Pothos vs Philodendron: Key Similarities And Important Differences

Pothos vs philodendron? There’s a reasons why it’s tough to choose! Out of all the house plants out there, pothos and philodendrons are the most popular vining plants in most parts of the world. It isn’t easy to find someone who’s into plants but has never owned one of them at one point or another.

This is probably because of how easy pothos and philodendron are to take care of. These leafy plants are effortlessly gorgeous and can uplift the quality of air inside your home in a matter of just a couple of months. They’re also prolific, growing up to 12 inches a month.

Pothos and philodendrons are so similar in every aspect that they’re often mislabeled in stores, and some people use their names interchangeably. While they look just about the same, they’re very much different plants with different taxonomy.

This means that they’re scientifically categorized as different species. So how can you tell them apart? Do they have different care needs? Which one is better suited for you and your home?

In this article, we’ll cover the differences between pothos and philodendrons in terms of appearance, origin, and care. Hopefully, this will help you figure out which one might be better for you.

Pothos Overview

Pothos is an extremely popular houseplant and arguably more popular and familiar to homeowners than philodendrons. It’s a plant with leafy vines that are usually hung from ceilings, put on window sills, or placed on a table near a structure that they can climb onto.


Before we go into the background and varieties of the pothos plant, it’s important to highlight that it’s toxic to animals, so it’s best if you keep it in an elevated position if you have pets.

Natural Habitat

Pothos initially grow in the southern Pacific region as ground cover in rainforests, with their aerial roots attached to surrounding trees. Their low position in the forest is why they don’t need a lot of sunlight to grow. It’s also why this plant likes humid, warm environments.

Another thing that many people don’t know about pothos is that what we see in nurseries and homes is actually the juvenile version. Pothos, in its natural habitat, actually grows to have giant leaves that can be as big as two feet long! Its vines also grow to be more thick and woody.

Varieties and Common Names

Pothos is just one species, so in nature, this plant exists in only one form with different variegation here and there. The varieties you see at your local nurseries, such as the snow queen or golden pothos, are all cultivars selectively bred for their unique looks or textures.

It’s easily the most popular climbing plant out there, with over ten different varieties and cultivars that vine their way into every green thumb’s home.

This plant is more commonly known as the devil’s ivy for its seemingly supernatural ability to grow in discouraging conditions, including intermittent darkness or very low light. This makes it an ideal plant for homes, offices, and even stores and restaurants.

Another popular name for pothos is the money plant, not to be confused with the Chinese money plant or pilea. There are all sorts of theories about why it’s called the money plant.

The growth rate and perseverance of this plant symbolize abundance in the spiritual realm. It’s also said to bring good fortune to its keepers for as long as it thrives.

Philodendron Overview

Pothos and philodendrons in garden

Being a whole genus of plants, it’s hard to define or describe what philodendrons look like clearly. Like the pothos, they’re vining plants that turn into epiphytes at some point in their lives, which means they live on other plants.

Philodendrons are also toxic to animals, but unlike the pothos, they’re harmful to humans as well. That’s why it’s essential to keep them out of children’s reach.

Natural Habitat

This genus of plants is native to the rainforests of the Americas, so it likes humid, warm environments just like pothos. It has over 450 different species that come in all sorts of colors and shapes.

Common Varieties

There are countless varieties and cultivars in the philodendron genus, as it’s become a popular item in nurseries all over North America. The most commonly known is the heartleaf philodendron, followed closely by the velvet-leaf variety.

How to Tell Them Apart

Pothos and philodendrons may look the same at first glance, but once you know what to look for, you can easily tell them apart. Some of these signs are more pronounced in different varieties or cultivars of the two plants, but they’ll still be present in all types.

The Shape of Their Leaves

While their leaves look quite similar from a distance, philodendron’s leaves are famed for their heart-shaped leaves. They also have noticeably pointy ends compared to pothos. They’re curved inwards at their base, the part that connects with the petiole.

In comparison, pothos leaves look a lot more uniform with their straight ends and bases. They look closer to the shape of a candle flame than a heart.

Texture or Venation

One of the differences you may notice right away is the texture of these two plants’ leaves. The leaves of the pothos plant have more protruding veins, especially the midrib. It’s easily visible, and the whole leaf looks like it’s been folded in the middle.

On the flipside, philodendron leaves are much smoother. The veins on the leaves need a closer look for you to spot, and the midrib is easy to feel but not quite as visible.

Pothos leaves are generally glossier than most philodendron species, but there are a few exceptions.

Aerial Roots

Both plants develop aerial roots as they start growing, especially if they’re kept in a relatively humid room or misted regularly. These roots enable the plants to attach themselves to nearby trees in nature or to climb whatever structure you set beside them.

The appearance of these roots on pothos and philodendrons is very distinct. Pothos can only grow one aerial root on each node, and it’ll be thick, nobby, and comparatively straight. As for philodendron aerial roots, they’re usually two or more that are close together. They also look more wriggly and contorted and can be slightly thinner.

