At Garden Web this weekend, someone asked a question about the difference between Monstera deliciosa and split-leaf philodendrons. I answered and said that there wasn't a difference, that both names referred to the same plant, which led to a long chain of posts which culminated in the realization that people sometimes also call Philodendron bipinnatifidum "split-leaf philodendron," which does kind of make sense, since its leaves are split, and it is a Philodendron, and that was the source of the confusion, though there are multiple Monsteras and multiple Philodendrons, and also plants that are called Philodendrons, which makes it all a little more complicated than that.
In the process of realizing this, at one point, I was going to write a list of which plants were which, and how to distinguish the similarly-named plants from one another, but it got wicked complicated really fast, so I decided it would be more appropriate as a blog post than as a post to Garden Web, both because it was going to wind up being long and because it might actually have been entertaining -- since stuff posted to GW is legally property of GW (or so the terms of service insists), I try not to throw away good material on GW if I can use it at PATSP. And so here we are instead.
First, there is the plant Monstera deliciosa, which started the whole mess and is called "split-leaf philodendron" or "swiss cheese plant," though it is not a Philodendron in the botanical sense. It is not made of swiss cheese, either, incidentally.
There's a second, much less common "swiss cheese plant," sometimes called "swiss cheese philodendron," which is also a Monstera, but a different one, Monstera adansonii (sometimes Monstera obliqua). It is not a Philodendron or made of swiss cheese either.
There's also a second "split-leaf philodendron," Philodendron bipinnatifidum, which actually is a real Philodendron, though the common name it usually goes by is "tree philodendron." It is probably better known as Philodendron selloum, though I'm pretty sure Philodendron bipinnatifidum is the current correct name.
Most of the problem with the above group, and the reason why it all got so confusing, is that the botanical name Philodendron has become part of the common name of plants which are not Philodendrons botanically. This is a situation that's not incredibly common, though I can think of other examples.1 So that's the whole "split-leaf philodendron" thing.
(As a side note: I have a terrible time writing anything about Philodendron bipinnatifidum, which is going to make the upcoming Philodendron bipinnatifidum profile that much more difficult, because I get it mixed up with the plant Philodendron bipennifolium, a vining plant with a similar botanical name. Its common name is "horse-head philodendron," because apparently when you take lots of psychoactive drugs and then squint at it until your eyes are almost closed, the leaves kind of look like horses' heads. I don't see it personally, but that's what I am told.)
But the Monstera-Philodendron crowd is not the most confusing such group. Misleading common names are all over the place.2 And when both the botanical and common names are involved at the same time, trying to straighten out what's what can become nightmarishly complex. Witness the steaming hot mess that is the word "pothos:"
There is a plant commonly known as "pothos," which has the botanical designation Epipremnum aureum. Davesgarden.com lists as synonyms Epipremnum pinnatum, Philodendron nechodomii, Pothos aureus, Scindapsus aureus, and Scindapsus pinnatus.
Epipremnum aureum is very similar to another fairly commonly-sold plant, Philodendron hederaceum, to the point where a lot of people call Epipremnums "philodendrons" as more or less a common name. (This irritated me enough that I wrote a post specifically about how to tell them apart.)
There is also an actual genus, containing several species, by the botanical name of Pothos. I could not locate a usable picture of an actual Pothos-pothos. (The single non-usable picture I could find is of Pothos longipes and doesn't do much to illustrate the plant.)
Last is Scindapsus pictus, which is usually given the common name of "satin pothos," "silk pothos," or "silver pothos." Worse, Exotic Angel, pulling a fourth genus out of their asses just to ruin my life,3 sells Scindapsus pictus under the fake botanical name Philodendron 'Silver.'
If you spend enough time thinking about what the above all means, it can develop a sort of
- If somebody says Epipremnum aureum, they almost always mean "pothos," not Pothos.
- Scindapsus pictus means "silver pothos" or "satin pothos" but not Pothos or "pothos."
- "Pothos" generally denotes Epipremnum aureum but can on occasion also mean Scindapsus pictus, and virtually never means Pothos.
- Pothos could mean Pothos, but more likely means "pothos," or "satin pothos," which are actually Epipremnum aureum and Scindapsus pictus, respectively.
- "Satin pothos" means Scindapsus pictus, but not "pothos" or Pothos.
