Tuesday, November 20, 2007

John Q. Public (Epipremnum aureum)

Is there anything that can be said about Epipremnum aureum that hasn't been said already? I have my doubts. I spent a long time on-line doing search after search after search, trying to uncover something odd, or interesting, or even just new about it, and I got nothing.

What they usually look like. Viney, eh?

It's so ordinary, in fact, that a large percentage of the posts about it at Garden Web are just people asking for identifications on it – it gets mistaken for a Philodendron a lot, but that's not unexpected, since they're related. (If this is a question you yourself have, check out this post, which I believe is as definitive a guide to the difference between Epipremnum and Philodendron as it's possible to get.) It's also had more than its share of names, both scientific and common,1 which makes for confusion.

By and large, though, you know it when you see it, because you see it all the time. It's very tolerant of all kinds of indoor conditions: humidity is no big deal, low light is peachy, and it can go for a long time without water and then bounce right back when it gets it again. It still can get pests, though this doesn't seem to happen real easily or often.2 The only real worry is overwatering: they do not like it, and it will kill them. All of this taken together means that the odds are very good that there is a pothos somewhere within 50 feet of you as you read this, and if you asked, it would probably tell you that it's doing "fine."

The species itself.

Somewhat less widely known is the fact that indoor plants are almost always juveniles; as with Dizygotheca elegantissima,3 Syngonium podophyllum, Hedera helix, and (sometimes) Monstera deliciosa, plants sold as houseplants have a different leaf shape, or growth habit, or both, than fully-grown adult plants. In the case of Epipremnum aureum, plants allowed to climb a pole or tree in good light and humidity will eventually develop Monstera-like perforations and splits in the leaves, though this often won't happen until a good amount of height has been attained first, and isn't easy to achieve indoors. Mature leaves can be as big as 30 inches (75 cm) across. Only adult plants flower, and not very often, though it can be done in cultivation.

Epipremnum aureum is available in at least a few different cultivars. Besides the species, which is variegated in yellow and white, there is 'Marble Queen,' which has finer variegation in a sort of cream-white color, and 'Neon,' which has solid yellow-green leaves with no variegation. There are, according to some references, also at least three (kinda-redundant) all-green versions,4 and at least one more yellow+white cultivar,5 though I think I've personally only ever seen four ('Marble Queen,' species itself, 'Neon,' all-green).

'Neon,' my favorite.

By far, my most serious problem with pothos has been a root disease called Pythium splendens, which causes infected stems to shrivel and go black from base to tip. This has happened not only to a number of plants from work, which is bad enough, but it happened to a plant at home that I was actually kind of attached to, a 'Neon' in a 4-inch pot that had been doing so well for me that I decided to up-pot it. Almost immediately after the up-potting, it started dying, which was very depressing. I took cuttings, and we'll see whether anything is salvageable. Pythium mostly attacks plants that are too wet (I told you overwatering was bad.), and spreads via splashes of water between plants, or by hands or tools that have just touched infected soil or plants. My reference book says it can be fought off with antifungals, but it rarely seems worth bothering to treat it, since anything I bought to get rid of the fungus would likely cost more than a new 4-inch plant would.

Or just propagating a new plant, which with pothos is incredibly easy. I personally favor water-rooting, because my success rate with water is very nearly 100%, and with soil, I only get about 60% success because Pythium, or something else, gets them before they establish roots. Water may not be the best thing for the plant once it's transplanted to soil, but they do at least all survive that way.

But that's about the extent of it. The vines, even when they're not climbing, can get pretty long: I've seen vines that were easily five feet long growing along the top of a cabinet in someone's office. For some people, this is the supposedly easy plant that they can't grow,6 which I think likely means that they try to overwater it. But otherwise . . .

Aha! I've come up with something new to say about Epipremnum aureum that I'm pretty sure nobody else has ever reported: it's an anagram for "a pure, premium menu."7 There. Not really relevant, or interesting, but by God it's new. So there you go.

