Philodendron and Pothos—Favorites Among Houseplants

To say I enjoy houseplants is an understatement. With well over 200 different kinds in my possession, it is rather difficult to pick my favorite. Each has a unique quality that makes it  special to me. However, the philodendron (Philodendron spp.) and pothos (Epipremnum aureum) varieties would be at the top of my special list of houseplants.

At first glance, these  beautiful plants look very similar. Both can be trailers or climbers and look stunning with any décor. If you choose to let them climb, you may notice thaHeart Leaf Philodendron, Neon Pothos, Philodendron Brazilt the leaves at the top seem to be twice the size of the bottom leaves. This might be because they receive more light at the top. Philodendron and pothos plants that are left to trail can sometimes find nooks and crannies  to attach to – which can be a very interesting focal point in any room. 

Cebu Blue Pothos and Golden PothosPhilodendrons and pothos plants require about the same amount of light, readily adapting to medium light situations which make them easy to grow. Do not place them in higher light, such as a south-facing window, because their leaves easily burn. They are most happy near an east/west window. Plants that are variegated or have higher shades of white may enjoy being closer to a light source. 

Water requirements are also very similar. I usually check my plants once a week with a probe to see if they are dry. Sometimes they need water, but other times they are happy to be watered every other week. Watch for soft yellow leaves – this is a sign of  overwatering your plant. 

How can you tell the difference between a philodendron and a pothos plant? First, look at the leaves. The philodendron leaf is shaped like a heart with the top center portion near the  petiole dipping down in a “v” pattern. I like to think of the catchy phrase: “Phil has my heart” and then I remember the philodendron is shaped like a heart. The top of the pothos leaf is  straight. left - Philodendron Brazil, right - Neon Pothos Note the different leaf shapes.

Another difference is the philodendron’s new leaves. When a new leaf grows on a philodendron, it comes from cataphylls, which are small leaves that surround and protect the  new leaf as it grows. These cataphylls remain on the plant after the new leaf has uncurled and eventually dry up and fall off. These are very noticeable and look like dying leaves. Pothos  plants do not grow new leaves in this manner. They just simply grow and uncurl from the previous leaf. 

Cataphylls left over from the new leafPhilodendrons and pothos not only make excellent houseplants, but they also make excellent housewarming, birthday, or special occasion gifts as well. They are an easy and carefree plant to add to any plant collection. 

--Sandi Rowsey, Secrest Master Gardener Volunteer Intern