Pothos vs. Philodendron Plants: What’s The Difference Between Them?

Comparing the Pothos vs. Philodendron for your next indoor plant addition? These two plants share some major differences, but also have quite a few similarities. They are both quite common with indoor gardeners of all types. In this article, gardening expert Madison Moulton examines the differences and similarities between the Philodendron and Pothos plants.

Pothos vs. Philodendron

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When it comes to popular houseplants, climbing or vining leafy options are certainly up there. Looking great almost anywhere you put them and adding an instant jungle feel to your space, there are so many reasons to love them. And of those options, two of the most popular are the Pothos and the Philodendron. 

These plants look so similar, they are often confused for one another. Many may not be able to tell the difference between them. However, there are some distinctions that separate these two popular houseplants, along with many similarities. 

Both of these plants make an excellent choice for beginners, or advanced plant-owners alike. In this guide, we examine both plant types and compare their looks, characteristics, watering needs, and more. Let’s jump in!

Pothos vs. Philodendron

Leaves of Tropical Plants
Specification Pothos Philodendron
Specification
Scientific Name
Mature Size
Native Region
Leaf Appearance
Growth Difficulty
Soil Preference
Sun Exposure
Lighting Tolerance
Pothos
Epipremnum aureum
20-40 feet
French Polynesia
Heart-shaped, Waxy
Beginner-friendly
Light, Well-draining
Bright, Indirect Light
Low-light Tolerant
Philodendron
Philodendron spp.
10-20 feet
Central and South America
Heart-shaped, Thin
Beginner-friendly
Light, Well-draining
Bright, Indirect Light
Low-light Tolerant

Overview 

Typical Indoor Plants Growing Outdoors
Though commonly used interchangeably, these two houseplants are not the same.

Let’s get the first distinction out of the way – a Pothos is not a type of Philodendron and a Philodendron is not a type of Pothos. They are two completely different, but very similar-looking plants. 

The houseplant commonly known as Pothos is Epipremnum aureum, also called Devil’s Ivy. It is called Pothos because it was previously classified as Pothos aureus, part of a completely different genus of plants in the same family. It went through two other names – Rhaphidophora aurea and a relation to Epipremnum pinnatum before horticulturalists settled on the final classification. 

Philodendron describes a large genus of plants often grown indoors, and are often confused with plants like the monstera. However, the climbing or trailing types are most commonly compared with the Pothos. The most popular of these, the Heartleaf Philodendron, has also gone through some botanical name changes. Now known as Philodendron hederaceum, it was previously called Philodendron scandens, and sometimes Philodendron cordatum

If those differences are confusing, there is at least one simple similarity to join these two plants. They are both part of the Araceae or Arum family. This family contains almost 4 000 species of plants, including the ever-popular Monstera, as well as Anthuriums. 

Appearance 

From afar, these two plants look remarkably similar. With a similar growth habit and color (depending on the pothos or philodendron variety), you may find it difficult to tell them apart at first. However, there are a few distinctions that will have you identifying these plants in no time. 

Leaves 

Heart-Shaped Leaves of Tropical Plants Close Up
Both plants have similarly shaped leaves, but the pothos is thinner and less waxy in texture.

The leaves of the Pothos and Philodendron are similar shapes but have slightly different textures. Both leaves can be described as heart-shaped, but the Philodendron leaves have a far more pronounced heart shape with a deeper v at the stem. Pothos leaves also tend to be wider. 

In terms of texture, the Philodendron is glossy and smooth with thin leaves, while the Pothos has thicker leaves with a waxy texture. They can also come in more unique colors, like the Pink Princess variety. They also have some varieties with quite a bit of leaf variegation, like the Philodendron Birkin.

Depending on the variety chosen, color can also be an indicator. Pothos leaves are generally a brighter green, while Philodendron leaves have a deeper green color. Some of the more popular pothos types will depend on their colors, but usually, the golden pothos and the silver satin pothos are quite popular with many plant owners.

New Growth 

Young Houseplants With New Growths
These two plants have different ways of developing new growth.

In spring, you can also tell the difference between these two plants by taking a look at the new growth. Pothos leaves grow like many other houseplants, with small leaves developing from the old growth and slowly unfurling to form full leaves

Philodendrons are slightly different. New leaves grow from the stem surrounded by a sheath called a cataphyll. This sheath is actually a modified leaf that will dry up and fall off once the new leaf reaches full size. New leaves are lighter in color and tend to darken as they grow. 

The growth of the new stems is another way to tell them apart. New stems on the Pothos are typically the same bright green as the leaves. New Philodendron stems have a brownish or orangey hue to them. 

Roots 

Close Up of Root Systems of Houseplants
Both plants have the ability to form aerial roots, but they look different upon close inspection.

You may not be able to inspect the roots below the soil. But, both of these plants produce aerial roots along the stem that allow them to climb nearby structures. These aerial roots, looking slightly different, are another distinguishing factor. 

Pothos aerial roots are thick and relatively slow-growing. One root will typically emerge from the opposite end of a leaf. Philodendrons have many thinner aerial roots emerging from the same node. 

Growing Conditions 

Where Pothos and Philodendrons display the most similarities are in their growing conditions. These plants both have very similar requirements and are typically happy when given the same care. 