'Marble Queen.'


Photo credits: plant in basket – anonymous Garden Webber.
foliage close-ups – me.

1To wit: pothos, Epipremnum aureum, Epipremnum pinnatum 'Aureum', Scindapsus aureus, centipede tongavine, taro vine, hunter's robe, ivy arum, devil's ivy, Pothos aureus, Scindapsus pinnatum, Philodendron nechodomii, etc. Plus, plants are frequently referred to only by cultivar name, e.g. 'Marble Queen,' so those probably count too.
It's unclear whether the current correct botanical name is Epipremnum aureum or E. pinnatum, but I had to pick one, so I went with the one that was more familiar to me. I'm also more than a little puzzled about whether E. pinnatum and E. aureum are the same plant or not – some sites say yes, some sites say no, many sites only acknowledge one or the other and don't mention that there's even a question.
2 Super-duper plant reference book says that they're often spider-mite magnets, but I don't think I've ever seen this personally, and it's not something that comes up often at Garden Web either (it does once in a while, but if you wait long enough, anything will come up once in a while at GW. Remember that guy who had penguins on his Polyscias fruticosa?). No reason not to check a plant over carefully if you're going to buy, but I think Mr. Griffith exaggerates.
3 Now, technically Schefflera elegantissima, but Dizygotheca sounds so much better in my head that I hate to let go of it.
4 'Green Gold,' 'Jade,' and 'Tropic Green.' I do not know in what way these are different from one another. At least one of them is probably a version of 'Marble Queen' that went all-green from low light, which 'Marble Queen' in particular is prone to do. I think that a stem that's reverted to solid green stays that way, even if it subsequently gets good light again, though I'm not positive on that.
5 'Hawaiian.'
6 I am very nearly convinced that everybody has one "difficult" plant that they find really easy to grow, and one "easy" plant that they can't grow at all. My "easy" plant that I can't grow changes from month to month but often seems to be something in the Philodendron family.
7 Also "immune urea pumper," but I liked the other one better.


Anonymous said...

I love this plant. They are so easy to care for, and they are really lovely plants. I have a few different cultivars and I love them all, but I think the solid green one is my fav! Just beautiful green glossy leaves.

Anonymous said...

I love my Silk Pothos plant. He is beautiful and I Have him climbing on bamboo hoops at the moment. The leaves are huge!! This one is my favorite for being unique and so beautiful:)

The Dude said...

This is one of my favourite plants...very easy to propogate (I use water rather than soil). The vines themselves can grow to be quite long...I've currently got one vine at around 15 feet, and another at 10 feet or so...and they just keep growing.

Tomato said...

Buenos Tardes,

Aha! I have a beautiful 'Marble Queen' at work. I found your blog through 1,436 jumps through links, starting with the UBC Botanical Gardens website.

Thank you so much!

I'm off to impress my workmates!

Con regard,


Anonymous said...

This plant is one of three, from a NASA research project and New Dehli experiment, which are great for creating fresh air. Chrysolidocarpus lutescens was ideal for living rooms, Sansevieria trifasciata for the bedroom (coverts CO2 into O2 at night), and Epipremnum Aureum. The study showed that blood O2 levels were increased by 1%, eye irritation down 52%, respiratory problems down 34%, headaches down 24%, lung impairment was reduced by 12% and asthma was down 9%. Worker Productivity went up by over 20% and energy output was reduced by 15%. More can be found here - http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/kamal_meattle_on_how_to_grow_your_own_fresh_air.html

mr_subjunctive said...

Well, for a variety of reasons, I'm very skeptical about claims that houseplants improve indoor air quality in any kind of significant way. I think it's more likely that people like the way plants look, and react positively when pretty stuff is introduced to their office/home/whatever.

