Houseplant Education Series

The Pothos

These days, I find myself reminiscing upon many a fond memory of my brother and me playing in our backyard. Pretending to dig up dinosaur bones in a muddy corner of the yard and climbing our giant avocado tree were two favourite activities.

As much of a fantasy world as that space was for us as kids, it wasn’t much of a garden. My mom was a houseplant virtuoso though. Despite my father’s complaints of living in a jungle.

Houseplant Education Series - The Pothos

The familiar home garden centers that we enjoy today didn’t yet exist at that time. Instead, I watched my mom delight in collecting different houseplants from where ever she came upon them. Sometimes, in the most interesting of places, looking back. Yard sales, school fundraisers, etc. New plant varieties were often collected from cuttings that my mom and her friends would trade.

Similar to my introduction to gardening in the true north, my introduction to the world of houseplants and their care was with a familiar variety, with a not-so-familiar name. The pothos or Epipremnum aureum (lat.).

Plant History

The now prolific pothos can be traced back to its native roots on the island of  Mo’orea, a member of the societal French Polynesian islands. It was first dubbed Pothos aureus in 1880, during its original categorization. But, properly naming the pothos was heavily debated due to the observation of a flower blooming from it in 1960. Epipremnum aureum was decided upon as it’s permanent Latin name, based on the plant’s overall leaf structure and growing behavior.

Early scientific illustrations of the pothos plant

During the 19th century, as with many new discoveries, this plant was given many common names. Possibly because biologists and horticulturalists simply didn’t have the fast and efficient means of sharing new information that we do today.

Researchers around the world gave this plant monikers such as Ceylon Creeper, Hunter’s Robe, Money Plant and Devil’s Ivy Perhaps due to the individual world perceptions and beliefs of the researchers, at the historical time in which they lived. Since its first categorization, some 140 years ago, this specimen has made its way around the world to become the familiar house and office plant we know today.

Medicinal/Toxic Properties

Toxicity

The ASPCA and Pet Poison Control have listed this plant as toxic to cats and dogs because of the presence of insoluble raphides. These cause crystallization in the tissue of the esophagus which may lead to choking and the inability to breathe. Great care should be taken to ensure that pets do not have access to them. We have ours in pots, hanging from the ceiling, well out of the reach of our familiars. We think of it as pet-proofing our gardening habit. Due to the calcium oxalate within the plant, it can also be mildly toxic to humans. It would be wise to keep them out of reach of small children, as well.

Medicinal Studies

Some pothos varieties are cultivated for their ornamental flowers and foliage. Others for their food value. In the west, these varieties are more commonly known as ornamental plants. Appreciated for their air pollution removing capacity. Elements such as formaldehyde, benzene and carbon monoxide are among these. By doing so, they also help to eliminate odors. Presently, these plants are being studied with special focus on their potential ethnomedicinal and pharmacological uses that are beneficial to both humans and the environment. We certainly need more things in the world that can do that.

There are few available reports to the medicinal properties of the pothos. Yet according to innovareacademics.in, each part of this plant has been found to have antibacterial, anti-termite and antioxidant properties. Research has suggested these plants are potentially anti-malarial, anti-cancerous, anti-tuberculosis, anti-arthritis and wound healing. Of course, these points of research are in their early stages. This plant should NEVER be used for medicinal purposes without consulting a medical professional first.

Different varieties

The pothos, through environmental adaptation over time, has morphed into several different types. Color, leaf shape and growing behavior are what determine each type. Listed below are the most familiar.

Houseplant Education Series - The Pothos

Marble Queen Pothos – This stunning variety has rather large leaves with a discernible sheen, highlighted by brilliant, white marbling throughout. Growth patterns include a bushy core with trailing, vine-like tendrils.

Golden Pothos – The most prolific of all the varieties, the leaf shape, general color and growth patterns of this variety are consistent with the Marble Queen yet with gold marbling throughout its leaves instead of white.