Climate 

Tropical Houseplants Close Up
Though they are from different parts of the globe, the native tropical climate is the same.

Pothos and climbing Philodendrons are found on opposite sides of the world. Epipremnum aureum has naturalized in forests around the world, stretching across the Eastern half of the world map. Philodendrons cover the Western half of the map, around the tropical zones of South America. 

Despite this distance, both plants are found in tropical forests and enjoy similar climates. They prefer moderately warm temperatures around 70F and cannot handle any cold below 50F for long periods. Similarly, if the weather is very warm (above 90F), they may stop growing as a result of heat stress, but Pothos is generally better suited to the heat than Philodendrons. 

Luckily, the climate isn’t too much of a concern indoors as it can be meticulously controlled. Both plants like moderate temperatures that we are comfortable in. However, it can get chilly next to windows in winter, so make sure you move them away from these areas and closer to the warmer parts of your home. 

When it comes to humidity, Pothos and Philodendrons prefer plenty of moisture in the air. However, they are not as fussy about humidity as some other houseplants, generally happy in any air above 40%. 

Sunlight 

Tropical Houseplants in Bright Indirect Sunlight
Since these plants are found on the forest ground in the wild, they are used to low light conditions.

Both Pothos and Philodendrons are often labeled low-light plants. They can live in almost any lighting conditions and, while they may not grow quickly, they won’t die in lower light

However, low light doesn’t mean no light. They can handle rooms with north-facing windows well, or placement far from a bright window in a large room, but they will not appreciate rooms with no windows at all. If you want your plants to last and continue growing, they prefer bright indirect light. 

Philodendrons are generally better suited to lower lighting conditions than Pothos. This is thanks to their differences in leaf color. Darker leaves in the Philodendron indicate the plant contains more chlorophyll. This means there is more photosynthesis occurring, allowing the plant to make the most of the lower lighting conditions. 

This does, as always, depend on the variety. Variegated Pothos or Philodendrons require higher lighting conditions to maintain their variegation. With less chlorophyll in the leaves, they need as much indirect sunlight as they can get. In lower light, the plants will produce more chlorophyll for adequate photosynthesis, seeping into the variegated areas and turning the leaves completely green again. 

Water 

Variegated Leaves of Popular Houseplants
Each of these houseplants has similar watering requirements.

Pothos and Philodendrons require about the same amount of water per week, depending on the external conditions in your home. In higher light areas or higher temperatures, they will require more water and vice versa. 

The best way to water these plants is to test the soil regularly with your finger beforehand. Leave the soil to dry out 2-3 inches down before watering again. Ensure the pots have enough drainage holes to prevent overwatering and root rot. 

Luckily, these plants have a handy indicator of when to water. When underwatered, the leaves will start to wilt and curl, indicating the soil has dried. This response is more pronounced in the Philodendron than in the Pothos due to the differences in leaf thickness but can help stop you from severely underwatering and killing either plant. 

Soil 

Popular Houseplants in Fresh Soil
The use of well-draining soil in the containers for each of these plants is best for them to thrive.

Like most houseplants, Pothos and Philodendron require a very well-draining soil mix to suit the conditions indoors. Regular potting soil is not ideal as it typically does not drain well enough or fast enough to prevent root rot in indoor plants. 

The best soil mix for both plants is a combination of potting soil, coconut coir or peat moss, and perlite. The potting soil provides nutrients and holds water, while the coconut coir also retains some moisture and lightens the mix. Perlite improves aeration and drainage. 

Pothos and Philodendron will be happy in this mix, or any other specialized houseplant potting mix

Ease of Growth 

Tropical Houseplants Close Up
Though philodendrons may require a little more work, they are both very easy to care for and maintain.

Pothos and Philodendrons are some of the easiest houseplants to grow and care for. With the right conditions, they will both grow rapidly and can largely be left alone. They are ideal for beginners, or areas of your home that may get less attention – like a home office. 

In terms of watering, Philodendrons are slightly fussier than Pothos due to their thinner leaves. However, thanks to their color, they can also tolerate lower lighting conditions. Both plants are not bothered by a lower humidity, with Pothos handling heat better than Philodendron thanks to their waxy leaves and thick stems. 

They are also both easy to propagate using the same methods. Simply snip a four-inch piece of the stem off just below a leaf node. Pop that into a glass filled with filtered water or a propagating soil mix and grow even more of these plants within a few weeks. 

No matter which one you choose, you can be sure these plants will give you little trouble if any. 

Uses 

Climbing Tropical Plants in Pots Planted Indoors
As excellent beginner-friendly houseplants, both of these are common in pots or hanging containers inside of homes.

Due to their similar growth habits and appearance, Pothos and climbing Philodendrons are used for the same purposes. As houseplants, they are great for beginners or low-light areas and are some of the go-to plants when starting out in plant care. 

Their cascading stems make them ideal candidates for hanging baskets. In pots, they are often found placed on shelves to drop down, creating a wonderful foliage feature. However, they should both be kept away from any pets as they contain toxic compounds that cause mild to severe symptoms when ingested. 

Final Thoughts 

Although these plants look very similar, they are only related by family and are not the same plants. Luckily, they have very similar growing conditions, allowing you to grow one or both in the same areas without worrying which is which. 

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