I do know that at the very least, with (at last count) 503 plants in a two-bedroom apartment, including many of the plants from the NASA and other studies, PLUS a job that involves being in close proximity to even more and larger plants 35-40 hours per week, I still have eye irritation, headaches, and so forth. In fact, I think I get colds a lot more often than I used to. (Not necessarily the plants' fault, but I'm also not healthier than I used to be.) And I know I'm mildly allergic to at least a couple of my plants.

I'm not saying don't get houseplants. I think people should. Houseplants are nice for any number of reasons. But people are complicated, and have health-related problems caused by all kinds of things, not just bad air quality, and I see a lot of hype around plants that I think is ultimately going to make a lot of people disappointed, especially since for all the hype, there's very little attention given to how one is actually supposed to take care of the plants in question.

Anonymous said...

I love your blog, great job! I have noticed some Pothos are much thicker than others. They have huge leaves and very thick vines. This is not just the overall size and age of the plant, it almost seems like a variation of the smaller version. When I asked about this I was told liquid fertilizer is the reason, is that true?

mr_subjunctive said...

It's probably not the liquid fertilizer on its own, no. Every pothos I've ever seen with large leaves and stems was also either growing in a tropical climate at the time, or had just been shipped from one. To get a really huge plant, you need a tree (or something) for it to climb, plenty of warm, humid air, bright light (not necessarily sun), and regular feeding. I don't personally believe that it matters whether you're using liquid fertilizer (already dissolved), dry fertilizer (you have to dissolve it yourself), or time-release fertilizer (dissolves in water over a long period).

Anonymous said...

Thank-you so much for your answer! I can't express enough how useful and informative this blog has been for me. You have saved me time and in the long-term, money also. I would have wasted precious time hoping my pothos and philodedron would "thicken up" due to Miracle Gro. Do you have any tips for effective feeding and speeding up propogation?

mr_subjunctive said...

Well, I have had two 'Neon' pothos for a while, both in four-inch pots, and I had one growing in and out of a wine rack, and the other was allowed to just sit. The wine-rack one I usually watered with half-strength fertilizer at every watering, and the other I usually didn't water at all, though I think I gave it a few of the little balls of time-release fertilizer at some point.

My overall impression is that they didn't really care that much, and I don't think feeding is a critical issue for pothos. Half-strength fertilizer every time you water would work, or you could just get a container of Osmocote 20-20-20 (actually I think what I have is 14-14-14, but same thing) and throw a few new balls in there every three months, and it should be good.

I don't think propagation can really be sped up a lot, and I have never had particularly good luck with it, but a warm, bright spot is always going to be better than a dark, cool one.

Anonymous said...

Thank-you for your helpful reply. One last question please. I saw a clip on youtube after keying in "pothos" and viewed what might have been a Latin TV program with a giant Pothos that was so big the upper leaves had the appearance of a Split-leaf Philodendron but it was variegated. Will really big pothos plants do this or is this 'Monstera' leaf another variety?

mr_subjunctive said...

It's the same species, just the mature form. Unlikely to happen outside of a year-round tropical environment, and I believe it will only do it if it's got something to climb, as well. At least the only examples I've ever seen were all climbing something at the time.

Anonymous said...

Thank-you mr_subjunctive, keep up the awesome work please!

davelybob said...

You forgot the exotic poultry fetish club in Berlin: "Peein' Emu Rump Raum".

Heh. Anagrams iz fun.

cirrat said...

In fact, it is very hard to kill by overwatering too - you really have to try and drown it and go for it for more than half a year... We got our scindapsus (I know it under this name, so I'll stick to it) from my mother in law, who is notorious for overwatering plants and all. Then I decided, because I've seen it grown as a hydroponia, that it likes water and overwatered it for about eight months (!!!). Eventually our cat damaged one step by climbing over it and scratching big holes in the leaves of the other stem and I decided to repot it. There was just a mud in the pot and the pot itself was caked in half-an-inch thick crust of mineral salts coming from the ten years in the office with hard water and no repotting. It is now about ten months since I repotted it and it not only lives, it is now three times as big as it was at that time. Including the holes in the leaves from the cat's claws and everything... This plant really survives nearly everything. Well, I guess my husband nearly got it once - he didn't notice where he was placing a small candle and set it directly under one leaf, which blackened and died within three days. But that was it.

