What’s the Difference Between Pothos And Philodendron?

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Heartleaf Pothos and Philodendron are often mistaken for one another since a few of the varieties look quite interchangeable.

I have a lemon lime Philodendron and a neon Pothos, and…I totally get why people get them mixed up. I can tell them apart easily, but when someone says ‘Philodendron have more heart-shaped leaves’ that’s actually not much use if you only have one of the plants.

So consider this a guide. The best way to learn to tell the difference between the two is to buy one of each (I highly recommend the neon Pothos and the Lemon lime Philodendron since they’re very similar in colour) and check them out for yourself.

Actually, it’s more than a guide. It’s an acknowledgement that telling plants apart when you’re new to the hobby is hard. Do NOT let people shame you for not knowing.

Leaf shape

I already briefly covered this, but it’s a bit annoying. People ALWAYS say that heartleaf Philodendron leaves are more heart-shaped than Pothos (I guess the clue’s in the name!) BUT THAT’S NO GOOD IF YOU ONLY HAVE POTHOS IN FRONT OF YOU.

Unless I just have a weird idea of what a heart is, they both have heart-shaped leaves.

LOOK

Here’s a Neon Pothos Leaf:

neon pothos leaf shape

That’s a freaking HEART.

Aaaand here’s a Lemon Lime Philodendron:

True, it’s a less elongated, more heart-y heart, but that doesn’t stop the Pothos leaf from being heartshaped.

Why am I so mad about this..?

Another thing I read a lot is that heartleaf Philodendron taper more towards the end. Again, only useful if you have both because they both very much taper to a point (you know, because they’re both heart-shaped.

Have a look at the picture above.

Actually, I’ll just put them side by side:

philodendron lemon lime leaf next to neon pothos leaf

Ok, so if someone showed you that picture and said ‘which leaf tapers more towards the end?’ you wouldn’t immediately be able to tell, would you? You’d have to look for a few seconds.

The Pothos tapers more smoothly, there’s more of like, a step, on the Philodendron.

Anyhoo, let’s move on

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Leaf texture

I’m gonna use the same picture again because you’re probs reading this on your phone and its a pita to have to keep scrolling up and down.

Again, not much use unless you have both in front of you, but a Pothos has a much thicker, sturdier leaf.

The texture is more pronounced and they can hold their shape for longer in the event of a drought (of which there are, alas, many in my house).

When a heartleaf Philodendron is underwatered they go papery and sad quite quickly, whereas neon pothos are fine for the longest time and then collapse very dramatically.

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Cataphylls

Here are the cataphylls on a Neon Pothos:

cataphyll on neon pothos

The cataphyll is the sheath that the leaf is encased in as it’s developing. Biologically speaking it’s a kind of pseudo leaf that protects the leaf until it emerges.

Anyone that’s ever tried to ‘help’ a leaf unfurl can attest to the fact that they’re very delicate before they’ve hardened off, and if it weren’t for the cataphylls, probably would never grow.

Neon Pothos don’t give a hoot about their cataphylls and cast them off pretty soon after the leaf unfurls. The one pictured above was the only one on my entire Neon Pothos.

If you’re not sure whether you’ve got a Pothos or a heartleaf Philodendron, look for dried-up cataphylls. If you can’t find any, you’ve probably got a Pothos on your hands.

If you can see a bunch, it’s more likely to be a heartleaf Philodendron. Here’s what it should look like:

cataphyll on heartleaf philondedron

Loads of dried-up cataphylls are still attached to the node.

Shout out to the thrips that destroyed most of the leaves on my heartleaf philodendron and made this photo possible. 

Thanks, guys. You're always there when I need you.
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Aerial roots

I have a whole article about aerial roots here that goes into a lot of detail about developing the roots of heartleaf Philodendrons so that they can use them to climb.

Pothos have short, stubby aerial roots that will start to grow if you have the humidity high enough. They tart off life all optimistic, grow a few millimetres, realise that there isn’t really the humidity required to climb, and callous over.

Exhibit A:

aerial root on a neon pothos
Wow, so much blurry

This is in standard room humidity. I think it’s about 55% in here.

