Split Leaf Philodendron vs Monstera: The 6 Key Differences

Split leaf philodendrons and Monsteras are both very striking tropical plants that are part of the araceae family. They can look similar to each other, especially while young, but they are in fact two very different plants! It is vital that you know which plant you have. This will help you know the exact care routine that you should follow. So listed below are the 5 key differences you can look for to properly identify your houseplant!

Even more confusing, the Monstera, known as the swiss cheese plant, is also sometimes called the split-leaf philodendron. For clarification, in this post, I am speaking of the Monstera deliciosa. This is then compared to the split-leaf philodendron, which used to have the scientific name of Philodendron bipinnatifidum or Philodendron selloum. But it has recently been re-classified as the Thaumatophyllum bipinnatifidum. So technically the split-leaf philodendron no longer belongs to the philodendron genus. This mixing of common names and re-classification of scientific names has only added to the confusion between these two indoor plants.

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Difference #1: Aerial Roots

The first main difference between the split-leaf philodendron and the monstera (specifically the monstera deliciosa, with the common name of the swiss cheese plant) is that in this plant’s natural habitat, monstera plants will climb up trees and other foliage in order to reach better lighting. This means that it has aerial roots that wrap around the trees, allowing it to climb. However, the split-leaf philodendron does not produce aerial roots nearly as readily as the monstera. Instead it produces a thick, stem like tree trunks, which gives it the structure that it needs to help support its large leaves.

This is also seen in the monstera adansonii, also called the swiss cheese plant (confusing, I know!). It looks more like the vining philodendrons with aerial roots that can attach to a moss pole and climb to great heights. The difference here, however, is the large fenestrations (or holes) in these smaller leaves that are not found in any of the other small philodendrons…

Difference #2: Leaf Shape

The split leaf philodendron and the monstera have a slightly shape of the leaves that can be used to differentiate between plants. The leaf shape of the monstera is described as being more heart-shaped, while the philodendron is described as more of a feather shape. You can see this as the monstera leaf is usually more flat along its leaf margin, while the split leaf philodendron’s actual leaf section is mostly curved. This is also more prominent when the leaf size is larger, showing the split leaf philodendron’s prominent curves. It can be more difficult to tell in indoor monsteras as lower light levels can cause the plant’s leaves to be smaller and have little to no leaf fenestrations.

Difference #3: Leaf Splits

The next difference that can be seen between the monstera and the split-leaf philodendron is the difference in leaf splits. The monstera has what is called fenestrations, which are holes that don’t always go to the edge of the leaf. You can see this particularly while the new monstera leaves are unfurling, while once it is fully unfurled it can sometimes appear to split all the way through to the leaf edge. This is also better seen in mature plants, since young plants will have leaves that are still entirely whole.

The split leaf philodendron, however, has grooves that aren’t exactly leaf splits, but more of an indent of the leaf. These indents begin at the outside of the leaf and go inward. This creates a very different leaf shape from the monstera plant.

Difference #4: Leaf Joints

The leaf joint is right where the leaf attaches to the stem. Monstera deliciosa plants have much more pronounced leaf joints, whereas the split leaf philodendron’s leaf joints curve more directly into the leaf. The monstera leaf joint is more pronounced and has no clear arch into the leaf. This allows the plant to move its leaves around with changing sunlight.

Difference #5: Leaf Texture

Another difference that you will see between Monstera and split-leaf philodendron plants is that the leaf texture is not the same. Monstera leaves are smooth, even though they have their fenestrations. The split-leaf philodendron, on the other hand, has bumps similar to the texture of an alocasia leaf. In this way you can tell the difference between these two plants simply by running your hand down a leaf!

Difference #6: Movement with Light

This difference between monstera and philodendron plants has to do with light sources. Monstera leaves follow the light on more of a daily basis, called heliotropism, whereas philodendron leaves don’t follow the light individually, but the plant senses where the light is and will grow in that direction, called phototropism. This difference is seen when you move a monstera plant around to receive light on it’s opposite side. You will see the leaves move, twisting upwards, and sometimes even completely flip around! Philodendrons do not do this, but instead if it is flipped around, it will start to slowly grow towards the new light source (instead of turning its leaves all within a few hours…) This is a sure-fire way to tell if you have a monstera or a philodendron!

