Monstera deliciosa: Swiss Cheese Plant

Monstera, like ficus, is a favourite house plant; its large incised leaves up to 1 m (3 ft) long are a veritable symbol of the tropics. And yet this is a very adaptable plant and one that stands up extremely well to a dry atmosphere indoors, requiring little in the way of care.

Some 50 species of the genus Monstera have been described to date. All are distributed in tropical America, both on the continent and islands, such as the Antilles. All are climbing plants which in the wild climb up trees to great heights, though often one may come across specimens growing without a support. Characteristic are the numerous aerial roots that trail to the ground where they become anchored in the soil. It is naturally quite wrong to remove these aerial roots. Some smaller species grow as epiphytes, rooting in the small amounts of humus formed in the forks of branches; more about these will be mentioned in the section on climbers.

The species is native to Mexico, where it may often be seen, for instance in Veracruz, climbing up palms of the genus Sabal. The stem is stout and woody, the leaves, with rough stalks about 50 cm (20 in) long, are entire and heart-shaped in the juvenile stage, palmate and perforated when fully grown. The fruits — berries — are edible and truly delicious, hence the Latin name of the species. The variety borsigniana is often cultivated, which is similar, only smaller in all respects and with smooth leaf stalks. The leaves of juvenile and mature plants are very different in shape. The commonly grown Philodendron leichtlinii is merely a juvenile form of Monstera obliqua, a species with leaves that remain entire but are regularly perforated on either side of the midrib. Some authorities believe, however, (wrongly so in the author’s opinion), that these are juvenile specimens of Monstera pertusa; but the leaf margins of this species do not remain entire in aged specimens.

All monsteras should be grown in a mixture of peat and loam. They are propagated by tip or stem cuttings inserted in a propagator or just in water.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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