Here’s Why Your Pothos Leaves Are Turning Transparent

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I’m not gonna lie, this really freaked me out when I first saw this, because my Pothos leaves were literally transparent. I’ve seen oedema in plants before, and the leaves go a bit translucent, but the leaves were like little bits of glass.

Did I take pictures? No. Even though it’s my job. Never mind.

Don’t worry my Pothos is fine now. And hasn’t turned transparent again.

Whilst transparent Pothos aren’t necessarily going to die or anything, it can be a sign that there’s an issue somewhere. In my case, I was neglecting my plant. I was letting it get too dry, and I wasn’t staying on top of thrips.

I wasn't caring for it badly enough for it to perish, but badly enough that excess water burst its cells to the point that it became completely transparent. 

There are a few other reasons your Pothos leaves may become transparent. It can also be a combination of all of them – especially in winter. Too much water can lead to cold damage, can lead to pests moving in etc etc.

It’s a vicious cycle. If you’re having this issue in winter, I’m not surprised. But don’t worry, it can be fixed.

Oedema

Oedema happens when your Pothos (or whatever plant) takes up so much water that its cells burst.

It sounds worse than it is.

Whilst repeated oedema can cause long-term damage, unless your overwatering, your plant can recover. 

It's perfectly normal, and can happen every time you water.

In a healthy plant, oedema won’t harm your plants. The cells can repair themselves and move on with their day. If you’re worried that your plants have too much oedema, you can supplement them with silica to make them stronger.

If oedema was harmful, plants would have worked out a way to regulate their water intake.

You might see that the underside of your plant’s leaf has darker marks on it – they usually look like the leaf is wet.

In some thicker-leafed plants, such as fiddle-leaf fig trees, the oedema shows up as red or black spots on the leaves.

Again, it's not harmful, it's just what they do. 

Do your best to water your plant consistently, so your plant doesn't stay too wet or dry out too quickly, but don't panic if you see oedema.

Cold damage

It’s unlikely that oedema by itself could cause a Pothos to go completely transparent (though you never know) BUT coupled with cold damage and it definitely could.

Cold weather can stop the plant from repairing the broken

cells as quickly.

It can tempting to water plants with warm water in winter, but it can be detrimental. Not only can it shock the roots, but it can rapidly decrease the temperature of the soil.

The shock can also temporarily halt the healing process so the oedema isn’t repaired and the leaf can turn transparent.

Bacterial damage

Again bacterial damage is unlikely to cause Pothos leaves to go transparent by themselves, but it’s the next step after oedema and then cold damage. A plant that’s in shock, especially in a cold, damp environment, is the perfect host for a bacterial infection.

If you notice black spots on transparent leaves, this can be a sign that there’s a bacterial infection. I personally remove these leaves because they’re likely to do more harm than good to the plant.

I spray my plant down with castile soap and let it recover in a warm, bright spot.

Pest damage

This is similar to bacterial infections.

Pests like thrips are attracted to stressed plants.

The thinner leaves make it easier to extract the juices from them.

Again, adding silica to the soil can help the leaves grow thicker, giving pests a harder time.

Nutrient deficiency

It would take an extreme nutrient deficiency to cause transparent leaves in Pothos, and would result in a pretty weak plant.

To reduce the chance of the fertiliser harming the plant, I would opt to add something natural and gentle, but super nourishing to the soil, such as worm castings.

Severe underwatering

Severe underwatering on its own is more likely to cause brown spots on the leaves than transparent leaves BUT if you’re one of the many, many people that go through a neglect – overwater – repeat cycle (no shame – this was me for YEARS) then that can cause transparent leaves.

What happens is that the roots take up a lot of water (who knows when they’ll next get the chance?!) and they get oedema.

Unfortunately, the leaves are incredibly brittle and delicate because they don’t have moisture. The cells within the leaf don’t so much burst as disintegrate, so you’re just left with the shell of the leaf.

Can a transparent leaf turn green again?

In my experience, no.

Possibly, with enough TLC, but they’re very weakened. I usually chop them off so the plant can concentrate its energy on repairing the healthier leaves, rather than performing necromancy on the transparent ones.

You can always chop off the stem where the leaves are and propagate it so you don’t lose anything (add it back in with the mother plant for a bushier Pothos).

Final thoughts

Transparent leaves in Pothos are usually caused by oedema and either one or several other issues. Oedema is a perfectly normal occurrence after watering, but things like cold and pests can exacerbate the issue to such a point that the plant can’t be repaired.

Caroline Cocker

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

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