A Bonus Difference!

Now I’m including a Bonus difference here at the end because this difference is only seen in the wild… In it’s native habitat, a tropical habitat, Monstera deliciosa plant’s will actually flower and bear an edible fruit! This delicious fruit is said to have a “fruit-cocktail” flavor, a mix of pineapple, strawberry, guava, and more! I wish my little Monstera could fruit!!! (Unfortunately it would have to take up my whole office to be big enough for this! Haha!)

And, you might have guessed… split-leaf philodendrons do not have an edible fruit. As mentioned, though, this will only be seen in the wild, since it is extremely rare to have a fruit-bearing monstera indoors. I have heard that it could take up to thirty years for this tropical plant to grow large enough to fruit indoors. If it ever reaches the needed size and strength in its roots.

So that is it for the differences between these two popular houseplants, the split-leaf philodendron and the monstera. Next time you are wondering which plant is which, you can remember these 6 differences, as well as you can now simply take a picture with your phone and ask Google! Crazy, right?! But it is important to know which plant you’ve just brought home, because as I mentioned earlier, they will have different care requirements that will lead you to give them different amounts of direct sunlight, different amounts of watering, and different propagation and pruning techniques.

For plant care tips, check out my blog post on how to care for monstera plants for more tips on how to avoid root rot, how much light to give your plants, and how to get large, fenestrated leaves.

Enjoy your indoor plants and feel free to follow me on Youtube for even more awesome houseplant tips!

Happy Digging!

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Frequently Asked Questions:

Is split-leaf philodendron the same as Monstera?

No. The split-leaf philodendron used to be classified as a philodendron species, the Philodendron bipinnatifidum or Philodendron selloum, whereas the Monstera is a true monstera species, usually referring to monstera deliciosa, monstera borsigiana, or monstera adansonii. These plants do often get mixed up, however, since some nurseries will call the Monstera plants by the common name of split-leaf philodendron, even though it is not a philodendron species.

Is a philodendron and a monstera the same plant?

No. The philodendron and monstera come from two different species (the philodendron spp. and the monstera spp.). Though some of their features might be similar, these plants originally come from different regions of the Americas, with the philodendron originating in south america and the monstera species originating farther north in central america.

How can you tell if a Monstera is a Philodendron?

The fastest way to tell if your monstera is really a monstera vs a philodendron is by testing it through sun exposure. Monstera leaves readily follow the sun, while philodendron leaves do not. Instead, they grow new leaves towards the sun. If you turn your plant around to allow the sun exposure on the opposite side of the plant, and you notice that the leaves lift and twist towards the light, then you have a monstera. If the leaves stay put, then you have yourself a philodendron.

Can you eat split-leaf philodendron?

No. The leaves of the true split-leaf philodendron (or Philodendron bipinnatifidum) are poisonous, particularly to animals. This is commonly confused with the monstera plant, which can also be improperly called a split-leaf philodendron. The monstera leaves are also toxic, but its fruit (found in the wild) is edible and is commonly eaten in tropical climates where the monstera is found. So if you find people telling you that split-leaf philodendrons are edible, remember they are most likely talking about monstera deliciosa, and ONLY the fruit of this plant.

Can you cross Monstera with Philodendron?

No. Philodendron and Monstera plants are two different species of plants, and as such they cannot cross-pollinate to create a new hybrid. The pollen from one plant will not be able to fertilize the other plant’s flowers.

Do split leaf philodendrons climb?

Yes. Philodendrons use aerial roots to wrap around other trees and vines to climb high into the canopy. They also grow to have a thick trunk to help support itself while it climbs high into the tropical canopy. Indoor philodendrons, however, will not have the same height as outdoors, and as such will never get so large and climb so high. They will grow larger, however, if provided a trellis to climb indoors.

Is philodendron toxic to touch?

The sap from philodendrons can cause skin irritation in sensitive people, such as a rash, redness, swelling, and dermititis. It is also important to refrain from touching your eyes or lips while dealing with this plant. The sap can also cause eye or lip irritation, which will cause redness and swelling due to the calcium oxalate crystals found within the plant.