A Library Girl said...

Ooh, I think I found the plant I had so much success with a while back. This thing just grew and grew and was the first plant that convinced me that not every growing thing would die under my care. :)

Tom said...

Even though this post is rather old I'm still going to comment. There is another variety of pothos that is relatively new. Pearls and Jade (Pearls 'N Jade? I've seen it as both) came out a year or two ago. It's basically marble queen with smaller leaves and a white border around all the leaves. There was also another new one with all green leaves and really short internodes producing a bushy plant...but I can't remember the name. if I ever remember it and you actually care to know I can let you know.

mr_subjunctive said...

Yeah, I didn't know about 'N'Joy' or 'Pearls and Jade' when I wrote this. Haven't seen the solid green one with short internodes you're referring to, but I've seen a few varieties in development at Plant Daddy that aren't even on the market yet, so I'm aware the list of cultivars isn't comprehensive and probably never will be.

I wouldn't mind knowing the name for the green one you're talking about, if you happen to recall it.

Tom said...

Ok my boss finally got back to me with that pothos. It's Green Genie.


It's nothing too special, just a bit thicker and sturdier looking.

Helodia said...

To Mr Subjunctive!

I need your help. I re-potted my Codiaeum varigata and Epipremnum aureum combination(they were my first plants, bought from a garden store). They were root bound and pushing out of their pots. The Codiaeum varigata went into shock. It just now has come back but it is growing much smaller leaves. However my Epiprenium is sad looking. It's white and bright yellow now, when it used to be neon green. It seems like they might need different environments. Should I try and rescue the Epipremnum by re-potting it separately, or propagating a cutting? I have attached a link with a picture.

Thanks for your help! (I love your blog and so does my fiancée, who is a garden assassin.)




mr_subjunctive said...


I would advise trying to propagate the pothos, just to have a backup. (I've had trouble propagating pothos too, as far as that goes, but most people don't, so it should be fine.) The reason is that the bigger pot will stay wetter longer, and the pothos is more likely to have trouble with that than the croton is.

I'm not a fan of group plantings in the first place, because it's fairly uncommon for different plants to want the exact same conditions at the exact same time; one of them generally winds up suffering at the other's expense. I don't know if it's a good idea in this case to separate the plants, since you just repotted them (and anyway I've lost pothos plants after repotting, so repotting twice in short order would be riskier), though.

Snowman on Pothos Plants said...

Thanks for this nice post. I didn't know pothos could grow so large in nature.

I once saw this plant being used in an aquarium. You can leave some cuttings floating on the water and over time their roots will fill your aquarium, providing some shelter for your fish.

Owen said...

In response to the previous commenter: My family grew E. aureum in a riparium set up for a couple of frogs. It went nuts and was later moved to a 35-gal aquarium that housed at various times some big goldfish and a large aquatic salamander. The roots nearly filled the aquarium, and the vines grew through the 1/4" screen top. The aquarium was in a large, east-facing window, and the plant spent several years there, climbing up the walls and attaching itself to the curtain rods. I guess it wasn't tropical enough for the plant to grow adult leaves, but we had to cut the plant back by a total of maybe 50 feet every year. Unfortunately, my parents moved, and the plant didn't handle the drastic change in conditions, including a noticeable reduction in lighting, very well. It started to make a comeback after about a year, but the aquarium was disassembled and the plant is no more. But I'll be damned if that wasn't one of the most impressive houseplants I'd ever seen.

Chelsea Hodge said...

