Pothos is a well-loved houseplant that is common for indoor foliage and commercial attraction alike. It is favored for its vibrant, interesting foliage and ease of care.
In this article, HerbSpeak will cover the basic plant profile of pothos plants, also known as Epipremnum aureum, as well as quick tips to identify pothos, common names, uses, and varieties of pothos.
Epipremnum aureum – Description
Pothos, or Epipremnum aureum, is native to Mo’orea which is in the Society Islands of French Polynesia.
It is a member of the Arum family, Araceae, and thrives in tropical and sub-tropical forests. Pothos has become naturalized in many areas of the world including Australia, South Asia, Thailand, Vietnam, Solomon Islands, Hawaii, the Pacific Islands, and the West Indies.
This plant is evergreen and has heart-shaped leaves and gently grooved stems. It can grow in both water and soil, and light yellow to brown protrusions on the vine allow it to attach to textured surfaces, such as a tree, and climb vigorously. Without support to climb on, the vines continue to grow and drape down.
Pothos Common Names
Pothos has plenty of common names in the world, many of which revolve around Devil’s Ivy, or Taro Vine. In some parts of the world, it is called a Money Plant, confusing it with a multitude of other plants also called the money plant.
Other common names pothos might have includes golden pothos, Ceylon creeper, hunter’s robe, ivy arum, silver vine, Solomon Island’s ivy, and devil’s vine.
Why is Pothos Called Devil’s Ivy?
Pothos is called Devil’s Ivy or Devil’s Vine in some parts of the world because it stays green even when kept in near-dark conditions and can be almost impossible to kill through neglect.
While the plant will not thrive in darkness and needs some indirect light, it will survive in poor environmental conditions, losing its variegation and slowing its growth to accommodate the lack of nutrients it can capture.
In the wild, pothos climb trees and develop leaves that span up to 18 inches wide, developing fenestrations.
A Botanical Adventure into Scientific Name Placement
This plant has been all over the globe, confusing botanists wherever it goes. Well, it used to, at least, until botanists finally got their hands on a key part of the plant in the mid-1900s.
When it was first described in the 1880s, this plant was initially referred to as Pothos aureus which is part of the reason why many people refer to it as pothos, rather than a shortened version of Epipremnum.
In 1908, the species was later placed in the Scindapsus genus by a botanist named Adolf Engler. It wasn’t until 1962 when a botanist named Monroe Birdsey was able to obtain an inflorescence from plants that flowered in a botanical garden in Puerto Rico and Miami. It was after observing the inflorescences that it was finally placed as Epipremnum.
There was some debate as to whether the plant belonged to the Epipremnum group, or if it should be placed in Rhaphdophora, both of which are a part of the Monstereae tribe. The classification of Epipremnum was codified by George Bunting in 1964 in the Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden.
For a time, it was grouped with Epipremnum pinnatum, but it was later separated as unique features were discovered and it was finally placed in Epipremnum aureum, where its classification has remained since.
Uses of Pothos
The main use of pothos is as a filler foliage plant or an indoor houseplant that is easy to care for. Many retail buildings and commercial centers use it to attract customers or decorate the space. The bright green leaves relieve tension on the eyes and renew many shoppers’ interest in the scenery.
Since pothos does not flower in captivity unless induced, it is common propagated through cuttings. These plants are either propagated in a liquid solution or directly in the soil.
Whichever method is used for propagation must be maintained throughout adulthood as it is difficult for pothos to adapt to a different environment once it has begun growing.
In tropical areas, pothos is left to grow naturally throughout parks, gardens, and other natural displays. Commonly the plant is used as attractive leafy décor, favored for its tolerance for neglect and easy care needs.
Air Cleaning Plant
Pothos makes a great “air-purifying plant” for indoor situations where indoor air quality is a concern.
“[…] a novel approach of using plant systems for removing high concentrations of indoor air pollutants such as cigarette smoke, organic solvents, and possibly radon has been designed”
The plant was tested as a part of the NASA Clean Air Study in the 1980s (1) and found to purify several common air pollutants. The results found that pothos was superior to several other plants, including dumb cane, aloe vera, and heartleaf philodendron.
Productivity and Mood Booster
Pothos, among other greenery, is an important factor in maintaining mental health at the office. (2)
“In a study published in 2011, a team of researchers in Norway tested a group of 34 student attention spans when reading. Half of the participants performed the task at bare, wooden desks. The others were tested at desks with flowers and foliage. On the second round of tests shortly after, scores improved for the students with plants. Those for students without plants stayed the same.”
There is evidence to suggest that keeping foliage around your desk at work doesn’t just boost your overall mood, but it boosts your creativity, productivity, and attention span, too.
