Philodendron vs Monstera: Confused? We Break it Down.

If you’ve made your way here, you’re likely trying to answer one of the most commonly asked questions among plant lovers; that being, Philodendron vs Monstera, what in the world is the difference?

Have no fear, you are not alone in scratching your head over this. The similarities in these two plants far outweigh the differences, and the differences that do exist take a trained (or very intently-looking) eye to identify correctly.

Today, we’ll take a deep dive into the similarities, differences, identifying factors for each plant, and we’ll answer that burning question of “Aren’t Monstera Deliciosas and Split Leaf Philodendrons the same plant?” Spoiler alert, they’re not, but we’ll get to that later on.

So, if you’re ready to clear up the seemingly endless confusion around these two, while gaining lots of practical knowledge to carry into your plant-loving life moving forward, we’ve got you covered – read on!

What is a Philodendron?

Coming in with a truly impressive 500+ variety count, Philodendrons are a member of the Araceae family and are native to the West Indies and tropical forests of Central & South America.

If you break down its name to its Greek origins of “philo” (lover) and “dendron” (tree), you’re given a very good idea as to how these plants best like to grow in nature – by using their viny structures to wrap themselves around, and then climb up trees toward sunlight.

You’re also given a glimpse into the classic heart leaf shape that many Philodendrons share.

philodendron varieties chart

What is a Monstera?

Also a member of the Araceae family, the Monstera is part of a much smaller species group with only about 45 known varieties in total. With Latin, instead of Greek roots, Monsteras were named as such for their traditional “monster” sized leaves

Like the Philodendron, Monsteras also hail from the tropical regions of both Central & South America, and they’re known for their delicious fruits. A sorry to indoor growers as the chance you’ll see fruit on your Monstera is basically none. Outdoor growers in tropical climates will likely see the fruit production.

monstera varieties chart

Philodendron vs Monstera: Where the Confusion Arises

Typically speaking, Monsteras bring to mind vibrant green, fenestrated (will discuss this term in-depth later if you’re unfamiliar with it) leaves, and Philodendrons make us think of smaller heart-shaped leaves attached to a more trailing vine structure (though some philodendrons also climb, not just trail!).

But, what about when the two share characteristics? Or what happens when they’re (often) mislabeled? Confusion!

See below for some of the most frequent offenders for causing the confusion between our two subjects – and then continue on for some solutions as to how you can correctly identify them, and help them flourish.

Physical Characteristics: 

  • The Split-Leaf Philodendron shares an extremely similar appearance to the Monstera Deliciosa. As we said above though, these two are not the same plant!
    • At its most basic, they differ on a scientific level. Although part of the same plant family, they’re different genus and species – but the naked eye can’t usually tell you that.
    • One of the biggest differentiators you can see is the presence of fenestrations (holes in the leaf). Mature Monsteras have these, Philodendrons do not.
    • The Monstera Deliciosa also produces fruit (hence the “delicious” second part of its name) while Philodendrons do not. As touched on above, indoor growers will not see Monstera fruit production, but this is another key differentiator in the two.
    • The Split Leaf Philodendron’s leaves are not nearly as smooth or rounded/heart-shaped like the Monstera, instead, their leaves have an almost jagged edge and ruffled surface texture.
  • The leaves of a young Monstera (pre-fenestration) often resemble the signature heart-shaped leaves of a Philodendron.
  • Even full-grown Monstera varieties (like the Dubia & Siltepecana) sometimes keep a leaf shape more commonly seen within the Philodendron family. 

Common (incorrect) Naming / Labeling:

  • As we’ve discussed, Monstera Deliciosa is often referred to as a Split Leaf Philodendron or vice versa. This happens on plant blogs, and even in nurseries! No wonder the confusion exists on the scale that it does.
  • Monstera Deliciosa’s old scientific name was even Philodendron Pertusum and occasionally, people still refer to it as such…so that’s not helpful.
  • Sometimes people incorrectly refer to the Philodendron Broken Heart as a Monstera Adanonsii.
  • Often times the term “Swiss Cheese Plant” is thrown out when discussing both of these plants when in reality, it should only apply to Monsteras because of their fenestrated (holy) leaves.

Philodendron vs Monstera: How to Tell the Two Apart

split leaf philodendron vs monstera deliciosa

Plant Size: If given proper care, indoor Philodendrons will only reach about 3 feet in height – but like to grow & crawl outward, whereas indoor Monsteras can reach nearly 10 feet in height, and produce leaves 3 x 3 feet in size.

Leaf Traits:

So yes, the overall plant sizes differ between these two, but luckily for those trying to differentiate, the leaf sizes tend to differ as well.

  • Monstera leaves are…well, monstrous, while Philodendron leaves usually only grow to around 2 feet in length (max).
  • Monstera leaves will always appear a bright, vivid evergreen, while Philodendrons can sometimes produce some red, brown or pink leaf shading and markings.
  • One of the best tell-tale ways to spot the difference when looking at these plant’s leaves is to look for fenestrations (holes in the leaf). Monsteras have fenestrated leaves while Philodendrons do not.

Tip: Fenestration versus pinnation – In the botany world, “fenestration” almost always means a circular shaped hole. Pinnated leaves on the other hand do not display any circular shape, but instead are split from the leaf edges to spine.

Growing Habitat:

  • When talking generally and for indoor care, Monsteras prefer vertical growth as Philodendrons prefer horizontal.
  • Monsteras produce fruit and flowers that can aide in reproduction while Philodendrons do not.
  • Monsteras are known as climbing plants whereas Philodendrons can either be trailing or climbing plants.

Additional Physical Differences:

  • Another great way to tell these two apart is by looking for a joint (technical name, geniculum or pulvinis) that assists the plant with movement. These joints allow for the leaves to follow sunlight throughout the day, and are incredibly rare in Philodendrons, making it a very strong, identifiable marker of a Monstera.
  • Another solid (longer-term) way to be able to tell the difference in these two is by noticing what happens to their cataphyll (protective leaves that help shield new growth). Monsteras keep these intact for life while cataphylls on a Philodendron dry up and fall off over time.

How to Identify a Philodendron

  • Cataphylls that dry up / dry up & fall off over time
  • Smaller leaves (typically around the size of an adult’s palm) that can occasionally have hints of red, pink or purple
  • Non-fruit bearing
  • Pinnation (“cuts” from the edge of the leaf to the center) – not fenestration
  • In an indoor setting, prefers horizontal growth

How to Identify a Monstera

  • Retains its cataphylls
  • Large leaves (up to 3×3 feet!) almost always a vibrant green in color
  • Fruit-bearing
  • Joints to assist leaves with movement
  • Fenestration (holes in the leaf)
  • In an indoor setting, prefers vertical growth

We’re hopeful that everything above has given you both some clarity, and the confidence to shop, or care for your Monstera, Philodendron (or both!) in the best possible way.

Happy growing, and thank you for stopping by!

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