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Philodendron vs Pothos – What is The Difference?

Popular houseplants kept for their lush foliage, philodendrons and pothos plants are often mistaken for each other. At a quick glance, they are very similar plants with green foliage and trailing vines.

To the untrained eye, the resemblance is uncanny, but these plants aren’t from the same genus, albeit they’re both part of the aroid plant family.

I’m going to highlight the differences in their appearance but also in their requirements, so you’ll know exactly which is which when you next go to the garden center.

Appearance

Philodendrons and pothos plants have little differences in terms of the environment they need to thrive. Interestingly, the plants are more dissimilar in their appearance than their keeping requirements.

The differences between philodendron and pothos plants can be noticed in the following:

  • Leaf shape: Philodendrons have more rounded leaves that are shaped like a heart, while Pothos plants have a straighter leaf base compared to the Philodendron.
  • Leaf texture: Softer, thin leaves with a smooth texture are typical of Philodendrons, while Pothos have a thicker, waxier and more textured leaf surface.
  • Aerial roots: While both plants are climbing with the help of aerial roots, pothos have a single aerial root per node, while philodendrons have multiple and smaller aerial roots that have a more hectic growth.
  • Petioles: Petioles with indentations are more typical of pothos plants, while philodendrons have fully rounded petioles without indentations
  • Cataphylls: Philodendrons have sheaths that encase new leaves as they grow, while new leaves on pothos plants simply unfurl at the nodes.

Knowing these, you can actually tell which plant is which by simply taking a closer look at the plant.

These are differences in appearance between Philodendron and Pothos plants, but there are some differences in their requirements as well that I will discuss below.

Size & Growth

Both the Pothos plant and the Philodendron can reach impressive sizes that can vary from 6 to 10 feet, or they can grow even larger, especially in their natural habitat.

They’re generally fast-growing plants that can benefit from being regularly pinched back to keep them bushier and at a manageable size. Pothos, however, do grow faster than philodendrons.

Both plants can be helped to climb on a trellis or other structure, if you want them to grow larger, or you want to create a more vining display of plants.

Requirements

When it comes to their growing requirements, both plants enjoy indirect light, but pothos plants have a slightly better tolerance to low light conditions compared to Philodendrons, which quickly grow leggy and stretch out if kept in low light.

Pothos plants will take a bit longer to exhibit symptoms of light deprivation, so in this sense they can hold out better if light conditions aren’t optimal.

Luckily, both plants will adapt well to growing under artificial lighting if light conditions in your home or office aren’t ideal.

As for their watering requirements, both plants have a good tolerance to some neglect in the watering department, but the pothos plant has a better tolerance to drought.

Philodendrons need higher humidity levels and enjoy slightly warmer temperatures than the pothos, but the difference is not as significant.

Their soil requirements (well-draining soil) and fertilizing requirements are very similar, so there are no problems that could stem from these aspects, if one plant is mistaken for the other.

Propagation

Propagation of these plants is easy, especially if you know how to harvest stem cuttings correctly.

Make sure the stem cuttings have 2-3 leaves and cut just below a leaf nodule. You can root these in water or directly in the potting medium.

Pothos lend themselves to an easier and quicker propagation through stem cuttings, but philodendrons aren’t difficult to propagate either.

Pothos or Philodendron – Which is Best for Beginners?

I would argue that both plants are beginner-friendly. They don’t need constant attention once you set them up in the correct environment.

However, in the light of the fact that pothos plants have a better tolerance to watering neglect and generally fare better even in low light conditions, I would pick pothos plants to recommend for beginners.

That said, if you like philodendrons better over pothos, don’t hesitate to pick those instead. If you understand the requirements of your philodendron, you’ll see that they’re just as easy to grow as pothos plants.

You shouldn’t assume that one plant is better or worse for beginners. Simply get up to speed with the requirements of the plant and try to ensure an optimum environment the best you can.

Once you manage to achieve that, all you need to be careful about is not overwatering your plant — regardless of whether it’s a philodendron or a pothos plant — and maintaining optimum temperature and humidity levels.

Can You Plant Pothos and Philodendron Together?

As I mentioned, and as you could probably determine yourself too, the growing requirements of philos and pothos are more or less the same.

Therefore, I don’t advise against growing both out of the same pot, unless the pot is too small, and their root systems would not have enough room to expand.

Pots of mixed plants are definitely an interesting thing to have around, so do try your hand at growing philodendrons and pothos together.

If, for whatever reason, one of the plants isn’t doing as well as the other, you can technically still repot, but it’s unlikely that you’ll come across any issues as they can coexist splendidly.

Wrapping Up

Despite having similar appearances, pothos are different plants from philodendrons. I hope now that you know the identifying signs of each, you can quickly recognize them should you want to pick one up from the garden center.

Although both are tropical plants, pothos are overall a bit hardier compared to philodendrons. They also grow faster and have a better tolerance to inadequate lighting and watering.

These differences, however, aren’t as defining since there are philodendron varieties that are just as adaptable as pothos.

If you enjoy one over the other, don’t get caught up in these differences. Simply pick the one that suits you best and understand its care requirements.

Updated: December 9, 2020

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