Toxicity of Pothos
While it may come as a surprise to many people considering how widespread the pothos is as a houseplant, they are toxic.
Pothos contains calcium oxalate crystals in the leaves and stems. These crystals are insoluble, meaning they cannot be dissolved, and act like small shards of glass in the body, causing swelling, discomfort, and irritation to any affected areas.
If your cat or dog nibbles on pothos, they may begin to drool and vomit, or paw at their mouths in an attempt to relieve the burning the oxalate crystals cause. Their throat and tongue may be swollen or uncomfortable as the plant can cause swelling of the upper airway.
In humans, pothos can cause discomfort, swelling, vomiting, burning in the mouth, and diarrhea. For particularly sensitive individuals, frequent contact may cause atopic dermatitis.
Other common pets that are negatively affected by pothos are birds, horses, and rabbits. There is much debate as to whether pothos is safe or not for reptiles. (3)
“If you suspect your pet may have ingested a potentially toxic substance, call the APCC at (888) 426-4435 or contact your local veterinarian as soon as possible.*”
Pothos are generally safe for fish because they will not eat the roots, since pothos is not truly an aquatic plant, fish would be unable to reach the leaves or stems where the oxalate crystals are stored. Nitrate imbalances are more of a concern when adding live plants to any aquarium.
How to Identify Pothos
There are several varieties of pothos and they come in many different colors and leaf textures. There are, however, several key points you can use when identifying pothos among other foliage plants.
Quick Identification Checklist:
- Leaves: Thick, waxy heart-shaped leaves with a prominent midrib seamlessly connecting to the petiole.
- Stem: Thick, gently grooved stems that can range in color.
- Petiole: The petioles on pothos are indented towards the stem, giving them the appearance that they have just peeled away from the stem itself.
- Aerial Roots: Aerial roots are present as pale yellow to brown “nubs” or thick, short protrusions. Only a single aerial root per node. Once they root or attach to a surface, they will grow longer.
- New Growth: New leaves unfurl naked, without a “sheath” or cataphyll.
Top Pothos Lookalike: Heart-leaf Philodendron
Epipremnum is commonly mistaken for the heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum) and many retail stores mislabel it as a philodendron. It is up to the keen indoor gardener to spot the differences when making a purchase.
The key differences between heart-leaf philodendrons and pothos are the stems, the leaves, and the aerial roots.
- Pothos stems are thicker and have an indentation or groove in them, while philodendron stems are thinner and do not have a groove.
- Pothos leaves are thicker and have a waxy texture and connect seamlessly to the petiole with an indented midrib. Philodendrons are thinner with a smooth texture and have a prominent sinus between the leaf and petiole.
- Pothos only have one thick, stubby aerial root per node, while philodendrons may have multiple thin, spindly aerial roots.
Does Pothos Flower?
Pothos does not flower in captivity unless it is induced. One of the few – and last recorded – flowering activities in pothos was at the Coast Rican and Miami botanical garden in 1964.
Pothos do, sometimes, flower in the wild and tend to resemble a peace lily’s inflorescence, with an exposed spadix enclosed by a spathe. Cultivated pothos do not flower because of inhibited levels of gibberellin, a phytohormone which it lacks.
How Do You Care for a Pothos Plant?
Pothos is a great houseplant for beginners or those who believe they can’t take care of plants. In general, pothos should be kept in indirect lighting, watered only when the soil is dry, and allowed to dry when there is too much water in the pot.
HINT: If you want to learn more about how to care for your pothos, see HerbSpeak’s Pothos Plant Care guide.
Is Pothos an Invasive Species?
When naturalized in the wild, pothos can become an invasive species.
In Florida, it is considered a Category II invasive exotic plant species, and homeowners are recommended to avoid planting it outdoors.
In Sri Lanka, the plant has overgrown several hectares of land in the Udawatta Kele Sanctuary, harming the natural ecology of the region as there are no natural predators or competing plants.
Is Pothos a Good Indoor Plant?
Pothos is a wonderful indoor plant that makes it easy on houseplant owners whether they are a beginner or an experienced houseplant owner. Golden pothos is one of the most common and beginner-friendly varieties available on the market, but there are plenty of Epipremnum varieties to choose from once you get the hang of caring for your pothos.
Varieties of Pothos
There are many varieties of pothos available, especially since it has become a popular houseplant. Originally, the Jade pothos is thought to be one of the main, original varieties found natively, but horticultural programs have replaced it with Golden pothos as the most popular variety to find in stores.
What is the Rarest Pothos?
The rarest pothos available on the market is Jessenia, with cuttings sold online typically limited to one per person. This is one of the more recent varieties to hit the mainstream houseplant market.
