When you first set your eyes on a pothos plant, it can be easy to mistake it for a philodendron. After all, the two plants have similarly-shaped leaves, vine-like growth habits, and almost identical coloring.
However, as you’ll discover below, it’s easy to tell them apart. Check out the key pothos vs philodendron differences below.
Pothos and philodendrons have different taxonomies. Scientists classify philodendron under the Philodendron genus, whereas pothos belong to the Epipremnum genus.
In other words, these two plants are biologically distinct and, therefore, can’t interbreed—even if they both belong to the Araceae plant family.
Leaves: Shape, Color, and Texture
Pothos leaves are heart-shaped, though their other visual characteristics differ depending on the variety that you encounter. For example, golden photos are mottled with yellow tones, whereas jade pothos have an even, vibrant green coloring.
As for philodendrons, the most popular ones are probably those that have dark green heart-shaped leaves with lime-green stripes running down the middle—but not all philodendrons look like this. In fact, most philodendron varieties are solid green, and some of them, like the Bob Cee variety, aren’t even heart-shaped.
But let’s say you want to tell the difference between philodendron and pothos that have similar color and shape. What do you need to look for?
On feeling the leaves, for example, you can notice some differences. Philodendron leaves are softer and thinner to the touch; they are pliable and bend easily. Pothos, on the other hand, have thicker and waxier leaves that tend to snap upon bending.
Aerial Roots and Petioles
Since philodendrons and pothos are both vine plants, they have aerial roots that protrude above the soil, gripping anything they can find in the local environment. This means they can climb up trees, posts, or a trellis out in your front yard.
The key difference is this: pothos only have one aerial root per node—i.e., the spot where a petiole meets the plant’s stem—whereas philodendrons have multiple roots per node. This means a more sprawling and untamed appearance for philodendron vs pothos, which boast a comparatively neater aspect.
If you look closely, you’ll see that philodendrons have rounded petioles, whereas pothos’ petioles are thicker and indented towards the stem. In other words, a philodendron leaf’s stem arches out, whereas a pothos leaves’ stem juts out straight.
The Growth of Baby Leaves
You can also tell pothos apart from philodendrons by looking at each plant’s baby leaves.
Before philodendrons sprout new foliage, they form cataphylls—a small paper-like case that protects new leaves. This casing remains attached to the plant for a long time after the leaves unfurl into their fully-grown form. Over time, it dries out and eventually falls off.
Pothos, on the other hand, don’t have cataphylls. Instead, new leaves grow from old leaves’ bases. Pothos, therefore, tend to retain a similar appearance over time, whereas a heart-leaf philodendron can change considerably as it ages.
Furthermore, philodendron leaves tend to have a pinkish color when they first emerge, often with a slight yellow tint close to the stem. Pothos leaves, for comparison, begin as a tightly curled light green bud. As the leaves from both plants mature, they take their characteristic deep green hue.
Growing Conditions and Care
Philodendrons and pothos are low-maintenance houseplants. Both will grow and thrive in temperatures ranging from 60°F to 90°F, which means they’re great options for an indoor plant display.
Ideally, you should put them somewhere with bright, indirect light, to mimic the conditions of the forest floor. We recommend placing them in a room that has plenty of natural light, but not right beside the window, as too much sun can burn the leaves. For example, you could place a neon pothos plant on one of your kitchen shelves or set up a philodendron hanging basket in your living room.
If you see the leaves’ color is fading, it means that the plant isn’t getting enough light. Moving them to a sunnier spot should reinvigorate the leaves and turn them to a dark green color again.
Also, keep in mind that water requirements vary between both species. Philodendrons require watering once or twice a week (only once the top soil has dried out), whereas pothos are highly drought resistant.
The difference between pothos and philodendron is subtle for the untrained eye. After all, they belong to the same plant family and can have a very similar appearance.
But now that you know what to look for, you should be able to identify the two species like an expert.
Are pothos and philodendron the same thing?
No. Pothos and philodendrons are two different species. However, confusion arises because they are both common houseplants that share a similar leaf structure and belong to the same plant family.
Is pothos a type of ivy?
Technically, no, since it isn’t a part of the Hedera plant family. However, people sometimes refer to it as “devil’s ivy” because it has similar characteristics to this type of greenery. Pothos is a vine plant with leaves that can stay green for a long time, even when deprived of sunlight.
Is philodendron toxic?
Yes. But this is a moot point in the pothos vs philodendron debate, as both plants are equally toxic for humans and pets. Consuming either of them can lead to lip swelling and a burning feeling on the tongue and throat.
Which is better: pothos or philodendron?
Both are sturdy plants, easy to care for, and quick to grow. If you’re a beginner in the houseplant department, either of them is a great choice. That said, pothos is more drought-resistant and has a more controlled growth than philodendron. So, if you’re the forgetful type, pothos could be a better fit for you.