Friday, June 1, 2012

The Tried And True Pothos

It was inevitable that sooner or later I would write about a plant and its family that started it all: Golden Pothos, also know as Devil’s Ivy, Devil’s Claw and even Centipede Tongavine. In garden centers and any place that sells plants, you’ll most likely run across the Golden Pothos more often than any of its other cousins. The golden cultivar is the most-commonly available plant from the Pothos group, and the most familiar.

And when you do run across it, you may find it labeled as ‘Scindapsus Aureus’, but when you ask a botanist what it’s called, you may hear the names ‘Epipremnum Aureum’, ‘Epipremnum Pinnatum’, ‘Rhaphidophora Aurea’ or ‘Pothos Aurea’. In addition, even though Pothos is a common name, it’s the name most indoor plant gardeners use to refer to it. Perhaps there are other names for this plant that has so many aliases you’d think it was a fugitive in hiding. But no matter what you call it, it’s one of the most popular and recognizable indoor plants. This is the first plant I ever owned - over two decades ago – and a plant that has followed me around ever since. My plant kingdom would not complete without it.

Frankly, I have no idea why I even waited so long to add information about this undemanding little charmer that introduced me to the world of houseplants, a world that has become a cherished (and indispensable) hobby. This indoor plant is not only in my home; it’s in a lot of homes. And it’s not only in homes; it’s also in offices, commercial buildings, restaurants, retail stores, hospitals and any other place you can imagine plants in. The reason you find it everywhere is because it’s a ‘tried and true’ potted plant; it always looks good, it’s easy to care for and it’s available for purchase all year round.

To top it all off, this low-growing plant propagates effortlessly, allowing you the opportunity to add one in every room of your house or to give away as a gift to friends and family who will add one in every room of their house. Pothos is one of the weeds of the houseplant world, utterly invasive, multiplying rapidly if encouraged. And you don’t need to own many of these plants to make many more. You can simply take cuttings from the ‘momma’ plant, place them in water or soil and...‘poof’...another rooted Pothos vine.

Before you know it, you’ll find yourself eagerly making more and more of these beauties, until your entire home is plagued by them. And if you happen to be making new plants with the easy and flexible water-rooting method, you’ll succumb to dropping cuttings into thrifty or fun containers such as empty jars, plastic pots, unused Tupperware, glass vases – anything within reach that is impermeable. You won’t be able to help yourself; it’ll just be too easy! For some folks, this ultimate way of filling up a home with greenery – frugally - may not be such a bad thing. A simple ‘poof’ here and a simple ‘poof’ there can increase your collection of Pothos plants in no time.

This post is a tribute to my very first Pothos, the Golden cultivator. But the care information below pertains more or less to all the members of this family. So stick around and learn a little about this versatile plant and its needs.


Simple Needs For An Easygoing Tropical

Originally native to the Solomon Islands, Pothos is an Aroid living wildly in many of the world’s tropical regions. Even though it is considered a tropical, it’s one of the few of its kind that won’t pull a tantrum if faced with dry air, droughts or cold drafts. Its ability to tolerate these three elements that are detrimental for most houseplants, and its capacity to survive in low light levels, make it the perfect specimen for indoors.

This highly-decorative, fast-growing plant - sometimes mistaken for a philodendron – is deserving of its reputation as one of the best choices for public places and houseplant novices with its undemanding nature and hardy constitution. Rated as one of the top indoor air purifiers, it sets the standard for neglect-tolerant plants. But no matter how resilient and carefree it is, Pothos does have certain conditions that must be met for optimal health. And one of those needs that should be monitored carefully is watering. Because about the only thing that will kill a Pothos is over-watering.

Pothos does not have a deep root system, which makes it very susceptible to root rot. It is extremely important to water this plant that hates wet feet carefully, making sure it does not sit in waterlogged soil one too many times. As a preventive measure, always use a loose, well-draining potting soil that doesn’t take too long to dry out between waterings. Keep the soil evenly moist during the active growing season and allow it to dry out a little more in the winter months.

When in doubt, put down the watering can and wait for signs of thirst. If you’ve ever forgotten to water a Pothos on time, you’ll likely find the trailing stems hanging limply over their container, which perk back up as soon as you hydrate the plant. Of course, you should never make it a habit of taking too long to water, which will eventually damage the root system. In time, with more experience, you’ll be able to judge whether the plant needs watering or not by simply picking up the pot to check how heavy it is. If it’s weightless, it’s definitely time for a drink.

The statement “If there’s enough light to read with, you can place a Pothos there” may very well be true but it’s not advice you should be following. The all-green variety can grow reasonably well in low light but the variegated cultivars are best grown in bright, indirect sunlight. Some morning sun does wonders for this vine; it stimulates growth and maintains healthy foliage. If light is insufficient, the variegation will fade, foliage will revert to solid green, plant growth will slow down and the distance between leaves will widen. And while the motto for this tropical is “the more light the better”, avoid midday sun, which will scorch the plant. Monitor your Pothos by checking the condition of the leaves; it’s the best way to determine whether you are providing too much – or not enough – light. Change locations if necessary.

A tropical plant likes to stay warm so place your Pothos in a room where the temperature is between 16°C (60°F) and 27°C (80°F). All you need to remember is that your plant enjoys the same temperatures as you do; if you are comfortable, so is your Pothos. Because of its enormously accommodating nature, even when temperatures drop to a chillier level, it’ll take awhile for your Pothos to show signs of stress. But why would you want o stress this lovely plant like that?

Generally speaking, Pothos does not make a fuss about humidity; it can handle dry air better than most indoor plants. Even so, during the winter when the heating system is running, try to raise the humidity to more reasonable levels, which will benefit you as well.


With proper care – bright light, careful watering, warm temperatures and fertilizer about once a month during the growing season – your Pothos will thrive. And no matter how you choose to grow one – on a stand, in a hanging basket, up a totem pole or creeping along a wall – it’ll adorn your home for many years to come.

No green-thumbed home should ever be without the fuss-free and attractive Pothos.


Pothos And Hydroculture

Obviously a plant that adapts to almost any situation in a home should have absolutely no problem adapting to a different growing method. And it doesn’t. The Pothos, which ‘poofs’ into a new plant as soon as a cutting dips its toes in water, sprouts water roots quickly and embraces the Hydroculture style with ease.

There are a few ways to convert a Pothos from soil to clay pellets, and every single one works.

- Take cuttings from the mother plant, root them in water and pot them up in the Hydroculture method when water roots emerge.

- Remove the plant from its pot, wash away all traces of soil from the roots, place the clean stems in a glass of water and pot them up when water roots form.

- Remove the plant from its pot, wash away all traces of soil from the roots and pot it up right away in clay pellets. Water roots will form within a month.

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