My introduction to the world of houseplants and their care was with a familiar variety, with a not-so-familiar name. The Epipremnum aureum (lat.) or Pothos.
As I get older and my own plant collection gets bigger, 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. That was because my mom was a houseplant virtuoso, completely oblivious to my father’s complaints of living in a jungle.
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.
HISTORY of the POTHOS (EPIPREMNUM AUREUM)
This now prolific houseplant 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.
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. Its interesting to see how world views of the time were reflected in the names given to new findings.
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 vs TOXIC PROPERTIES of POTHOS PLANTS
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 pets. 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.
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.
Currently, 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 on 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 still in their early stages. This plant should NEVER be used for medicinal purposes without consulting a medical professional first.
The epipremnum, through environmental adaptation over time, has morphed into several different types. Color, pattern, leaf shape and growing behavior are what determine each type. Below is a full list of all different types of Pothos available on the market, today. Because there is a lot of confusion out there on the interwebs as to which type is which, we’ve provided a brief description for each to help you identify each type based on the unique (and sometimes very similar) characteristics of each.
MARBLE QUEEN POTHOS
This regal yet common variety has large, heart shaped white leaves with heavy sprays of dark green spreading across each leaf, from it’s base, in random patterns. The leaves have a slight sheen to them with a smooth texture. Growing habits include a bushy core with trailing, vine-like tendrils.
SNOW QUEEN POTHOS
A close cousin to the Marble Queen, this variety is not as common. The color patterns on each leaf are quite the opposite, with much lighter sprays of dark green across a more prominent white background, giving this variety it’s name. Being related, it displays the same leaf sheen and texture as the Marble Queen, as well as growing habits.
The most familiar of all these varieties, the leaf shape and sheen, growth patterns and texture of this variety are similar to the Marble Queen yet with gold marbling spraying out from the base of each leaf against a dark green backdrop. Interestingly, the more natural, indirect sunlight this variety is exposed to, the more prominent the gold marbling becomes.
This variety is less common than previous ones. Unique in its beautiful, pale green leaves with splashes of dark green, yet similar to more common varieties in leaf shape, texture and growing habits. This variety tends to be slower growing though due to its slower process of photosynthesis, which may also be the cause of the different shades of green on each leaf.
As the 2nd most common variety, the Jade is widely seen in hotels and offices, taking advantage of the air-purifying properties of these plants. Growing patterns, leaf size and shape are similar to the Golden, yet are smooth, solid jade-green without any marbling effect. However, because it is so closely related to the golden, with more indirect light, you may see some gold marbling appear.
The unique ‘glowing’ appearance of this variety may be due to the chlorophyll in its leaves loosing color with more light exposure. In lower light, the leaves darken in color. Leaf shape and growth patterns are consistent with previous varieties yet with no color variations or patterns, at all.
Also known as the satin pothos this not-so-common variety is distinct for its lamb’s ear soft, rich green leaves with random splotches of greyish-white rendering a more satin texture instead of the sheen of previous varieties.
N' JOY POTHOS
The patterns on this variety are noticeably different from the aforementioned ones. Instead of sprays of color spreading from the base of each leaf, the n’ joy displays more concentrated areas of contrasting green on a white leaf which move out from the center leaf vein across to its outer edges.
PEARLS and JADE POTHOS
This could be thought of as simply a smaller version of the N’ Joy. Yet, this one often has more green on it’s leaves than, it’s counterpart. Being smaller, it makes a beautiful addition to combination plantings with other varieties.
Being the newest kid on the block, this variety is still a rare one and is often mistaken for an N’ Joy. The easiest way to tell the difference is to look for the very noticeable patches of grey in with the green on a white leaf, giving this pretty and unique plant it’s name. .
The unique leaf markings on this variety are usually half green/half white, like a harlequin mask. While others can have showy large stripes of each color. The leaves are larger that those of more common types, making this a prized addition to many houseplant collections .
Another prized variety is this uniquely variegated specimen. The patterns on each leaf give a gorgeous appearance of being painted with varying shades of green and white watercolors. Like the Harlequin, the Manjula also has larger heart-shaped leaves than more common varieties.
The largest leaves can be found on the exotic Hawaiian pothos. This variety mostly grows in the wild but can, if given the room, can be grown indoors in a very sunny spot. Similar to the Golden, it’s grand leaves are adorned with sprays of gold.
CEBU BLUE POTHOS
The most exotic variety of pothos is, of course, the Cebu Blue. While it is categorized as an epipremnum, the long narrow shape of it’s leaves along with it’s blue-green color make it an absolute stunner!
GROWTH PATTERNS of POTHOS PLANTS
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. You don’t need to live in the rain forests of South America to grow your leafy beauties outside, though.
Under very specific conditions, these lovely plants may even flower. The blooms are produced in an elegant 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 CARE
One convenient trait of these evergreen beauties is that they need very little light, allowing them to thrive just about anywhere. 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.
Epipremnums are pretty easy-going when it comes to water requirements, too. They have adapted to survive times of drought as well as rain abundance. Which means they can also tolerate an inconsistent watering schedule as a houseplant. However, if the soil completely dries out, plant “drooping” can happen, at which point the pothos should be watered thoroughly and allowed to drain as needed.
Considering that these plants grow up in trees in the wild, they aren’t picky about soil quality. Any standard potting mix will suffice. But good drainage is a must for any houseplant, so be sure to mix in an adequate amount of perlite with the potting soil, to ensure this.
Similarly, any average houseplant fertilizer will work for pothos plants, perhaps every other month or so during the warmer months when these are a the height of their growing season. Container soil will lose it’s nutrients over time as the plant absorbs it, so it’s very important to replenish them when needed.
PROPAGATING POTHOS PLANTS
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.
POTHOS COMBINATION PLANTING
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 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.
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