Pothos vs. Philodendron – Growing Guide

Philodendron leaves

Both plants like moisture and can survive with little to no sunlight. However, pothos is known to be a bit harder than philodendrons.

Pothos can withstand having less water and sunlight than philodendrons and are generally easier to propagate. They can also thrive in neutral to acidic soil, while philodendrons need acidity. Both plants need well-draining soil that doesn’t go completely dry very often.

You’ll need to provide philodendrons with indirect sunlight to make sure they develop large and lush leaves. You could also mist both plants or place their pots on a dish of pebbles with water to promote more leafy growth.

Overwatering will produce yellow, unhealthy leaves and can lead to root rot. You can tell the roots of your plants are having issues if its stems have become soft or developed brownish-black sections.

Benefits and Uses of Pothos and Philodendron

There are lots of reasons that make these plants two of the top ten houseplants in the world. They’re super versatile and can be very patient with people who don’t have a lot of experience with plants.

They’re Hard to Kill

Pothos and philodendrons can withstand a lot of trial and error when cared for by beginners. Like any other plant, they’ll show signs of not being happy with their environment, but they’re much less likely to actually die.

These signs are usually yellowing or brown leaves, leggy growth with less foliage than stems, or perhaps moldy growth stuck to the stems, which indicates pests. As soon as you tend to the issue your plant is facing, these plants bounce back very quickly, which is a fulfilling experience in itself.

They Provide Ground Cover

These plants exist in nature as ground cover, so it only makes sense that they thrive when used for that purpose. That said, not a lot of urban areas provide the combination of factors they need to thrive.

Pothos and philodendrons don’t do well with strong, direct sunlight, especially when the weather is hot. They’d need some shade or to be in an area where a truly sunny day doesn’t happen often.

They’re Pros for Green Walls

While using them for ground cover has its challenges, using them as a wall cover seems like their true calling. These plants can easily cover entire walls in just a few months with proper care, making them an excellent choice if you want a green wall indoors or outdoors.

If you do plan on having that wall indoors, make sure to choose a wall that provides adequate protection from the sun in the hottest time of day.

They’re Interior Designers’ Best Friends

Unlike pothos, philodendrons come in every color you could see on a leaf. From the gorgeous pink and emerald green micans to the prince of orange, the deep green, black cardinal, and perfectly striped birkin, these plants are nothing short of breathtaking.

The 450 varieties of philodendron mean that you have a color, shape, pattern, variegation, and size for every room in every house. This means that you get to choose a plant that perfectly suits your space and your style preference.

They’re Proven to Have a Calming Effect

Pothos leaves

In 2013, a small study was made to gauge the impact of touching different materials, including metals, fabric, and plants. The plant this study used was none other than pothos.

The study concluded that out of all the materials tested, pothos leaves were the only material that had a calming effect on the test subjects.

If you’ve had a pet plant in your home, the conclusion of this study is probably not a surprise for you. There are lots of studies that prove that interacting with plants and being exposed to natural greens has a considerable impact on our wellbeing.

NASA Recommends Them for Cleaner Air

NASA started researching the purifying impact of a variety of plants in 1989. The scientists concluded that some species, such as the pothos, peace lily, and three different types of philodendron, can pull some pollutants from the air.

Since then, the plants that had a starring role in this study have become increasingly popular for their air-purifying qualities. But the truth is that this has been highly overstated, especially in recent years. The extent to which they can clean our air might be negligible for multiple reasons.

First, the amount of plants you’d need in your space to clean toxins out of the air is quite huge, and very few people possess the passion and time to care for that many plants. Think of a house that is full to the brim with plants or that has an entire wall covered in pothos or philodendrons.

Second, these plants were tested in sealed environments, similar to those of spacecraft. They could clean the air in an air-tight room of some sort, but with our homes that have air circulating constantly, their purifying abilities would be ineffective.

That’s why you’d need to compensate with a huge volume of plants in your home to impact the levels of toxins in your air.

They Can Oxygenate Your Fish Tank

Yes, pothos and philodendrons can work as oxygenators for fish tanks. These plants are capable of growing without soil and could even thrive if you place them in a fish tank because the fish waste acts as a fertilizer.

Not only does it make your aquarium incredibly pretty and special, but pothos can also keep the nitrate levels more stable, which means you’ll need to clean the tank less often. It’ll also clean and oxygenate the water for your fish’s enjoyment.


Pothos and philodendrons are incredible plants that can give life to your kitchen and uplift your bedroom. They’re very easy to care for, making them extremely popular in every green household.

Comparing one species —pothos— and a whole genus is difficult. It’s important to remember that different philodendrons will require different care and environments. That said, you rarely find a species in the philodendron genus that’s overly sensitive to how you treat it.