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Philodendron or Pothos

Written by Rhonda Ferree, retired horticulture educator

I am so fortunate that I had opportunities during this cold, snowy winter to visit two tropical locations. I went to Costa Rica in December to pick up my son from his semester of studying abroad and I just returned from my husband's employee reward trip to the Dominican Republic.

Obviously I enjoyed the warm, sunny weather in both locations, but I also love seeing the tropical plants there. Many native plants there are ones that we grow here as houseplants.

Two that always impress me in their native habitat are philodendron and pothos. Many houseplants are referred to as philodendron, but most are probably actually pothos. Both are vining plants with green leaves, but they are actually quite different. Let me try to explain.

Philodendrons are groups of tropical plants with variously shaped and colored leaves. Most people grow the heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron scandens subsp. oxycardium). This is a rapidly growing vine plant. It has familiar heart-shaped, dark green leaves on slender, flexible vines. This plant grows rapidly. All philodendrons are popular because they tolerate very low light and variable temperatures.

Pothos are really quite different plants. The pothos (also called Devil's Ivy) is also a tropical vine. The difference is that it has crisp, shiny leaves with gold, white, or yellow markings. The most common pothos is the silver pothos (Epipremnum aureum 'Marble Queen'). It has smooth, waxy leaves variegated with white, especially when young. Pothos need a bit more light and warmer temperatures than philodendrons. In fact, pothos need higher lights levels in order to develop good leaf markings and variegation.

Both plants do something extraordinary when grown in their preferred tropical environment. They are able to produce both juvenile and adult leaves. Typically we only see the juvenile leaves in our home environments. Adult leaves are larger and sometime shaped differently than the juvenile leaves. You'll see the larger adult leaves at the top of the vining plant once it reaches a certain height.

These plants are listed as two of the top best plants to clean indoor air. Research done by NASA in the late 1980's found that several houseplants remove common indoor pollutants such as those found in carpets, furniture, building materials, and cleaning products. The study recommends having at least 15 air cleaning houseplants for the average 2,000 square foot home.

Do you have pothos and philodendron growing in your house? If not, find a friend who does and have them propagate one for you. You'll find more about houseplants and how to propagate them on our University of Illinois Extension website Houseplants at



As horticulture educator, Rhonda Ferree inspired citizens in local communities to grow their own food and improve their home landscapes. She focused on high quality, impactful programs that taught homeowners how to create energy-efficient landscapes using sustainable practices that increase property values and help the environment.

After 30 years with University of Illinois Extension, Rhonda retired in 2018. She continues to share her passion for horticulture related topics as “Retro Rhonda” on social media.

ILRiverHort is a blog that helps people connect to nature and grow.