Quick Plant Care: Pothos vs Philodendron

Quick Care Guides | House Plants

The Philodendron and the Pothos are two of the most popular houseplant species in the UK. Both plants are easy to look after and have similar features that mean they are often confused even though they have some differences.

In this article we will help you recognise the differences between these popular plants so you can give them the proper care and choose the right plant for your home.

 

Why knowing the difference matters

The Philodendron and Pothos are both tropical houseplants native to Southeast Asia and the rainforests of Africa. Despite having the same origin and being closely related, the plants have slightly different care requirements, so knowing which plant you have is essential for giving your plant the best chance of thriving.

Pothos care - the Pothos prefers brighter light conditions than a Philodendron and should be placed in a sunny room but out of direct light. Next to or near a south-facing window would be ideal, but any bright space will do.

The Pothos is also more drought tolerant so needs less watering than a Philodendron. If overwatered or given too little light, the leaves will discolour and wilt. If put in a cold draught, it can also go into shock, so it needs to be kept warm.

Philodendron care - The Philodendron can tolerate lower light conditions than a Pothos and will get sunburnt if put in direct sunlight. Varieties such as the Philodendron Brazil or variegated species may also blister if overexposed. A Philodendron also requires more water than a Pothos and, if under-watered, it will begin to brown and wilt.   

The difference in care is small but important and getting it wrong can cause harm to your plant, so knowing which one you have is key to keeping your home and its plants healthy.

So, what are the differences you need to be aware of? Here are a few key differences between the two: 

 

Leaf differences

At first glance, the leaves of these two tropical house plants look similar, but with the right know-how, this is the quickest and most efficient way to identify the differences between the Philodendron and the Pothos. While both commonly have green leaves, a Pothos leaf tends to be thicker and green with a waxier feel that has a raised, bumpy texture. The middle of the leaf will also have a slightly indented vein running down the length of the leaf, which has a spade-like shape.

Philodendrons tend to have heart shaped leaves with a smoother texture and a more pointed leaf tip. The vein that runs down the middle of the leaf is also untextured and usually has a lighter colour than the rest of the leaf. You will also find that the place where the leaf meets the stem is also more rounded.

 

Petioles

The petiole is the stalk that attaches the leaf to the main stem of the plant. These are also different in the Philodendron versus the Pothos. 

The Pothos petiole has a grooved ridge running parallel to the leaf stem. It is also slightly thicker and woodier, with a colour that is the same as the foliage. A Philodendron petiole is smooth and round with brown colour or green, but lighter-shaded than the foliage.

 

Growth habit

Another way to tell the difference between the two plants is by looking at how they produce new growth. A new Pothos leaf will unfurl from older growth and is a lighter green colour than the rest of the plant.

New Philodendron leaves will grow on small vines in an opaque sheath called a cataphyll. This sheath will slowly become papery and brown before falling off on its own. Cataphylls only appear on Philodendrons, so if you cannot get a clear identification from the leaves, this is a surefire way to check. 

 

Colour of new growth

The way that new leaves appear is not the only difference between the two plants. Fresh Philodendron leaves will emerge from their cataphylls, a different colour from the main plant. This colour difference can be pronounced in some varieties, with new growth appearing pink, brown, or orange or red. New growth on a Pothos will generally emerge as the same colour as the rest of the plant but will often be a lighter shade for the first few weeks. 

 

Aerial roots

A feature of many tropical plants, Aerial roots grow on the above-ground parts of a plant. They are used to help the plant fix to trellises or canes and absorb water and nutrients from the air.

Both Pothos and Philodendrons have aerial roots that will attach to any rough surfaces and leave dark marks on anything they attach to, so keep your plant away from anything you don’t want it grasping onto. 

Pothos' aerial roots emerge as small bumpy nodes on the stem and develop quickly. Typically only one root grows per node, but they are particularly strong in Devil’s Ivy Pothos varieties. In contrast, Philodendron’s aerial roots are more numerous and emerge in groups of two to six that resemble their own root system.  

There are very few differences when comparing Pothos and Philodendrons, but you can make sure you are giving your plant the perfect care by using these simple tips. If you like the sound of these plants, then why not add them to your houseplant collection.

 

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