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What's the difference between a pothos and a philodendron?

While these two popular houseplant varieties look similar, they're actually pretty different

Since we first opened our doors at NODE, trailing houseplants have been popular. There's a reason #plantshelfie has been trending for years. Nothing looks better than a beautiful decked-out shelf at home with some lush houseplants cascading down, especially if they're colorful with unique foliage.

What's in a name?

And two of the most enduringly popular have been pothos and philodendrons. With heaps of cultivars and hybrids, there's always something new and beautiful available. And while they look somewhat similar, they actually belong to completely different scientific genera. And to top it off, pothos isn't even their genus anymore. When the Golden Pothos was first chronicled in 1880, it was cataloged as Pothos aureus, though a century later, after a few different classification changes, it finally ended up as Epipremnum aureum. While pothos is no longer a genus, in New Zealand, we still commonly call Epipremnum aureum by the name pothos.

However, the other side is far simpler. Philodendrons belong to the Philodendron genus. However, they do exist under the same family, as both pothos and philodendrons belong to the aroid plant family (Araceae).

Looking fine

In addition to being classified differently, there are some visual clues you can look out for to be able to spot the difference between a pothos and a philodendron.

Often you can tell the difference by their leaves. Many philodendrons, including varieties of the common heartleaf philodendron, have rounder, more heart-shaped leaves that are thin and soft. They almost feel more delicate. Pothos, on the other hand, have leaves that are thicker and waxier. The leaves on pothos can develop fenestrations as they mature, while philodendron's don't.

You can also often tell the difference by the aerial roots, the roots that pop out from the node on the plant where it's trying to latch onto something to climb. Pothos only have one large, thicker aerial root per node, while philodendrons often have several smaller, spindlier aerial roots and look wilder.

Growing on up

In addition to appearances, you can also tell the difference between a pothos and a philodendron by their growth habits.

For example, on philodendrons, the leaves emerge from cataphylls. These are smaller growths, like little leaves, that encase the new leaf as it emerges. Eventually, they brown and dry up as the plant grows. Pothos, on the other hand, don't have this. The leaves just emerge from the previous leaf.

When it comes to plant care, pothos and philodendrons have very similar needs when it comes to light, watering, and propagation. Though overall, we have found pothos to be hardier and tougher than trailing philodendrons.

Some of our faves

Here are some of our most beloved trailing pothos and philodendrons:



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