Mr. Subjunctive - I love your blog! I've been doing research on my house plants on and off for the last few months and only just came across your blog today. Going forward, however, I am going to make it my go-to reference. Great content, lots of details, good clarity, fantastic stories, and most importantly, lots of sass. : )

Also - a few questions for you about pothos and one general question.

Question #1: Can you provide more specifics on propagating pothos? I know you said that water propagation is the way to go, but how exactly is this done? Do I cut off some step + one leaf? Or two leaves? Is a whole bunch of leaves okay? Do I need to tear of any laves before sticking it in water? How long should I let it grow roots in water before moving to soil? Does the water need to have any fertilizer in it?

Question #2: This question is about my pothos specifically. I purchased it in a 5" pot about 2.5 years ago from a very reputable family-owned hardware store that had a small nursery attached to it (McGuckin Hardware in Boulder, CO, in case you've ever been/go; it's truly an amazing place). When I got my pothos it was very full, and the vines/leaves only reached to about 4" below the bottom of the pot.

Since then I've had it exclusively on top of tall bookshelves or partial walls (6' to 7' tall) and the vines now reach down up to 3.5 feet from the bottom of the pot. I love this. However, the plant has also gotten a bit scraggly. It's just not as thick and lush as it used to be. Is this because it's in too small a pot, or it needs more fertilizer, or I need to prune it to be less long, or something else entirely? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Question #3: What is your favorite slow release fertilizer? (I.e. throw some pellets in the plant pot every few months). Organic would be great if you know a good product. I just can't seem to make fertilizing weekly actually happen.

mr_subjunctive said...

Chelsea Hodge:

There's no single right answer to some of these questions, but let's try anyway:

For water-rooted cuttings, I'd normally recommend that you take sections of stem with 2 nodes (node = the point on the stem where a leaf and root emerge), remove the lower leaf, and then set it in water so that the leafless node is below the water and the leaf node is above it. Then place the cuttings in a bright spot (a little sun is okay), away from drafts, and wait until you see roots beginning to grow: once they're, I don't know, an inch or 2 long, you should be able to transfer them to soil successfully, though there's no urgency to it: they'll continue to grow in water for a long time.

The actual plant producers in Florida, I understand, do 1-node cuttings, directly stuck in soil, but that's harder to pull off if you're not in a tropical area and don't have a greenhouse. I've successfully direct-stuck some 2-node cuttings here, but lost about 1/3 of them in the process.

Longer cuttings will root in water just as well as short ones, though if you begin with a long cutting, your plant will start off longer and lankier, which may or may not be what you want. A longer cutting might be more inclined to root quickly, though, because it has multiple leaves to photosynthesize with while it tries.

I do recommend adding a little bit of fertilizer, yes. A general-purpose houseplant fertilizer that includes trace elements (check the label for the presence of manganese -- it's not that manganese is that critical on its own, but if a fertilizer contains Mn, it most likely contains the other relevant elements as well, and it's easier to remember just 1 thing) should be fine. I've been using Miracle-Gro 24-8-16 all-purpose even though Miracle Gro is sort of evil, because I can sort of afford to buy it and because it's relatively easy to find. 20-20-20 is also a fairly common formulation, and would also work fine for this.

I mix up several gallons of fertilizer at a time and store it in milk jugs, which may or may not make sense for you to do. I'm not hugely consistent about fertilizing cuttings, but you don't actually have to be. Usually I fill the container about 4/5 full with tap water and then add fertilizer, mixed according to package directions, for the final 1/5.

mr_subjunctive said...


As for question 2: this is sort of hard to answer. It's not "normal" for pothos to lose its lowest leaves as it ages, in the sense that that's not something that happens when it's grown outdoors in a tropical environment, but it does tend to be typical for plants grown indoors, and I can't say I entirely understand why that is, except that it's got something to do with the less-ideal conditions.

If you've had it 2.5 years, then yes, even if it's not scraggly because of being potbound, it's probably ready to move up. Ordinarily, I'd tell people to go up 2 inches, so you'd want a pot with a 7-inch diameter, but I've had pothos die on me (twice!) after getting moved from a 4-inch to 6-inch pot, so if it were me, I'd probably only move up to a 6-inch pot.

