendron and pothos. 

In perfect conditions, pothos plants produce new leaf and stem growth marginally faster than philodendrons. Pothos can grow just under five inches per week; philodendrons just under four. 

But keep in mind that philodendrons tolerate a wider range of growing conditions than pothos. If you place your houseplants in a cooler, poorly lit room, you might find that your philodendron grows more quickly than your pothos. 

Aerial Roots

Aerial roots allow philodendrons and pothos to climb vertical and horizontal surfaces.

Pothos plants have one large aerial root per node. Philodendrons have a tangle of several smaller aerial roots per node. 

Pro tip: if you want one of these houseplants to climb and vine, make sure it has a surface to which it can attach. Neither plant will climb into thin air. Philodendron aerial roots need a stake, pole, or string to which they can attach. Same goes for pothos aerial roots.

Petiole & New Foliage 

First of all, what is a petiole? A petiole is the park of the leaf that joins it to the stem, attached by a node. 

This part of the plant features a noticeable difference between pothos and philodendrons. The pothos petiole has a grooved texture. The philodendron petiole is smooth. 

But that’s not the most important difference. 

Philodendron plants produce a sheath from this point. The sheath, called a cataphyll, protects the growing plant and helps it perform photosynthesis. It starts as a kind of green cocoon that eventually browns, dries up, and falls off the plant. 

Pothos plants do not produce a leaf sheath. 

Leaf Shape

Leaf shape can be a somewhat sneaky difference between a pothos and a philodendron. That’s because the specific shape varies depending on the variety of philodendron and pothos plant. 

The most commonly found philodendron and pothos varieties of houseplants have heart-shaped leaves. But look a little closer. The heart shape on the philodendron is usually more defined. The shape of a pothos leaf is more spade-like. 

For next-level botanical sleuthing, inspect the midrib. (The midrib is the central, pronounced vein that runs horizontally from the stem to the leaf tip.) The pothos midrib will be a more noticeable ridge through the center of the leaf. The philodendron midrib is less apparent. 

Ready for another plant term? This time we’re looking at the sinus – the space between two lobes – where the lobes meet the stem. 

The philodendron leaf should have a more dramatic sinus, contributing to the heart shape. Philodendron leaves will also usually have a pointier apex.

In general, philodendron leaves are more asymmetrical than pothos leaves. But this can vary from leaf to leaf, so it shouldn’t be your only point of comparison. 

Leaf Texture

The texture of a philodendron leaf vs a pothos leaf will also vary depending on the plant variety. 

Let’s start by looking at one of the more popular varieties of pothos: Marble Queen pothos. And the Silver pothos, these plants have characteristic waxy leaves. 

holding up a marble queen pothos plant.
Marble Queen Pothos

But if you rub your thumb against the leaf surface, you’ll notice it has a slightly bumpy texture. This texture is especially noticeable on new pothos leaf growth. 

Now, compare that texture to one of the most popular philodendrons: the heart leaf philodendron. A leaf from this plant will most likely be thinner and smoother than a pothos leaf. 

Green Philodendron Hederaceum plant 

Although the leaves of both philodendron and pothos can appear quite waxy, there is a difference between the two plants. If you compare the leaves side by side, you’ll probably notice that the leaf of the pothos plant is glossier. The philodendron leaf should have a more matte finish. 

Variegation

You can also look at leaf variegation. Some philodendron varieties will variegate. But this coloring is much less common than in pothos. 

For instance, Golden pothos is the most popular variety whose leaves feature attractive gold flecks.

Jade pothos is another widespread variety of pothos. But this one has solid green leaves. So unless you confidently know your plant varieties, variegation is probably not the most reliable comparison. 

Stems

If you’re still trying to determine the difference between the two indoor plants, look at the stem. 

Philodendrons have a brownish to orangey stem. Pothos stems, meanwhile, usually reflect the green color of the leaves.

Pothos stems will usually be thicker than philodendron stems. But this, of course, will vary depending on the age of the plants. 

FAQs

Which plant is easier to maintain? 

Philodendrons are easier to maintain than pothos. A philodendron plant can survive in lower light conditions and lower temperatures. 

Are Swiss cheese plants philodendrons or pothos?

Neither. Although commonly confused as both pothos and philodendrons, swiss cheese plants belong to the Monsteras genus. Don’t be fooled. Despite their name, split-leaf philodendrons are not philodendrons. If you want a plant that will develop holey leaves, you need to purchase a Monsteras.