What is the difference? – A PUZZLE

Two of the most popular houseplants, Pothos and Heartleaf Philodendron, are often confused. Many growers own a plant for years before learning its true identity, but they have some important differences. It’s actually not that hard to tell the two plants apart, and this article compares pothos to philodendron so you can still identify them.

Summary of Pothos vs. Philodendron: The shiny leaves of a Pothos are thicker than the dull, elongated, heart-shaped leaves of a Philodendron Heartleaf. A Pothos has solitary aerial roots and ridged petioles, while Philodendrons have slender, clustered aerial roots, smooth petioles, distinctive cataphylls, and color variation of new growth.


Overview of Pothos versus Philodendron

Unsurprisingly, these popular houseplants have common names. bros it is often known as Devil’s Ivy, Money Plant, Taro vine and Silver Vine. All these names refer to the same plant, known by its scientific name Epipremnum aureum† Although even that is a little more confusing, as you will sometimes see it as: Scindapsus aureus† This is a scientific synonym of the same plant, but is not the officially accepted scientific name.

Philodendrons are a large and diverse plant genus, but there are popular Philodendrons that are often confused with Pothos. Above all, philodendron leaf heartAlso known as sweet plant, it is often confused with Pothos. This plant has the scientific name philodendron hederaceumbut very often it is seen under the synonym scandinavian philodendron

Philodendrons and Pothos belong to the same family, aroidsbut Pothos belongs to the genus Epiprenum, and philodendrons belong to the genus Philodendron

So before you even know what these plants look like, you can see that identifying them by name can cause a lot of confusion. Pothos and Heartleaf Philodendron are sometimes even mislabeled by retailers, adding to the confusion.

Both plants have broad green or variegated leaves on vines that can creep or climb. They also grow to about the same size and require the same care. Both are considered low maintenance.

Why is identification important?

Botanical curiosity is just one reason to discover your plant’s true identity. Although closely related, Pothos and Philodendrons have distinct differences. In general, a Pothos is stronger and will grow faster than a Philodendron.

The leaves of a Philodendron are generally a more uniform green than those of Pothos, although each has surprisingly varied varieties.

Main differences that distinguish them:


Although it can adapt to low light, a Pothos prefers it. bright, indirect light …and they usually want more than a Philodendron. The plant does not tolerate direct sun, but can be more intense than a Philodendron without sunburn. It is also slightly more drought tolerant.

A Pothos can handle hot weather, but they don’t like cold temperatures. Its roots can be shocked if it receives icy water.


A Philodendron Heartleaf can thrive in lower light conditions than a Pothos. They also retain their variation better in low light.

It’s a little easier to spread a philodendron (although both types are easy). They are also more resistant to cold. Philodendrons will stop growing in a cold environment and won’t tolerate frost, but they are less susceptible to stress from lower temperatures than a Pothos.

Pothos vs Philodendron – Differences Between Leaves

Differences Between Pothos and Philodendron Leaves

Although superficially similar, the leaves of the two plants have distinct differences that allow an experienced gardener to tell them apart at a glance. The wide variation within each species can obscure these points in some cases, but checking the leaves is usually the quickest method.


Check the middle part of the leaf: heart-leaved philodendrons tend to be more rounded and heart-shaped with a longer, beak-like tip. Pothos leaves tend to be more irregular in shape with shorter, less pointed tips.


Philodendron leaves are thinner and have a smooth surface. The top is smooth, almost velvety.

A Pothos leaf is thicker and the top is slightly raised with a bit of texture. It also has a well-defined crest along the central midrib which Philodendron lacks. A Pothos top also looks and feels slightly waxed.


Heartleaf Philodendron leaves have a matte finish that absorbs light. The waxy surface of a Pothos leaf gives off a brilliant sheen.

Leaf protection: does it have cataphyll?

pothos cataphyll vs philodendronPothos without cataphyll (left), Heartleaf Philodendron with cataphyll (right)

You’ll need to know some lesser-known plant parts to use this method, but it provides sure identification.

