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Pothos vs. Philodendron: 5 Easy Ways to Tell the Difference!

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There are some very obvious, and some NOT so obvious ways to tell the difference between a Pothos and a Philodendron. Once you read these tips, you will never wonder about it again!

There is one observation that I made that I have never seen anyone explain, so keep reading to find out what it is!

difference between pothos and philodendron

So many people have asked me what the difference is between a Pothos and a Philodendron, so I’ve written this post to set the record straight because there are quite a few differences!

1. Pothos and Philodendron Taxonomy

I’m going to start on a very high level first to clear up some common confusion, and then I’ll get to some visual specifics that you can use.

Taxonomy is just a fancy word to describe the naming convention of plants by botanists. There is only one “official” botanical name for each plant, but there are MANY common names.

Simply put, Pothos and Philodendron are common names. What makes common names super confusing is that sometimes there are many common names for the same plant!

For example, what one person calls Pothos, another might call Devil’s Ivy. And what one person may call Snake Plant, another will call Mother in Law’s Tongue. This is why common names are so confusing.

One difference between Pothos and Philodendron is the genus. Pothos are classified as being any plants in the Epipremnum genus, whereas Philodendrons are well…in the Philodendron genus. They ARE somewhat related though. Both are considered to be part of the aroid plant family (Araceae).

2. Shape of the Leaves

An easy way to tell the difference between Pothos and Philodendron is the shape of the leaves. Namely, at the widest part of the leaf.

pothos vs philodendron

On the left side of the photo above is a Pothos leaf and the right side is a Heart Leaf Philodendron leaf. It’s called “heart leaf” for a reason! Notice the pronounced curving and heart shape. The Pothos leaf lacks this characteristic.

3. Aerial Roots

Another way to tell the difference between Pothos and Philodendron is by looking at the aerial roots.

pothos vs philodendron

Take a look at the wider and stubbier pothos roots on the left, compared to the thinner aerial roots on the Heart Leaf Philodendron on the right.

4. Sheath

One tell-tale sign of a Philodendron is the sheath that emerges from the nodes (where the leaf and petiole meets the vine). Notice the new sheath below between my forefinger and my middle finger.

difference between pothos and philodendron

As the Philodendron grows, the sheaths will turn brown and papery, as you saw in the photo in the previous section on the right hand side of that picture.

Pothos will not have these sheathes.

5. Petiole

This difference that I’m about to describe makes it really easy to tell the difference between Pothos and Philodendron.

Take a look at the photo below and look at the petiole. The petiole is what joins the leaf to the vine. On the left is the Pothos leaf and petiole, and on the right is the Philodendron leaf and petiole.

difference between pothos and philodendron

I noticed two main differences between the two. The Philodendron petiole on the right is very round and uniform. The Pothos petiole on the left has an indentation, is not completely round, and will eventually form two brown, papery edges.

This distinction makes it very easy to quickly tell the difference!

Types of Pothos and Philodendron

Of course there are MANY species and varieties of Pothos (Epipremnum genus) and Philodendron (Philodendron genus). Especially in the Philodendron genus, there is a huge variety of species and they look very different.

difference between pothos and philodendron

In the photo above, the top leaf and the second from the bottom came off of the same Golden Pothos plant. One leaf has variegation and the other doesn’t.

The second leaf from the top is commonly known as the Heart Leaf Philodendron. The bottom leaf is a closely related variety called Philodendron ‘Brasil.’

I’ve only covered some of the common vining forms that you will see for sale everywhere.

Let’s take a look at a few more kinds below so you can see all the beautiful varieties that are available.

POTHOS VARIETIES

difference between pothos and philodendron

On the left is Pothos N’Joy, and on the right is the plain old golden pothos that you see everywhere. I love the beautiful variegation in the N’Joy.

There are others kinds of pothos though including ‘Marble Queen,’ ‘Pearls and Jade,’ ‘Jade,’ and ‘Cebu Blue.’ All of these have distinct colors and/or variegation in the leaves.

If you’d like to know how to care for these plants, I wrote separate blog posts on the care of the plain old pothos (Epipremnum aureum) as well as the stunning ‘Cebu Blue.’ I also talk about propagation in those posts.

Take a look at the stunning form and color of ‘Cebu Blue.’

cebu blue care

There is one type of Pothos that many people call Silver Pothos, but it actually is not a Pothos (Epipremnum genus).

The plant commonly known as Silver Pothos is in the Scindapsus genus and there is such a striking difference in the foliage that I won’t even comment on it!

scindapsus pictus silver philodendron satin pothos

Want to purchase some Pothos online? Check out the Pothos selection on Amazon.

PHILODENDRON VARIETIES

The Philodendron genus is HUGE and there are many species.

Here are two types that I grow and that are commonly available.

philodendron scandens

The photo above is my Heart Leaf Philodendron that I’ve had for many years. Isn’t she gorgeous?

And here is another type:

philodendron brasil

The photo above is Philodendron ‘Brasil’ with gorgeous leaf variegation.

Want to explore the various types of Philodendron? There is a huge variety available with different colored leaves, shapes and growing habits. Check out the Philodendron selection on Amazon.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and hopefully by now you can easily tell the difference between a Pothos and a Philodendron!

Please do me a favor and share this post to social media because it will help me spread the Ohio Tropics houseplant care tips to the masses! Also, check out my shop on Amazon for all your houseplant care needs:

OHIO TROPICS PLANT CARE STOREFRONT

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L

Tuesday 8th of September 2020

Hi!

Do you know which one is the most prone to grow long vines? I was all set on getting myself a Golden Pothos (very common here), but now a Philodendron Brasil (much rarer in my area) has become available, and I'm excited but indecisive. :) I'm going to hang it in a shaded corner next to a south-facing window and would like the vines to get at least 1-2 metres long eventually.

Raffaele

Tuesday 8th of September 2020

Both will get very long over time. The Golden Pothos probably will be the most vigorous though and get to that length more quickly :-)

KAREN NYLEC

Tuesday 8th of September 2020

Very clear explanation that helped get rid of the confusion I had about both plants.Thanks so much!

Raffaele

Tuesday 8th of September 2020

You're very welcome Karen! Glad you enjoyed my post :-)

Freeda

Saturday 29th of August 2020

I'm very glad I came across this post. It's very informative and had opened my eyes to a lot of mistakes I made before. Now I can tell others of the difference between these two plants. Both are my favourite.

Raffaele

Saturday 29th of August 2020

Glad you found the post helpful Freeda! :-)

Angela

Wednesday 26th of August 2020

Wow, fantastic post! Very informative. Thank you so much!!!

Raffaele

Thursday 27th of August 2020

Glad you enjoyed it Angela!

Cat

Sunday 23rd of August 2020

Most detailed pothos vs philodendron comparison I've read. Thank you!

Raffaele

Thursday 27th of August 2020

Glad you enjoyed it Cat!