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When Pothos Leaves Do the Splits

 Split leaves on my pothos. Photo: laidbackgardener.blog

Should I be taking my pothos out to a bar to celebrate? Because my blue pothos (Epipremnum pinnatum ‘Cebu Blue’) has reached adulthood … after over 20 years of care, just like a human.

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Immature blue pothos (Epipremnum pinnatum ‘Cebu Blue’) with its small, entire leaves. Photo: stayathomeplantmom, pinterest.com

As with many aroids (the best known of which is the so-called Swiss cheese plant, Monstera deliciosa), the pothos has a juvenile form, with smaller, entire leaves, in this case about 3 inches (7 cm) long, and thin stems. Then, as it matures, and if conditions are right, the leaves get bigger and bigger and the stems get thicker.

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The adult form of blue pothos looks so different from the juvenile one, you’d swear it was an entirely different plant! Photo: kensnursery.com

At some magical point, the plant reaches “adulthood” and the formerly entire leaf becomes huge (up to 2 feet/60 cm long) and begins to split, eventually becoming pinnate, looking like a palm frond, with thick stems. It will even flower at some point (although the blooms are, I’m told, nothing to shake a stick at).

My Story

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Leaves of the mother plant are 3 to 4 inches (7 to 9 cm) long and uncut; the largest leaf of the baby is 13 inches (33 cm) long and deeply cut on one side. Photo: Photo: laidbackgardener.blog

I have probably half a dozen blue pothos at my place, most in their juvenile state. In fact, the original plant is still very juvenile. But others are maturing at various rates, with larger and larger leaves. What’s the difference?

It depends on how you grow them.

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The original plant dangles down and bears only small leaves. Photo: laidbackgardener.com

My original plant grows in a wall pot and is allowed to dangle. Dangling is not conducive to mature growth, so it has only tiny leaves. Dangling is what this tropical Asiatic liana does in the wild when it loses its grip on the tree trunk it is climbing on. As it trails downwards, the leaves get smaller and smaller, then disappear entirely.

When my plant does this (produce bare stems with no leaves), I trim off the bare part to force it to produce more foliage: dangling bare stems are just not that attractive. In the jungle, though, the now bare stem keeps growing downward, eventually reaching the jungle floor when it now begins to creep along, leafless, until it finds a new trunk. Then it will start growing upwards again and to produce small leaves once more. They then get bigger and bigger as it grows up into better light and eventually, the plant reaches adulthood and new giant cut leaves form.

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The green wall in my bathroom. Photo: laidbackgardener.blog

My mature and variously maturing pothos are all growing upwards … on my green wall. Growing upwards is conducive to enlargening leaves. Eventually they get to the top (said wall is only 7 feet/210 cm tall, after all, not the 100 feet/30 m or so the plant can attain in a jungle!), so I cut them off and reroot them at the base of the wall. They don’t lose a beat and continue to grow upwards … and in size.

Actually, I just pulled my mature stem from the wall (it had reached the top) and will be starting it from the bottom again. I’m sure it will continue to mature to even bigger, more deeply cut leaves (the longest is currently 13 inches/33 cm in length and only cut on one side) on its next trip upwards.

Your Pothos

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This is the popular golden pothos (Epipremnum aureum). Photo: http://www.alphaplantes.com

The most common pothos in homes is not my blue pothos, but rather the golden pothos (Epipremnum aureum, syn. Scindapsus aureus), with heart-shaped leaves splashed with yellow or, on certain clones, white.

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Mature golden pothos with huge split leaves. Photo: Daderot, Wikimedia Commons

But it will also grow, eventually, into a jungle giant with large split leaves if you let it grow upwards, say on a moss-covered stake it can root into. When it grows so tall, it begins to stretch beyond the stake, start it all over again. Take cuttings from the large-leaved section at the top and reroot them in a fresh pot of soil, at the base of a new stake. The cuttings will then start to grow upwards again without losing their size (or not much of it) and grow even bigger over time. Repeat as necessary until the leaves are truly giant and deeply cut.

Most people grow it in a hanging container from which it will dangle and thus always remain a juvenile. But if you grow it upwards, you can—slowly!—watch it become an adult.