Philodendrons have a specialized sheath called a cataphyll. It grows from a stem node and protects all emerging leaves.

The cataphyll is actually its own modified leaf. It stays on the stem for a short time to continue photosynthesis while the “true” leaf develops. The cataphyll eventually becomes very fine and turns brown before drying out and falling off.

Pothos do not have these structures: their new leaves simply grow from an older leaf.

new growth color

New foliage comparison: Pothos (left), Heartleaf Philodendron (right)

Heartleaf Philodendron certainly has some quirks. A special feature is that the new leaves often have a different color from the main plant.

Emerging Philodendron foliage may have a brown or pinkish tint. This color variation is more pronounced in some species: a dark green mother plant may have olive-colored new foliage, or fresh growth may have orange or reddish hues.

Pothos doesn’t get so fancy with its new leaf. New leaves may be a lighter shade than the original, but they won’t appear a completely different color.

the petiole

pothos vs petiole of philodendronRibbed petiole of Pothos (left), smooth petiole of Heart-leaved Philodendron (right).

There are easily noticeable differences in the petiole of the two plants. The petiole is the short stem that attaches a leaf to the main vine.

The petiole of a Philodendron is round and smooth along its entire length. It is usually brown or slightly lighter in color than the leaves.

The petiole of a Pothos has a ribbed edge parallel to the petiole. The petiole is also slightly thicker than that of a philodendron. The color is the same or slightly lighter than the sheet.

aerial roots

pothos vs philodendron aerial roots Aerial roots of Pothos (left) Aerial roots of Heartleaf Philodendron (right)

Aerial roots grow above the ground. These roots grow from leaf nodes and can absorb moisture and nutrients; they act as small local powerhouses along the stem of the vine. They allow the plant to climb and anchor itself for support.

Pothos and Philodendrons have aerial roots. Note that these are also aggressive roots – they will cling to any rough surface. Constrain your plant unless you want it to climb; Otherwise, they may leave dark root stains on the wall or furniture after you remove them.

Pothos have limited aerial roots that emerge as small, thick growths. There is one root per node.

Philodendron aerial roots are more extensive and may resemble their own root system. They are increasingly slender than the Pothos and appear in groups of two to six, or even more.

Note: Aerial roots can become long and unsightly, but do not prune them during their peak growth period as they usually respond by multiplying. Cut them out of season.

Sort varieties

Don’t be confused by the many varieties of Pothos and Heartleaf Philodendron, which, unsurprisingly, often have vague names randomly assigned by retailers. The botanical differences we discussed still apply.

Knowing the difference between a Pothos and a Philodendron is helpful, but other closely related species can also be a challenge. The most common source of confusion is the satin studswhat does one do Scindapsus pictus, and not in the same genus as Philodendron hederaceum or Epipremnum aureum. Although it shares many similarities with Pothos and Heartleaf Philodendron, Satin Pothos’ characteristic leaf pattern is usually quite easy to spot.

scindapsus pictusSatin Pothos – not Pothos or Philodendron, but actually Scindapsus pictus

Variants of Pothos

While both species have variegated cultivars, Pothos has more forms. The most popular is the gold-colored Golden Pothos, but even the mostly green Jade Pothos can have cream-colored flecks. The Marble Queen Pothos has a striking “broken” hue.

Pothos need fairly bright (indirect) lighting to maintain their variety. They tend to revert to fully green leaves to fuel photosynthesis in low light conditions.

Variants of philodendron

Philodendrons also have several cultivars, but there is not as much variety among them. One of the more unusual varieties is the ace of spades: the leaves have dark undersides that begin orange-red. It looks less like a standard Philodendron than an ordinary Pothos! Finally, the variegated forms of the Philodendrons generally have sharper delineations and retain their color better than the Pothos in low light.

Pothos versus Philodendron: final word

Although this is quite a technical article, I hope this has helped you clarify the difference between common pothos and philodendron houseplants. It’s amazing how two plants that look alike at first glance can be easily identified with just a few key characteristics.

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