Fertilizer is probably not the issue; they'll survive on basically no fertilizer at all, so if you're providing any, that's probably enough.

Pruning will cause branching, which might be more what you're looking for in terms of giving a fuller appearance. It's possible to get a new growing tip at each node. If you decide to prune, I have four recommendations: 1) don't do it just after (or before) repotting, 2) cut it shorter than what you think you want to (though don't go shorter than 3 or 4 inches per stump), because the more you cut it back now, the fuller it will look when it fills back in, 3) remember that it won't dry out as quickly when it has fewer leaves, so adjust your watering accordingly, and 4) if possible, move the plant to a brighter spot for a couple months right after you do it, so long as you have a spot that's not drafty. An east or west window that provides a little direct sun for part of the day is just about ideal.

The reason for that last one is that the plant will be using the amount of light it's getting, among other things, to decide how many new branches to make. Left where it is, the stumps closest to the light source might decide to branch a little bit, but the ones further from the light may not branch at all, so you could end up with a plant that's fuller but lopsided.

As to question 3, I've had to stop using slow-release fertilizer, because the one brand I tried (Osmocote 14-14-14, I think) didn't provide trace elements, so it wasn't doing much good. Also I had trouble keeping track of when I'd added it. There are time-release fertilizers out there that have trace elements in them, but I don't know any brand names specifically.

Ed V said...

Love your page! It's a wealth of valuable information and insight. Epipremnum aureum is what brought me here today. I likely have no "new" information on it, but I can offer a new twist on it for those who have any interest in obsessive-compulsive neurosis, as it applies to a plant as an individual. :)


mr_subjunctive said...

Ed V:

All I'm getting is your Facebook page; is this something I would need a Facebook account in order to read?

Molly said...

Love this write-up! You've helped me realize what my old beloved university plant was--I bought it as a Philodendron (I think) but by the time I accidentally let a frost on my balcony kill it during law school, it had big (10"), perforated leaves, which didn't make any sense to me. Must've been this guy--and yes, I think I had it climbing, though only about 18" on some wood.

I probably nailed the humidity on and off, because I was an aquarium fanatic for several of those years--nothing humidifies a dorm room better than bubbling, heated aquariums!

Such a great plant. I think I'm going to go track down a Marble Queen and see if I can get those gorgeous big, perforated leaves going in a few years. Worth a try!

sum527 said...

I seen some new Pothos Varieties out there. One I thought one cultivar was an ivy plant but it turned to be Potho's Glacier and several others with lime green stripes bands on the dark green. There's a different species called Silver Pothos with dark green velvety leaves with white spots and borders on leaves.

Anonymous said...

Im brand new to this plant and reading on how to grow this. I know absolutely nothing about it. But i want to. My husband brought home two little vines... Had no clue what it was...
So far, i like what im reading about it... He put It in an empty pepsi bottle filled with water... I was thinking hes gonna drown it.

ivana grr said...

Mr. Subjunctive, what a great blog!

Thanks for sharing all the information about various plants and opening my eyes regarding Epipremnum care!
Although I've always considered it to be an easy-maintenance plant, it died on me when used as part of a green wall... Obviously, it couldn't stand the amount of water needed to keep the other plants alive, which is a great shame, since I can't imagine a replacement for the 'Neon' variety, which would bring a yellow kick to the composition and look as beautiful.
But, it is, as you've mentioned in one of your comments, a hell of a task to make a combination of plants that have the exact same requirements, especially in a medium as sensitive as a soil-less green wall...
You can check what the wall initially looked like, following the link: https://www.facebook.com/1450780465195122/photos/a.1461777680762067.1073741830.1450780465195122/1617326101873890/?type=1&theater
It's on a FB page, but i think you should be able to see it even without an account!