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See how big pothos leaves can become if you let the plant climb? Photo: http://www.morningdewtropical.com

I think you’ll be kinda proud when your baby pothos reaches adulthood, don’t you?

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

26 comments on “When Pothos Leaves Do the Splits

  1. Thanks! Learned something new today!

  2. Thanks for all the info. Not only did I not know what I bought (“Hello My Name Is Houseplant” is on the Exotic Angel, Costa Farms Badge from Lowe’s), I had no idea it would split like that. Thank you so much for taking the time to post this article — including all the pictures. This is extremely helpful!

  3. I have a question. I combed the internet looking for an answer after I read your article, but I have found nothing. Maybe you can help. What would happen if instead of removing your plant from the wall and making it continually climb upwards, you instead took a cutting from the nodes of the top big leaves, rooted it in water or soil, and made that cutting start the climb? Does that question make sense? Basically, can you start a whole new plant from the biggest leaves you have instead of zig-zagging it upward every time it reaches the top? Thanks!

    • I’m not sure I totally understand the question, but if you meant can you take a leaf cutting from a pothos or other aroid climber, the answer is no: they won’t root from a leaf cutting. You need at least a piece of stem with a leaf for rooting to occur. And if you cut the stem, the plant will no longer be climbing (until a new one grows in.

      • Thank you for replying!

        Sorry my question was a bit convoluted. When the pothos is small (say, in a hanging pot), you can cut a piece off of the hanging stem — with the leaf, at the node, where the air roots are coming out…place that leaf and node in water…roots develop.. and viola, you have new plant to put in soil. My question was whether you could take the same sort of cutting from the top of your plant, where the big leaves are (at the node, with the stem and leaf), root that in water, and make another plant that already has big leaves that ultimately only get bigger when the plant starts to climb. Does that make sense?

      • Got it! Yes, you can. It will at first produce slightly smaller leaves than the one you harvested, but it will already be on the road to increasing in size, so as long as you grow it so it’s directed upward, it will soon produce leaves as big at the first one, then bigger ones.

  4. That is amazing!!! It will take my Cebu a long time before it ever reaches anything close to your size, but I can’t wait. I love watching things grow. Thanks so much, again, for sharing all your knowledge.

  5. Cebu blue! So beautiful! Can’t find them in Quebec that I’ve seen and I’ve been hunting a LONG LONG time (unless I want to spend about $50)

    Thanks for a great read!

  6. Do you need to retrain the cuttings on to the wall or do they attach on their own? Do you find they prefer to grow in to a straight line versus wrapping around a pole?

    • If the wall is humid, they’ll quickly root onto it. The stems don’t wrap (they’re not twiners like some climbing plants), but they’re not necessarily 100% straight, either. You’ll find they’ll head towards the spot with the most light or will work their way around obstacles.

  7. Hi there, hadn’t paid my epipremnum aureum much attention before your post here. But now I’m genuinely fascinated! Really wish I could grow my epi to impressive maturity. I’ve tried to find more infos on mature epipremnums, but aside from the aureum I haven’t really found much else, so I thought maybe you know: Which other of the epipremnums produce split leaves as they mature? And do the leaves of all epipremnums, especially the N’joy, grow in size after a time? Do these “new” cultivars even grow in the wild?? Thanks a lot in advance for answers. So interested!

    • Few species of Epipremnum are cultivated. All seem to have leaves that grow considerably in size as they grow, but not all have split leaves at maturity. I do know that E. aureus and E. pinnatum have split leaves. Njoy is a small-leaved, more highly variegated selection of E. aureus ‘Marble Queen’ which does grow large leaves that eventually split when they grow upwards. However, I’ve never heard of anyone growing Njoy other than as a trailing plant, so can’t say if they get larger and eventually split. You’d think they would, given its parentage. It’s a new cultivar, only launched in 2009, so has probably not been fully tested yet.

  8. Hi! It’s amazing to learn this about this plant I’ve felt familiar with most of my life! I feel like I never really knew it at all! Noob question here… What do you mean by cut it back, reroot it, and plant it at the base of the stake? Based on some of the comments I’m guessing that means remove it from the stake and replace it so the stem is poised to climb the stake again…is that about right? And what do you do with the length of stem now looped at the base?