How Many Types of Pothos Are There?
There are five main cultivars of pothos that are popular among the houseplant enthusiast crowd, with five “rare cultivars” stealing the show – that brings us up to ten total – and one last variety sold as pothos is a Scindapsus, not Epipremnum, bringing us up to eleven varieties.
Of course, this list is not all-inclusive, as amateur and professional horticulturalists are working on new varieties every day.
1. Golden Pothos
This is the most popular type of pothos on the market today. They have iconic heart-shaped leaves and present a bright, vibrant green leaf with splashes of yellows and sometimes whites.
This variety was the first to become known as Devil’s Ivy and will often hold on to some of its variegation even in dim indirect light. Golden pothos is fast-growing, putting out leaf after leaf like there is no tomorrow once it is in the right conditions.
2. Marble Queen Pothos
This is the second most popular type of pothos available on the market and it is widely revered for its splashy white and greenish-grey tone, capturing the hearts of many houseplant hobbyists.
This variety is more difficult to care for as the margins for the neglect it can take is severely hampered by its inability to uptake as many phytonutrients through its leaves, and it requires more light overall.
Because of the higher rate of variegation, thus a lower level of chlorophyll in the leaves, this variety grows much slower than greener varieties. Moving these into stronger indirect lighting may help encourage growth.
3. Neon Pothos
The neon pothos is named for its lime green leaf coloration. New leaves show off the strikingly vibrant hues, sometimes appearing bright yellow, and eventually grow into a deeper, darker neon as the leaf matures. Neons grown under bright indirect light tend to have more vibrant leaves than those grown in dim indirect light.
4. Jade Pothos
Classically considered to be the “original pothos,” it features full, dark green coloration without any variegation. The heart-shaped leaves have a prominent midrib and the waxy texture is visible in the slightest light. Jade pothos pairs well with other pothos varieties, or by itself to add a splash of deep green foliage to any room.
All rights reserved – Lin. Source
5. Glacier Pothos
Glacier pothos has splotchy, white, lime green, and pale green variegation on the classically heart-shaped leaves. Grey pigmentation often appears as well, giving the leaves an incredibly layered and artful appearance.
All rights reserved – Houzz. Source
6. Jessenia Pothos
Jessenia pothos has a mild, marbled appearance over deep green leaves, which begin to take on more yellow colorations than white. Some areas of this pothos can even appear lime green as the yellow layers over the green.
This type of pothos typically grows slower due to the variegation in the leaves and requires more attention to keep the lighting and watering consistent. Jessenia pothos is the rarest available on the market today.
7. Manjula Pothos
The Manjula pothos is quickly gaining in popularity among houseplant hobbyists. It is similar in appearance to Marble Queen, except the variegation can be splotchy, while Manjula is known for its spotty appearance, allowing a lot of green patches in the white variegation.
This variety appears more “dark green and pale green” than it does “white and green” as other varieties do, though white has been known to be present. Another key difference is that the leaves refuse to lay flat, and the edges are typically wavy.
8. Pearls and Jade
This variety of pothos is a variegated silver-grey and green-leaved variety of pothos that contains a few white hues throughout the plant. The variegation on this variety appears along the edges of the plant, rather than spread throughout the leaf or in the center.
The leaves on Pearls and Jade pothos are also much smaller than other varieties and they grow slowly.
All rights reserved – @littlegreenfriends. Source
9. N’Joy Pothos
N’Joy pothos has unique variegation with splotchy green patches over silvery-grey leaves if kept under bright light. In dim lighting, the white variegation will turn into light splotches over green leaves if left for too long. The leaves of this variety are wavy, making it look like it isn’t a part of the Epipremnum species at all.
All rights reserved – @peperomiapotts. Source
10. Cebu Blue Pothos
Cebu Blue varieties are incredibly unique with arrow-shaped leaves that split as they mature. The leaves have a blue-green pigmentation and can gleam with a metallic sheen in the right light.
The key to developing fenestrations with Cebu blue pothos is to keep it under bright indirect light and allow it to mature over time.
11. Satin or Silver Pothos (Scindapsus)
This variety has large, arrow-shaped foliage and the silvery spots bring to life the dark green leaves. This is commonly associated as being a pothos but is actually Scindapsus pictus, not a true pothos; in other words, it is not a member of Epipremnum and the plant anatomy is different from pothos, though care guidelines may be similar.
- NASA Technical Reports Server, Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement, https://ntrs.nasa.gov/citations/19930073077
- Alexander C. Kaufman, Everyone With a Desk Job Should Have Plants, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/how-the-office-plants-on-_b_5774042
- org, Devils Ivy, https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants/devils-ivy