Houseplant Education Series - The Pothos

Jade Pothos – The 2nd most common variety, the Jade Pothos is widely seen in hotels and offices to take advantage of their air-purifying properties. Growing patterns, leaf size and shape are similar to the Golden and Marble Queen varieties, yet are solid green without any marbling effect.

Houseplant Education Series - The Pothos

Neon Pothos – Leaf shape and growth patterns are consistent with other varieties yet the ‘neon’ possesses a unique quality. An almost ‘glowing’ effect in its solid, light green leaves.

Houseplant Education Series - The Pothos

Silver Pothos – A not-so-common variety, distinct in its beautiful, dark green leaves with splashes of white rendering a more satin finish.

Growth Patterns

In its natural habitat, the E. aureum can often grow to 20m/65ft tall, with stems measuring a staggering 4cm/1.5in across! Similar to orchids, their roots can grow quite happily without soil, latching onto trunks and branches of trees, in a more tropical climate.

Under very specific conditions, the pothos may even flower. These flowers are produced in a swath, which can extend up to 23cm/9in long. Domestic houseplants are less likely to flower, perhaps due to environmental factors. The leaves on these trailing stems grow up to 10cm/4in long along tendrils that can reach down more than 91cm/36in.

Basic Pothos Plant Care

Light: One convenient trait of these easy-to-care-for plants is that they need very little light, allowing them to thrive in environments with little access to it. Pothos’ are quite happy to accommodate any light source from natural sunlight to energy-efficient bulbs in homes to florescent bulbs often used in retail spaces, hotels and offices, resulting in them being the most utilized type of plant for decorative effect across the globe.

Water: The Pothos is also quite accommodating when it comes to its water requirements. Through its evolution, the Pothos has adapted to do well in times of drought as well as rain abundance. Which means they can also tolerate an inconsistent watering schedule as an indoor plant. However, in times of extended drought, when the soil completely dries out, plant “drooping” can be observed, at which point the pothos should be watered thoroughly and allowed to drain as needed.

Soil: Considering that these plants grow up in trees in the wild, they aren’t picky about soil quality. Any standard potting mix will suffice.

Fertilizer: Similarly, any average houseplant fertilizer will work for pothos plants, perhaps every other month or so, as container soil will lose it’s nutrients over time as the plant absorbs it.

Propagation

When the Pothos plant is in a rapid growth stage, it’s signature, leaf-lined tendrils can grow quite long. This is the perfect opportunity to snip some healthy stems for your pothos cuttings. Without affecting the overall health and lush appearance of the plant itself.

Each cutting should have four or more leaves on it, to ensure it’s strength and vitality as it develops roots. Remove the leaf that is closest to the cut end. If not, it will become a safe haven for algae and bacteria to grow when submerged in water. Place the stems in a small glass vase or drinking glass filled with clean, distilled water and place in a sunny window.

With the combination of clean water, light and heat (intensified by the glass window pane and the glass container), roots should begin to grow from the small brown nodes present along each stem. Pothos cuttings can also be propagated by introducing a rooting agent. Then placing them in well-drained potting soil. However, since Pothos plants grow so happily devoid of soil in the wild, I prefer to root them in a plain glass of water without any rooting agents. I simply haven’t found it to be necessary, in this case.

Combination Planting

Hanging basket of a combination of Pothos and Wandering Jew cuttings

If you have the opportunity to root stems from different varieties of pothos, why not go wild and put them together as a combination planting. I like to mix them with other varieties of houseplant such as this mix that I just started. It contains two different types of pothos with pops of wandering jew (Tradescantia zebrina) for contrasting color and pattern.

Part of the enjoyment of gardening is the understanding of it, from many aspects, through education. This journey through the world of horticulture fascinates me. I’m delighted to be able to share that fascination with you. For tips on winter houseplant care, check out Helping houseplants thrive in winter.

Be sure to enjoy all the posts in this series, and feel free to share how they have benefited your journey.

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