    • I’ve rewritten that section make it easier to understand (I hope).

      Here goes:

      “When it grows so tall it begins to stretch beyond the stake, start it all over again. Take cuttings from the large-leaved section at the top and reroot them in a fresh pot of soil, at the base of a new stake. The cuttings will then start to grow upwards again without losing their size (or not much of it) and grow even bigger over time. Repeat as necessary until the leaves are truly giant and deeply cut.”

      • Oohhhh that makes sense now. Thank you very much!

  9. Hi, Thank you very much! Ihave been searching for a more in-depth explanation for a while now. I have a question: Your article states that the Epipremnum NEEDS to grow upwards to reach maturity, however: I have a staked Epipremnum reaching maturity(6 inch leaves on the top) which grows down the pole again after reaching the top of the moss stick, while she is still air-rooting in the moss(peat)pole while growing downwards. A decrease in the size of its leaves has yet to be noticed, are you sure the plant necessarily has to grow up, or is it also a possiblity that an Epipremnum just needs a tree-like medium to root its stems to reach maturity?

    • Could you keep me up-to-date on this? I’ve never heard of this happening before!

    • Kee Kee

      I’m no expert, but there are two things to note:

      First, I think your plant is still technically “climbing” in a sense. Even though it’s growing downward, its air roots are anchoring into the moss pole and therefore, still “climbing” and not “hanging.” I think the author of this article is speaking specifically of “climbing” vs “hanging.” If you ONLY let the plant hang, it won’t ever increase its leaf size. You MUST allow it to climb to get larger leaves.

      Secondly, since you allowed it to climb, it grew 6″ leaves and it won’t immediately lose its leaf size even if you were to allow it to trail. After reading this article a year ago, I took a cutting from an extremely mature golden pothos with 18″ split leaves, from about 14 ft high in my tree. I DID NOT stake it. I rooted it and just allowed it to hang from its pot. The leaf has some sort of memory because the initial trailing/hanging leaves that grew from it were over 10 inches. Over the past year, though, the leaves have decreased to about 8 inches. I suspect they will keep decreasing as it continues to grow because it is hanging. However, for my trailing pothos that have regular/tiny leaves that you typically see in nurseries, they will NEVER have large leaves unless they are staked. That is what the author is teaching.

      • After this summer I can confirm the leaves have to grow up or maybe sideways. The moment the leaves are surpassing he top of the moss pole and start to grow down, they won’t attach very good in comparison to growing upwards and start to decline in size. Also, before taking any cuttings let the plant fully mature first. If you take a cutting of a leaf in the maturing process, it will split into 2 new stems with smaller leaves.

  10. Hi! Could you please elaborate on what kind of board to allow the plant the climb? I would like to try this, I have one plant on a moss pole but I’ve heard that’s not as good for producing big leaves as a flat surface is. I just don’t want the wood to rot, lol. Any help would be appreciated!

    • I don’t know who told you that a flat pole is better than a moss one, but that seems unlikely to me. Any pole that isn’t totally smooth would probably work. And if you don’t want the wood to rot, you should look at rot-resistant woods like cedar.

  11. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while now. I’m curious though about what would happen (or what would you do) to the older/previous plant that has reached the top (of wall/pole) once you cut it at the highest node? Wouldn’t it start to branch out and keep growing? Would you let the new growth start to climb down/sideways once you run out of space again (of the older/previous plant)…? How to best manage the new growth of the older plant is I guess what I’m curious about…?

    • Certainly it will soon send out new growth. You could simply keep trimming off the new growth if you just wanted to maintain the “green pole” look. If you let it trail, that would give the plant a new look. Or take cuttings from the new growth and plant them at the base of the pole so the plant starts all over. Lots of possibilities!

  12. My golden pothos has one average size leaf, in the middle of the vine, with a fenestration in it which is what lead me to your site. It’s not split, but just an oval hole. I thought maybe I could sell it on Etsy for 6 figures or something -lol. But I’m glad to have found myself here learning that mature pothos are basically monsteras. I don’t know how or why mine popped out a little hole because its largest leaves aren’t huge by any means but it is wrapped around a 4’ pole; pretty big. I don’t see any around that area as big as mine. I don’t know what I’m trying to say except thank you for this info!

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