Hey plant parents! Let's take a few moments to discuss a few of my absolute favorite plants and try to clear up some confusion while we're at it!
Our ever-loved Monstera Deliciosa is a Philodendron, right? Wrong.
Then why is it called a "Split Leaf Philodendron"?
The answer to that is something I cannot answer, other than to say, it is just a nickname the plant world has given it.
What about Rhaphidophora Tetrasperma? The "Mini Monstera".
Nope. Not a Monstera either.
While Philodendrons, Monstera, Rhaphidophora, Epipremnum (Pothos) and Scindapsus all have a lot in common, they are not the same, and I am going to do my best to break this down in to an easy to understand and follow explanation.
Let me begin with explaining how they are all similar.
Each of these genera belong to the Araceae family, or Aroid family. They all share some similarities, but are not the same as one another, which is why families of plants are broken down further into different genera. The Araceae family also includes very well-known genera such as Aglaonema, Anthurium and Dieffenbachia, but we all know that a Monstera and a Dieffenbachia are not the same.
Each of these genera are then further broken down into different species. Monstera, Philodendron, Epipremnum, Scindapsus, and Rhaphidophora are the genus names, from which we then get species, such as Monstera Deliciosa, Monstera Dubia, Philodendron Birkin, etc. While each species in a genus share many similarities, they each have their own characteristics that set them apart from the other species. The same is true for genera within a family.
Alright, so what makes a Monstera NOT a Philodendron?
The simplest explanation is fenestration. Fenestration refers to the holes in the leaves of certain plants, as they mature, such as Monstera and Rhaphidophora. Fenestration is different than "split leaves", and Monstera leaves split and fenestrate. Philodendron Lickety Split has many splits and lobes in it's leaves, but will not fenestrate. Epipremnum split with maturity too, but do not fenestrate.
Here is a visual of a maturing Monstera Deliciosa leaf. The main difference between a Monstera and a Philodendron are those holes.
Now, let's take a look at Rhaphidophora because I just said that they fenestrate with maturity too. Why are they not a Monstera?
For all intents and purposes, they are the same, except for one large difference:
the size of the mature leaves. Rhaphidophora Tetrasperma is nicknamed Monstera Minima, or "Mini Monstera". The "minima" part of that nickname is exactly the difference between the 2 genera. Monstera literally mean monster, huge, giant, etc. Monstera leaves mature to very large sizes, typically many feet in length and width. While Rhaphidophora leaves mature and get larger, with fenestration, they just don't grow nearly as big. Rhaphidophora Decursiva and Pertusa probably have the largest mature leaves of the genus, but even they can not compare to the size of a mature Monstera leaf.
So, Monsteras are not Philodendrons because of fenestrations, and Rhaphidophora are not Monstera because of the size of their mature leaves.
What separates Epipremnum and Scindapsus from being a Philodendron?
Cataphylls. Cataphylls are the papery, reduced leaf like sheaths that Philodendrons produce as new leaves emerge. Epipremnum and Scindapsus do not have those. Another difference between Epipremnum and Philodendron is the petiole, or the part of the plant that joins the leaf to the stem. Epipremnum have a grooved petiole, where the center is ridged, where a Philodendron's petiole is completely rounded.
Here is a photo of an Epipremnum aurea (Golden Pothos) petiole. You can see the ridge, or indent as the petiole connects the leaf to the stem. Philodendron Cordatum, often confused with a Pothos, does not have this ridge, and it's petiole is completely rounded.
Ok, let's recap.
Monstera and Rhaphidophora fenestrate when Philodendron and Epipremnum don't. Rhaphidophora have smaller mature leaves than the giant Monstera and Epipremnum have grooved petioles, but Scindapsus does not.
So what makes an Epipremnum different from a Scindapsus?
This can be one of the most difficult to tell until you become more and more familiar with the different species of plants. Pothos and Scindapsus are often confused, and in most ways, are very similar. Visually, there are a few differences. Scindapsus have thicker, more textured leaves than Epipremnum. Additionally, where Epipremnum generally (there are some exceptions, of course) variegate with yellow, gold and white, Scindapsus boast beautiful shades of silver and grey.
Another difference between Epipremnum and Scindapsus is something that most people will never experience in their home. It is the number of seeds they produce. Epipremnum produce multiple seeds, where Scindapsus only have 1 ovule in each ovary, producing 1 seed.
I hope that I have helped clear up some of the confusion between these amazing plants. While some differences between genera are obvious, others can be quite small and easy to miss. As with all plants, there are other differences between these 5 genera that I have not gotten in to, mainly because at this stage, we do not need to. Those differences would include the size and shape of their "flower" or spathe and spadix, along with what types of creatures are responsible for pollinating them.
If you ever have questions about any of these 5 genera, or other plants here at the Jungle, please don't hesitate to reach out to us. We are happy to help!
Thanks for reading!