Whether at a house party or in an office space, you may be admiring a houseplant that you think you recognize as a philodendron or pothos plant, but you’re not entirely sure which one. Some people even mistakenly believe they are the same plant that goes by two different names. And if the plant was a gift or an afterthought, the owner may not know what type of plant it is, either.
We here at Houseplant Finder know our plants pretty well, but sometimes we can’t always tell the difference between a philodendron and pothos from across the room. That said, upon closer inspection, it’s usually quite easy to spot the differences if you know what to look for in the plant leaves, stems, and stubs.
How to Tell the Difference in the Leaves
Both plants have waxy leaves, but the pothos has more defined venation. The leaf veins of the pothos are easier to see with ridges that can be felt by running your fingers over the leaves. The philodendron has smooth leaves and gently sloping undulations. This is the best way to tell the difference if you have both kinds of plants. Philodendron leaves may not be perfectly smooth, and pothos leaves are still waxy enough to feel relatively smooth. Yet, in a side-by-side comparison, the difference is usually obvious. (Note: There are types of both pothos and philodendron with neon leaves.)
How to Tell the Difference in the Stems
Start by looking at the color. The pothos tends to have a much more uniform color in its stems and leaves, whether it’s a green or neon variety. In contrast, the philodendron stem has a brown or salmon color that is most noticeable at the ends of the vines. You should also look at any new growth. Philodendron leaves initially form in cataphylls, or a protective sheath. Pothos leaves grow directly out of the vine.
How to Tell the Difference in the Stubs
By stubs, we mean the aerial roots which help vine plants latch on to and gain extra support from the things they find in their surroundings—whether it’s a tree or an interior wall. Both types of plants are pseudo-epiphytes: They have main vine stems and fibrous roots in the soil, but they also rely on other plants for physical support. So, while both plants have these aerial roots, they look quite different on each type of plant. The pothos has singular, thick, dark-colored stubs. The philodendron has thin aerial roots that grow in bunches at the bottom of the cataphyll (protective sheath).