Growing up, monsteras (sometimes known as monsteria) weren’t all that common, but neither were houseplants. In fact, monsteras were out of fashion then – but now monsteras are back and, appropriately, in a big way.
The plants we know as monsteras, fruit salad plants, or Swiss cheese plants (because of their holey leaves) are a rainforest plant called Monstera deliciosa.
They are native to Central America, around Mexico, but their iconic large leaves can now be found all over popular culture – from fabric prints and earrings to tattoos and mugs.
What is so special about this large and beautiful plant? And what’s the secret to keeping someone happy and healthy?
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In their natural habitat, monstera are climbers that can scramble through rainforest trees heights of 25 meters or more.
Their large perforated leaves can be over a foot long, with regular nodes along the stem and roots often growing from these nodes. The roots help them to hook onto other plants as they climb to access light.
There are about 50 species in the genus Monstera and some – like Monstera adansonii (Adanson’s monstera or five hole plant) and Monstera siltepecana (silver monstera) – are popular houseplants.
The name Monstera comes from the 1700, but today most people associate this part of the name with its huge leaves. After all, they are real monsters.
These huge leaves develop wherever there is a patch of light and allow the plant to grow quickly and eclipse the competition nearby.
The species name, deliciosa, refers to the fruit, which flavours kind of like a cross between banana and pineapple.
Monsteras are related to the arum and produce white flowers on a fleshy stem (known as a “spadix”) surrounded by a cream or white leaf-like structure or spathe (known as a “spadix”).flyleaf”).
Our first and only monstera started life with us as a fairly small houseplant that was given as a gift in 1980. It remained indoors for a year or two, grew well, but then proved too much of a temptation for an inquisitive young son.
It was moved in its container (which was then larger than the original pot) to a sheltered corner of an outdoor patio.
It had done well indoors, growing in a good quality potting medium, getting plenty of sunlight and regular water. The leaves had progressed from small philodendron-like features to the large and perforated leaf of the Swiss cheese plant.
The move outside has done no harm. With good light, regular water, fresh air and protection from wind and frost, it blossomed into a plant with many large leaves and a height of almost two meters. It filled a corner beautifully.
A forgiving plant
Monsteras are pretty forgiving houseplants. They are quite hardy (like many climbing plants), but as a tropical plant they like warm, moist conditions and moist, well-drained soil.
They also tolerate shade so it is not surprising that they do well indoors.
If you have a humus-rich potting soil and give them a climbing frame, they can thrive and survive indoors for years. However, you may need to give them a liquid fertilizer every year or two and repot them into a larger container.
Although hardy and relatively easy to grow, Monsteras can decline if they get waterlogged.
This can easily happen if you overwater plants and place the container on a tray that collects water.
Direct sunlight near a window can burn their leaves or lead to scorched spots. Leaves can also be damaged by warm, dry air if plants are placed too close to heaters or heating pipes.
Their large leaves may also need to be dusted, as the surfaces can get quite dirty, especially in bathrooms. Occasional pruning prevents the plant from growing too large indoors and removes yellow, burnt and older leaves.
Like many houseplants, monsteras can benefit from a little R-and-R outside in a warm, sheltered spot for a few days.
As a fashionable plant, large monsteras can be quite pricey and variegated forms that grow more slowly are even more expensive.
However, Monstera deliciosa can be easily propagated from cuttings.
The easiest and quickest way to get a new plant is to take a portion of the stem with one or two leaves attached and, if possible, with a few developing roots. Place it in a good quality potting mix in a large container.
You can also place monsteras in the air, where you wrap potting soil or peat moss around a knot, preferably with some roots, in plastic or cling film. Make a few angled cuts in the stem and when roots develop, remove the cutting from the stem.
They grow and establish quickly. So fast, in fact, that they are considered one grass along some rivers in New South Wales.
After having stood on the terrace for a number of years, the terrace had to be demolished for an extension and our monstera had to be planted away or in the garden.
We chose the latter and planted it in what we thought was a suitable spot.
The monster reacted as only a successful rainforest climber could. It spread, it climbed, it bloomed, and wherever there was a patch of light, it oriented a giant Swiss cheese leaf to take maximum advantage of photosynthesis.
It is now over 40 years old, winding its way through the garden for many meters and has been the source of several successful cuttings for family and friends.
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