The common names of plants can be descriptive, catchy, and memorable. But they can also cause a lot of confusion because a plant can have many common names and be called something different in various parts of the country.
To further confuse matters, two completely different plants can be called the same name. Dragon’s Tail, for example, is the name for Raphidophora decursiva and Epipremnum pinnatum.
They are both beautiful tropical plants that are members of the Arum family. They look somewhat alike, and their care is almost the same. But there are differences…
Rhaphidophora decursiva is a perennial vining plant. It is rarer than the popular Rhaphidophora tetrasperma and makes a beautiful and exciting addition to an indoor space.
Young Rhaphidophora plants start with glossy, oval, dark green leaves about 6 inches long and 4 inches wide with a cylindrical petiole or leaf stem.
Their leaves emerge from cataphylls, which are thin, protective leaf-like structures that turn brown and fall off after the leaf unfurls.
If given support, like a moss pole to climb on, large leaves up to 40 inches long can develop with multiple prominent splits resembling palm fronds.
Outdoors, this Dragon’s Tail can grow to 60 feet tall and 6 feet wide. But indoors, as a large houseplant similar to Monstera, it will grow 5-10 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide. It rarely flowers indoors.
Rhaphidophora decursiva is native to southeast China, India, and Indochina, where it grows up tree trunks in damp, tropical environments.
It can be grown successfully outdoors in USDA hardiness zones 9-11 but is generally grown indoors as a handsome houseplant.
In addition, researchers have found compounds in Rhaphidophora’s leaves and stem to include antimalarial properties.
Epipremnum pinnatum, the other Dragon’s Tail, is also a perennial vining plant. Like Rhaphidophorum, its juvenile leaves differ significantly from mature ones.
Young leaves are elongated and elliptical with a sharp point. It is often grown as a houseplant in a hanging pot and is very similar to its close cousin, Pothos, or Epipremnum aureum.
It will keep its juvenile form and never develop mature leaves when grown like this. But when presented with a moss pole, it will climb with aerial roots, and new leaf blades can develop splits and fenestrations (holes).
Epipremnum pinnatum’s leaves differ from Rhaphidophora’s in that they are smaller, 12-20 inches long, thinner, and rounder, with fewer splits in their leaves. They also have an unusual characteristic of a row of tiny pinholes next to their midribs.
Unlike Rhaphidophora, Epipremnum’s leaves emerge from nodes without cataphylls, and their petioles are grooved. Outdoors, the plant can grow 60 feet tall and 6 feet wide; indoors, it will grow 5-10 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide, the same as Rhaphidophora.
It rarely flowers indoors as a houseplant.
Epipremnum is also native to Asia but has a broader range than the other Dragon’s Tail. It is native to northern Australia through Malaysia, Indochina into southern China, Taiwan, Japan, and Melanesia.
It is hardy to USDA zones 10-12 and can be highly invasive in the United States when grown outdoors.
Both Raphidophora decursiva and Epipremnum pinnatum are toxic to people and pets.
Care of Rhaphidophora decursiva vs Epipremnum pinnatum
The care of both Dragon’s Tails is almost the same. In their native habitat, they grow in dappled light, climbing up trees in humid, tropical forests.
In order to keep your Dragon Tail healthy and growing well, try to provide conditions as close to the native ones as possible.
Both of these beautiful climbing plants need bright indirect light like the dappled light in the tropics.
You can achieve this by keeping your plant about three to five feet away from an unobstructed south- or west-facing window or closer if the window is shaded with curtains, blinds, or an outside tree or building.
East- or north-facing windows don’t have direct sun, so your plants can also be placed closer there.
If your rooms are dark with insufficient light from the windows, you can give your plants a boost by installing a grow light.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget to clean your plant’s leaves. Not only does it enhance the looks of the plant, but it also allows it to accept as much light as possible to photosynthesize.
Rhaphidophora and Epipremnum grow best in temperatures between 65 and 80 degrees F, which are average household temperatures. They don’t like drafts, so keep them away from heating or air conditioning vents.
Both plants will grow in average household humidity, about 30%-40%, especially in the winter, with the heat on. But they will be happier in ranges of about 50%-60%, which is more likely in the summer.
If your house tends to be dry, you can boost the humidity by placing the pot on a pebble tray of water. Carefully keep the pot above the waterline so the roots will not be in the water.
A humidifier is helpful, too, if you have one, and misting the plant is beneficial.
Plant your Dragon’s Tail in a pot with drainage holes. Use well-draining potting soil such as a standard potting mix with perlite, orchid bark, peat moss, or coco coir added for extra drainage and aeration.
A slightly acidic mix with organic matter is best for both plants.
The one difference is that Rhaphidophora requires more aeration in the soil than Epipremnum, so keep it looser with more additives.
You will likely need to repot your indoor plant once a year in the spring since it does not like to be pot-bound and can revert to a juvenile leaf form if it is.
Choose a pot about 2-3 inches larger than your current one and fresh potting mix with the same proportions of soil and additives.
Water your plant when the top half of the soil is dry. You can determine this by sticking your finger down in the soil or with a moisture meter.
Let the water run through the pot and out the drainage hole until the soil is soaked. Be sure to let it drain completely and then discard the excess water.
You can supplement the soil’s nutrition by adding a slow-release or liquid fertilizer once in the spring and summer with a good amount of nitrogen and phosphorus to promote growth.
Neither Raphidophora nor Epipremnum needs pruning except to remove dead leaves, limit their growth, and for propagation.
If you want more plants or have cuttings from pruning them back, you can propagate Rhaphidophora or Epipremnum with stem cuttings.
Cut sections of stems with about four or five nodes (where the leaf joins the stem) with clean shears.
Remove the bottom leaves and put the stems in fresh water with the top leaves above the water line.
After they develop 2-3-inch roots, pot them up in a very well-draining potting mix and keep the soil moist until they begin to put out more growth.
Pests and Diseases
Like many houseplants, Dragon’s Tails are susceptible to a few pests and diseases. They can become infested with thrips, mealybugs, scale, or spider mites.
If you see any of these visitors on your plants, hose off as many as you can, then wipe their leaves down with rubbing alcohol and spray with insecticidal soap and/or Neem oil.
One of the most common problems of Dragon’s Tail plants is the effects of overwatering. When a plant’s soil remains saturated, the roots can’t get enough oxygen and begin to decay. Root rot is the result.
Ensure you only water your plant when the soil is dry halfway down from the top, and water can drain completely out of the pot.
Fungal diseases, such as leaf spot, can occur when the soil and the surrounding air are too moist.
While you need to boost humidity around your plant, too much stagnant, humid air can breed fungus growth. Therefore, make sure that there is sufficient air circulation around your plant to keep it healthy.
Nancy has been a plant person from an early age. That interest blossomed into a bachelor’s in biology from Elmira College and a master’s degree in horticulture and communications from the University of Kentucky. Nancy worked in plant taxonomy at the University of Florida and the L. H. Bailey Hortorium at Cornell University, and wrote and edited gardening books at Rodale Press in Emmaus, PA. Her interests are plant identification, gardening, hiking, and reading.