How to Grow A Fenestrated Pothos

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One of the rights of passage that a houseplant newbie MUST go through when visiting Hawaii or Florida or similar is to get VERY excited at seeing wild golden Pothos and mistaking them for variegated Monstera.

(And considering committing a felony by bringing one home with them.)

Whilst I do NOT recommend risking jail for a plant, a Golden Pothos is an AWESOME alternative to a variegated Monstera. 

They don't get the holes in the leaves, but they're variegated, they get splits and they get MASSIVE.

They’re also a good 20th of the price.

Do Pothos get split leaves?

I have a full article on Pothos care here where we touch on the fact that Pothos in the houseplant world aren’t of the genus Pothos, but are in fact Epipremnum aureum.

I’m not telling you that to prove how much I know about houseplants, but rather to explain:

a) which Pothos we’re on about in case anyone wants to be smart arse (though if you want to be a smart arse about something else go ahead – what else is a comment section for?) and

b) that all Pothos in the Epipremnum genus can grow those big fenestrated leaves. Not all Epipremnum do (though many do) but all the main Pothos gang, such as Marble Queen and Manjula, can get those big fenestrated leaves. It’s easiest with Golden Pothos though, because they tend to grow faster.

Why are my Pothos leaves splitting?

As with Monstera, we don’t 100% know why they fenestrate. With Monstera, the likely reason is to allow light to pass through to lower leaves, and maximise the size of leaf without shading out the leaves below.

Whilst this could be true for Pothos, the fact that they don’t have holes in the leaves suggests that there’s another reason. It’s generally assumed that Pothos leaves split to reduce damage in high winds.

Pothos come from French Polynesia – small islands in the middle of the Pacific. Coastal places tend to be pretty windy, so if a plant’s main aim is to climb as high as it can, it’s going to need to be able to withstand high winds, otherwise it’ll risk being damaged.

The solution? Pre-ripped leaves! Sure if the wind rips the leaves it’s rarely the end of the world for the plant BUT it does increase the chance of bacteria and pests getting into the leaf wound.

Having splits in the leaves makes the leaf more flexible and less susceptible to damage.

You can see in these pictures that the leaves rip anyway, so as they get bigger and bigger, it makes sense that they split by design.

How do you get Pothos to fenestrate?

It’s not difficult to grow MASSIVE Pothos leaves, you just have to, er, forget everything you know about Pothos.

Loads of light

This is the big one. Pothos are often touted as easy-care, low-light plants but they won’t thrive in low-light – they just won’t die. If you put them in a LOT of light (acclimate them first, kids, we don’t want them to burn) they will grow bigger, faster, and with more variegation on the leaves. They’ll also reach maturity (so produce fenestrated leaves) faster.

Grow lights work fine – the Marble Queen in my terrarium was growing leaves so big she had to be evicted under these lights.

Plenty of water

In summer, you want to be watering your Pothos at least weekly. NOW this doesn’t mean you water it weekly regardless of whether it needs it or not. Rather, you need your Pothos to be in a substrate that dries out after about a week.

I also recommend keeping it in a pot that’s barely bigger than the root ball. Sure, you have to repot more often, but it means they’re more likely to devote all their time to growing roots.

High humidity is also a good shout. Not only does it help plants grow faster, but it makes them more likely to develop long aerial roots to attach to…whatever you give them to attach to.

A wall will do. The more aerial roots you have attaching to whatever they’re growing up, the more stable the plant will feel, and the more fenestrated the leaves will be.

If the plant doesn’t feel stable, it won’t risk growing big leaves, because it’s a waste of energy if it’s just going to get blown down and potentially damaged.

Feed it frequently

Fertilising house plants is as easy or complicated as you want to make it. I’ve been experimenting with fertilising my Pothos every time I water this summer and it worked pretty well for a bit but then they stopped growing. I cut it to every other watering and it’s gone really well.

EXCEPT

Pothos N’Joy. He HATED being fertilised so often so I fertilise him monthly.

That being said, you don’t need to fertilise that often. Every 6 weeks is plenty if that’s all you can manage, but you might see slightly slower/smaller growth.

Grow it up something

This is key. If your plant thinks it’s climbing a tree, it’ll mature faster, because it thinks it’s gonna get windier soon.

I wonder if aiming a fan on it will mature the leaves faster? Has anyone tried this?? I'm only half kidding.

Moss poles are something you need to work for yourself in terms of preference. I, for example, am terrible at keeping moss damp but I like to have plants attach themselves rather than be tied to a moss pole.

Therefore my only option is to use a Kratiste pole, which are reminiscent enough of treebark that aerial roots attach be themselves. They’re not moist, so the plant won’t develop a large aerial root system like it could in a sphagnum pole, but since I can’t keep one wet enough for them to do that anyway, it doesn’t matter to me.

Are Hawaiian Pothos and Golden Pothos the same?

This is a contentious issue but I think they are. They’re definitely the same species of plant – the argument is whether they’re actually the same (so can all Golden Pothos potentially mature to look like a Hawaiian Pothos with the right care) or they’re different.

There are a lot of different forms of plants, so large vs small form Monstera, variegation, etc etc etc. However, I saw a guy on either Reddit or Instagram get ripped apart in the comments for claiming that his small and large form Monstera were genetically the same, despite the fact both plants were taken as cuttings from the SAME mother plant.

In my opinion (and a LOT of people disagree) all Golden Pothos have the potential to grow big like Hawaiian Pothos.

Some will, some won’t, but there are no guarantees. It’s like kids – two tall people are more likely to have a tall kid, but it’s not guaranteed.

Final thoughts

Your Pothos deserves more light, higher humidity, and a fancy pants moss pole. They look SO COOL when they’re mature, and they’re a great, cheap, easy-care plant once they’re well-established.

Caroline Cocker

Caroline is the founder and writer (and plant keeper) of Planet Houseplant

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