Pothos, also called philodendron and many other common names, is a tropical vine that has become one of th world's most popular plants for growing indoors.
Pothos (pronounced: po-thäs) is an evergreen vine that climbs and twines and scrambles, attaching itself with specialized adhesive rootlets, or just draping itself over anything in its path. This tropical vine is an exceedingly common houseplant in its juvenile phase, characterized by its slender stem and small variegated leaves. But it has another face: the adult form (generally seen only in the tropics) with a thick stem and much larger leaves.
Grown as a houseplant indoors, pothos stays in the juvenile phase. The opposite leaves are usually around 3-4 in (8-10 cm) long, but can be up to a foot (30 cm)in length. They are more or less heart shaped, ending in a pointed tip, and glossy bright green with white, cream or yellow markings. The stems are slender and the leaves have characteristically long petioles. The pothos vine grows continuously and there seems to be no limit to its potential length. Plants do not bloom in the juvenile stage.
Grown outdoors in a frost free climate, pothos will cover the ground with juvenile leaves until it gets to a tree. Once it starts climbing, pothos develops thick stems and huge leaves with short, stout petioles. Mature leaves are heart shaped or oval, sometimes with deep sinuses and lobes, like a split-leaf philodendron (Monstera deliciosa). They are 18-40 in (45-100 cm) long and 10-18 in (25-45 cm) wide. The liana can completely cover a tree, sometimes causing mortal harm if its huge leaves block the sun from the supporting host’s leaves. Mature plants produce tiny flowers on an erect spadix surrounded by a green spathe 6-9 in (15-38 cm) tall.
‘Marble Queen’, perhaps the most well known cultivar, has leaves that are basically creamy colored with splashes and flecks of green and gray-green. ‘Tricolor’ has green leaves marbled and spotted with yellow and cream.
Location Epipremnum aureum is native to the Solomon Islands in the South-west Pacific. It is grown world-wide as a houseplant, and in tropical climates as a garden liana. Pothos has become established in tropical areas outside its natural range, in some cases has become a serious ecological nuisance.
Culture Light: Grow pothos in diffuse light to moderate shade for best results. This adaptable vine can tolerate dense shade, but will grow more slowly and the leaves will not have the best color. If the plant is kept too dark, the leaves will become mostly green and the vine will become spindly. Moisture: Water freely during the growing season. Reduce watering in winter. Pothos is very drought tolerant, so if you forget to water it for a few weeks, you will be forgiven. You can even grow pothos with its roots in a vase of water. Hardiness: USDA Zones 10 - 12. Pothos is a tropical plant usually killed by freezing temperatures. In zone 9b, it may die to the ground in winter and return in spring. Propagation: Stem tips are very easy to root, even in a glass of water. The stems take root where they contact the soil, too.
Newly emerged pothos leaves are smooth and very glossy. In bright light yellow splotches develop, in low light the leaves remain solid green.
Pothos is arguably the easiest houseplant to grow. It tolerates alkaline to acidic, moist to dry, and sandy to clayey soils. It can take extended periods of drought, periods of too much water, air pollution, and general neglect. In fact it thrives on neglect. Pothos is regularly used as an indoor container plant, often in hanging baskets in public venues such as offices, stores and malls precisely because of its ease of care. Thriving under diffuse light, pothos is a good choice for a hanging container in the kitchen or bathroom. This is a fast growing vine and will need frequent pinching back if you are to maintain dominance of your environment. I used to have one on the window sill behind the kitchen sink. I regularly turned it back on itself, aiming it here and there, but finally tired of the constant maintenance required to keep it in check. (I now keep some well behaved cacti on that window sill.)
In frost free locations, pothos makes a fine, fast growing ground cover. If allowed to climb up a tree it will become a liana and develop the huge mature leaves that so evoke the tropical look.
Fast growing pothos is said to remove various indoor air pollutants. Try growing pothos near an aquarium, allowing the roots to grow into the water. The aquarium water will fertilize the plant as it sucks up live-giving nitrates, and the plant will purify the aquarium water, as it removes those same nitrates (which are toxic to fish).
Judging from all the synonyms (both common names and scientific names) it seems neither the botanists, the horticulturalists nor the retailers can agree on what to call this most common of houseplants. In commerce you might see it labeled as Scindapsus aureus or S. pictus. According to the Royal Horticultural Society’s Dictionary of Gardening, Scindapsus species are probably not often cultivated. My mother always called it philodendron.
All parts of pothos are toxic and the plant has been known to sicken cats and dogs. In humans, ingestion can cause severe gastric distress, vomiting and burning of the lips, mouth and throat. Pothos should be kept away from small children who might be prone to taste it. Contact with the sap (especially prolonged) can irritate the skin.
In some tropical and subtropical forests in Asia and the New World, pothos has invaded native plant communities, smothering native species and causing considerable ecological damage. The Florida Exotic Pest Council considers pothos (under the name Epipremnum pinnatum cv. ‘Aureum’) a Category II invasive. Their definition of Category II species: “Invasive exotics that have increased in abundance or frequency but have not yet altered Florida plant communities to the extent shown by Category I species. These species may become ranked Category I, if ecological damage is demonstrated”. (Of course, pothos can only be an invasive in climates that do not get frost.)