- "Philodendron," in the context of viney-type plants, usually means Philodendron hederaceum, but on occasion can refer to other Philodendron species, Epipremnum aureum, or even Scindapsus pictus, when Exotic Angel is involved.
- Epipremnum pinnatum is "pothos" (or, to a few people, "philodendron") but not Pothos or Philodendron.
- Philodendron nechodomii likewise means "pothos," which is Epipremnum, or "philodendron," but not Philodendron or Pothos.
- Pothos aureus is a Pothos that actually refers to "pothos" (Epipremnum aureum) instead of Pothos.
- Scindapsus aureus and Scindapsus pinnatus likewise mean "pothos" and Epipremnum, not Scindapsus.
- Philodendron 'Silver' means Scindapsus pictus, and "silver pothos," but not Philodendron, or Pothos, though I suppose a case could be made for "philodendron" or "pothos."
Just kidding. I didn't really start smoking again. (Smoking is bad for you!)
And that, kids, is why it's a good idea not to pay too much attention to common names. Or botanical names either, possibly. We should maybe just name them all "pothos" (since clearly the name "pothos" has a head start) and call it a day.
1 Other examples of botanical names bleeding into the common names of a different genus:
- One occasionally sees references to "cordyline dracaenas," on availability lists or whatever, which are usually Cordyline australis. Cordyline australis more typically goes by the common name of "spikes," or "cabbage palms," though they are not cabbage, palms, or even related to cabbage or palms.
- There is also the strange case of the "night-blooming cereus," which sometimes actually is a Cereus (generally Cereus peruvianus), but seems to refer just as often to night-blooming cacti of the Epiphyllum, Selenicereus, or Hylocereus families.
- Then there are a few thoughtful plants that incorporate a genus name in their common name but at least give you clues that they're not really of that genus, like for example "false agave" (Furcraea foetida) and "false aralia" (Schefflera elegantissima).
- But not all pretend aralias are so honest: the "dinner plate aralia" and "balfour aralia" are Polyscias balfouriana, the "ming aralia" and "parsley aralia" are Polyscias fruticosa, the "snowflake aralia" is Trevisia palmata, and the "Japanese aralia" is Fatsia japonica. Actual Aralias do exist, but are not usually kept as houseplants.
- One of the worst offenders has to be the common "geranium," which is actually Pelargonium x hortorum.
- "Nephthytis" is Syngonium podophyllum, not Nephthytis. (I am particularly bothered by this one, for reasons I cannot articulate.)
- "Florist's cinerarias" are Pericallis.
- "Florist's gloxinias" actually were Gloxinia at one time, but are now Sinningia.
2 A very few:
- Neither Screw pines (Pandanus spp.) nor Norfolk Island Pines (Araucaria heterophylla) are actual pines (Pinus spp.).
- Madagascar palms (Pachypodium spp.), Ponytail palms (Beaucarnea recurvata), and sago palms (Cycas spp.) are not palms (Arecaceae), either.
- Pencil cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli) is not a cactus (Cactaceae).
- Corn plants (Dracaena fragrans) aren't corn plants (Zea mays).
- Orange jasmine (Murraya paniculata) is not related to jasmine (Jasminum spp.), nor are Madagascar jasmine (Stephanotis floribunda), night-blooming jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum), Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), cape jasmine (Gardenia jasminoides) or crape jasmine (Tabernaemontana divaricata). Most of these are not related to one another, either. On the plus side, apparently wherever you are in the world, you get a plant to call "jasmine," which is nice. Or at least very egalitarian.
- Asparagus ferns (Asparagus spp.) are not ferns (Pteridophyta).
- Strawberry begonias (Saxifraga stolonifera) are neither Begonias nor strawberries (Fragaria spp.).
- Neither African violets (Saintpaulia ionantha cvv.) nor Persian violets (Exacum affine) are violets (Viola spp.)
- Peace lilies (Spathiphyllum cvv.) are neither lilies (Liliaceae) nor especially peaceful.
- "Lucky bamboo" (Dracaena sanderiana) is not even close to bamboo (the Bambuseae tribe of the Poaceae).
3 It is perhaps the case that Exotic Angel plants has only a single, large, collective ass they pull wrong names out of, as opposed to each employee having to pull names out of his/r individual ass. If I knew someone who worked there I could ask them.