Monstera deliciosa Liebm. (Araceae)


Swiss Cheese Plant

Leaf blade of Monstera deliciosa (Oxford Botanic Garden). Leaf of Monstera deliciosa (Oxford Botanic Garden).

The name Monstera may derive from the Latin monstrum, meaning monster, in reference to the leaves, but this is uncertain. The specific epithet, deliciosa, means delicious, which refers to the edible fruit.

There are about 22 species of Monstera, which is a genus closely related to philodendrons and originating from tropical America. This particular species is distributed from Mexico south to Panama, but it is grown widely in other tropical areas. In its native habitat, it can reach 20 m as it climbs up trees, by means of aerial roots, in search of light. The aerial roots hang down like curtains from thick, fibrous stems. The large example of Monstera deliciosa at Oxford Botanic Garden hangs on to the wall of one of the glasshouse corridors by its aerial roots. In Peru, the roots are used for making ropes and in Mexico for making baskets.

Monstera deliciosa is mainly cultivated for its large, glossy, dark green leaves that can reach up to one metre in length. The edges of the juvenile leaves are unbroken, but as the plant matures the leaf edges become deeply cut and have elliptic holes in them. There are also attractive variegated cultivars available with cream marbling to the leaves, which can brighten up a dark spot in a room or glasshouse, adding contrast to other tropical foliage.

Another reason for growing this plant is for the flowers and subsequent fruit. The tiny flowers, typical of Araceae, are densely packed together at the base of a whitish spadix and surrounded by an attractive creamy white spathe. If conditions are right, these complex inflorescences are followed by scaly, edible fruit, tasting of pineapple and banana. However, it is important to note that the ripe fruit is the only part of Monstera deliciosa that is not harmful. The stems and leaves contain a sap that can result in a rash and the unripe fruit contains raphides and trichosclereids, which are needle like structures that will irritate the throat. You know when the fruit is ripe as the hard, green scales fall away naturally to reveal the creamy yellow kernels beneath.

Their popularity of Monstera deliciosa as a houseplant is because they will tolerate poor light and low humidity, but growth stops at 10° C. Preferred temperatures are about 20° C minimum with high humidity. In the past Monstera deliciosa was grown in English hot houses for the fruit.

Further reading

Albrecht Llamas K 2003. Tropical Flowering Plants. Timber Press Inc.

Huxley A 1999. The New Royal Horticultural Society Dictionary of Gardening. Groves Dictionaries Inc.

Muir CD 2013. How did the Swiss cheese plant get its holes? The American Naturalist 181: 273-281.

Lucinda Lachelin