The thought process here is something like ‘I’ll try. I’ll give aerial roots a go and then I can always stop if it’s not humid enough.

And then, in contrast, we have heartleaf Philodendron aerial roots in ambient humidity:

aerial root on a heartleaf philodendron

The SECOND that node grew it was like ‘absolutely NOT with the aerial roots. I’ll produce one because I have to, but it WILL be shrivelled and sad.’

Again, I'm taking this WAY too personally

So this is all fine, plants can do what they like, but then LOOK AT WHEN THEY GET A BIT OF HUMIDITY.

Ok, so here’s the Marble Queen Pothos in my terrarium. She’s just no bothered about aerial roots. She has perfect conditions, why not grow some leaves? She’s actually repurposed her aerial roots as ground roots for a bit of stability.

marble queen pothos aerial roots

Again, apologies for the blurriness but it’s hard taking photos in the terrarium because obvs I ahve to take this lid off and this little guy is quite the escape artist:

If it feels like I’m building to something, I am.

So Pothos are extremely chill re. their aerial roots.

Heartleaf Philodendron? Not so much.

A SNIFF of high humidity and they go WILD:

heartleaf philodendron aerial roots

Gross.

Every node will have three or four hairy aerials. It’s a grim business.

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Are Pothos and Philodendron related taxonomically speaking?

Pothos and Philodendron are both Aroids, so they belong to the same family, called Araceae. But then so are Monstera, Anthurium, Alocasia, Syngoniums, Diffienbachia and, bizarrely, ZZ plants.

However, heartleaf Philodendrons are part of the Philodendron genus, and Pothos are part of the Epipremnum genus.

ZZ plants have their only genus, which surprises no ones.
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Are Scindapsus the same as Pothos?

Again, Pothos and Scindapsus are in the same family (Araceae) but have different genera. Scindapsus aren’t Epipremnum but have their own genus because they only have the one ovule on their ovary, whereas Epipremnums have a few.

Scindapsus have thicker leaves and a silvery sheen. I also find them to be more tolerant of low light and are great for beginners because they curl their leaves up noticeably when they’re thirsty.

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Can you mix Pothos and Philodendron together?

Yes! I think it looks really cool because they grow in the same way but also, er, slightly differently. They tend to need similar care so you can water/fertilise/use grow lights without worrying that one isn’t going to like it.

If you feel like you have too many plants (especially if you love to propagate them) consolidating them all into one pot is a great way to condense your collection without having to actually get rid of any plants.

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Which is better, Pothos or Philodendron?

In terms of care, I find them to be almost identical. I used to think that Philodendron were easier to care for and did better than Pothos because my neon pothos would NOT grow in the beginning. Her roots kept dying in soil so I’ll have to regrow them in water every few months. And then something happened and she started thriving AND THEN MY LEMON LIME PHILODENDRON DECLINED. They seem to have some kind of understanding whereby only one can be doing well at once.

In the terrarium, they behave VERY differently (aerial roots aside). The marble queen pothos has stayed very compact. Her internodal spacing is virtually non-existent and she looks really bushy and cool. She also seems to prefer to crawl along the ground rather than climb.

The heartleaf philodendron is big on climbing (the picture I took of the furry aerial roots shows her trying to adhere to and climb glass). Now she’s in the big terrarium she’s intent on climbing all over the logs in the middle, and she seems to have increased the internodal space in order to climb, but now she’s reached the top she’s decreased the spacing and is concentrating on growing big leaves.

I’m gonna apologise for the crap photos, but it’s hard to not get reflections. I’ll have to research how to do that. So here’s the marble queen:

marble queen pothos in terrarium

So there she is, just chilling in her corner.

The Philodendron, however, has crawled EVERYWHERE. I couldn’t get good pictures because of the freaking frog bouncing around. I’m gonna post the crap ones I got because he’s cute.

Hope you enjoyed the article, and that you can now tell the difference between heartleaf Philodendron and Pothos – not that it matters AT ALL if you can’t. Apologies if you don’t like frogs.

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