At first I thought the plant was a philodendron. Its growth habit is much like Philodendron hederaceum, so it made sense to me that it was a satin leaf form of philodendron. However, I could not substantiate this. Then I figured it could be an Epipremnum because of its similar growth habit and leaf shape, as well as its common name. It is, I have discovered, neither a Philodendron nor an Epipremnum, but a Scindapsus. It turns out that I was not the only person confused, for misinformation about this plant abounds.
Probably the common name, satin pothos, led to some of the confusion. The pothos available in nurseries is usually Epipremnum aureus. Popular and easy to grow, the golden pothos, as it is commonly called, is a very popular houseplant for hanging baskets or where a trailer is wanted. It is also a pest in tropical regions where it escapes and covers large areas of vegetation with its aggressive vines, so if you live in one of these areas, make sure you are not contributing to its invasiveness by keeping the plant in containers at all times.
Epipremnum, Philodendron, and Scindapsus belong to the Araceae or Arum family. Specific to this family is a flower which consists of an inflorescence (flower cluster) called a spadix, usually subtended or partially enclosed in a spathe (a leaf-like bract) which may be green or brightly colored like a flower petal (petaloid). This inflorescence is seldom seen in Scindapsus grown as an indoor house plant.
Scindapsus pictus is native to Borneo and Indonesia. In its place of origin or in open ground in other tropical areas, the plant is an evergreen climber growing up to about 10 feet tall. While the Scindapsus grown inside our homes have heart-shaped leaves with entire leaf margins (without teeth or serrations and not lobed or compound), in nature mature leaves form deep lobes. These lobes are seldom seen in plants grown indoors except in greenhouses where they are allowed to grow up a tree or other sturdy support.
Leaves are mat-green with attractive silver blotches scattered on the surface. These blotches are caused by a type of variegation called reflective or blister variegation. This happens when the unpigmented upper layer of the leaf (epidermis) is lifted from the layer below and an air layer forms just under the epidermis, resulting in a white or silvery reflection. The specific epithet pictus means “painted,” referring to the variegation on the leaves.
Scindapsus pictus is grown as a houseplant in regions outside the tropics. As you might guess from its preferred home on forest floors, it prefers low to moderate levels of light. Full sun will severely burn the leaves, so grow it in a place protected from the sun. Indoor temperatures comfortable to humans will be comfortable for satin pothos. If grown outdoors during the summer, or in tropical climates, be sure locate it where the light is bright, but not sunny. Porches, pergolas and hanging baskets in trees are all good spots.
People with pets should make sure this plant is in a place where the pet will not be tempted to chew on the leaves. The ASPCA cautions that satin pothos is toxic to dogs and cats, and if ingested, causes oral irritation, intense burning and irritation of the mouth, lips, and tongue; excessive drooling, vomiting, and difficulty in swallowing. The source of the distress is calcium oxalate crystals contained within the plant. If pets or small children live in the household, make sure that the plant is safely out of reach. While it isn't toxic enough to be fatal. it can cause distress for the victim and yourself.
The form of satin pothos most frequently grown is a cultivar called ‘Argyraeus’. Slow-growing, vines of this climber grow about a yard long and cascade readily or climb if a totem or other support is provided. Scindapsus pictus is easy to grow. Frequently members of my garden club root cuttings and pot them up for each other or for our youth gardeners. They make great pass-along plants for exchanging at plant swaps or for sale in your garden club fund-raiser. Both the adults and the children have success growing this vine, and it makes an attractive addition to all of our homes.
Images courtesy of PlantFiles