It's easy to confuse golden pothos with heartleaf philodendron as these related plants share many of the same characteristics. Both of these tropical houseplants have heart-shaped leaves and are typically sold in hanging baskets. They're both easy to grow and are rarely bothered by pests or disease. However, there are significant differences between the two plants that affect their care.
Leaves and Stems
Golden pothos and heartleaf philodendron have similar, heart-shaped leaves. Heartleaf philodendron leaves are dark green, thin and matte-toned, not shiny. When grown indoors in a hanging basket, the plant's leaves are 3 to 4 inches in length. When allowed to grow outdoors as a climbing vine, heartleaf philodendron reaches into the canopy of trees, and the leaves grow as long as 12 inches. Golden pothos leaves are shiny, 3- to 4-inches in length and medium green with yellow splotches. The leaves and stems also have a thicker, more substantial feel than those on philodendrons. In a hanging basket, pothos stems grow to about 3 feet long. As an outdoor climbing vine, the golden pothos' height is limited only by its support, and the leaves reach 18 to 24 inches in length and sometimes longer.
As members of the Araceae or arum family, both pothos and philodendron have spathe flowers that look like small versions of the flowers on a peace lily (Spathiphylum). Heartleaf philodendron produces green flowers sporadically throughout the year while the blooms on golden pothos are yellowish-white and rarely seen indoors.
Few houseplants are more tolerant of low-light conditions than heartleaf philodendron. This tough plant prefers moderately bright conditions but still grows well in dim corners. Golden pothos is pickier. While the plant tolerates low-light conditions, it loses its gold variegation and reverts to solid green. Golden pothos grows and looks best in bright light but should avoid direct sunlight.
Both golden pothos and heartleaf philodendron grow best in evenly moist soil and tolerate the normal seasonal fluctuations in household humidity well. But because of its thicker leaves and stems and fleshier roots, golden pothos is more drought-tolerant than heartleaf philodendron.
Marie Roper began writing in 1987, preparing sales and training materials for Citadel, Inc. and then newsletters for Fullerton Garden Center. A trained horticulturist, she was a garden designer and adult-education teacher for the USDA Graduate School in Washington, D.C. Roper has a Bachelor of Arts in history from the University of Maryland.