The Monstera Deliciosa is a plant belonging to the Araceae family, genus Monstera. The common names of this plant are Swiss cheese plant or split-leaf philodendron. Its native habitat is the tropical rainforests of Central America, from Guatemala to the Panama Canal, thus having a climate completely different from that of Europe. In our latitudes, we cannot appreciate its fruits, so its cultivation finds its place in domestic settings, as a splendid ornamental houseplant. The Monstera is famous and admired for its large green leaves, which, in a suitable microenvironment, develop fissures, giving rise to roundish shapes with unique plays of light.
In this article, we’ll acquaint you with the botanical characteristics of the Monstera Deliciosa, the species most commonly cultivated indoors, and provide practical suggestions on the right environmental conditions and care to dedicate to it.
What’s the Anatomy of Monstera Deliciosa
In its natural habitat, Monstera Deliciosa behaves as a climbing plant, perfectly adapted to the climatic conditions of the rainforest. It can reach heights of up to 20 meters and give rise to “monstrous” formations. Besides the large leaves, which we’ll discuss shortly, the plant has a dual root system, one underground and the other aerial.
The climbing stems are thick and robust, divided into nodes, from which elongated ropes, known as aerial roots, emerge. These roots help the plant secure itself along the trunks and under the canopy of larger trees. Similar to our ivy, the Monstera doesn’t behave as a parasitic plant by siphoning sap, but rather as an epiphytic plant, using the support to reach higher for light. The aerial roots can extend to ground level, further rooting themselves. This condition is also observed in indoor plants. Therefore, it’s crucial to provide proper support for Monstera growth and a sufficiently large pot to accommodate the hanging roots.
Monstera plants are known for their large oval-shaped leaves, displaying a prominent central vein and a palmate-pinnate margin (meaning a leaf not entirely whole but divided into multiple lobes resembling a wide fan). This is the form of mature Monstera leaves, which can reach up to 1 meter in diameter. Newly born leaves or those from younger plants, however, are smaller, heart-shaped, and have an intact margin. The color of adult leaves is dark green, while younger leaves are lighter and glossy. In general, they are borne on a long and sturdy petiole, measuring between 30 to 90 cm, originating at the stem nodes and giving a pendant appearance.
The Holes or Fissures in the Leaves
Another distinctive feature of mature Monstera leaves is the fissures (or holes) that form on the leaf blade. These are actual windows that the plant exploits for its photosynthesis mechanism. When these appear, it indicates that the plant is healthy and thriving in a perfect microclimate. Moreover, these enhance its ornamental value due to their exotic appearance and the shadows created by the light passing through them. Typically, in domestic cultivation, the leaves of Monstera Deliciosa start to fissure after 2 or 3 years of life.
Why Do Monstera Leaves Develop Fissures?
Many have wondered why Monstera leaves form fissures, what the plant’s natural adaptation mechanism is. The most widely accepted explanation among botanists is that Monstera Deliciosa develops fissures to capture light more efficiently, continuously reaching higher under the rainforest canopy. As the plant grows, it expands the leaf surface to capture as much light as possible while simultaneously creating windows to allow light to reach the lower leaves.
Some believe that the fissures serve to protect the plant from the wind, preventing them from breaking due to the air’s force.
Flowers and Fruits
In its natural habitat, Monstera Deliciosa flowers easily and produces excellent fruits. However, in a house-cultivated Monstera, we seldom see flowers. The flower is a large cream-white spathe, about 20-30 cm long, which upon maturation forms a vertical cone, edible only when fully ripe, while it is toxic when unripe. Those who’ve tasted it describe its flavor as resembling that of pineapple and other exotic fruits.
How Large Does Monstera Grow?
Naturally, Monstera Deliciosa cultivated indoors will never reach the monstrous size of those grown in the forest. Nonetheless, it will still attain significant dimensions. With proper support and enough space, a houseplant can easily surpass 2 meters in height. Therefore, be careful where you decide to place it.
How to Cultivate Monstera Deliciosa
Monstera Deliciosa could survive outdoors only in the warmer regions of southern Italy, perhaps along the milder coastlines even in winter. It does not tolerate temperatures below 10°C, as its cold resistance is rather low. Hence, indoors, it finds an ideal temperature range, averaging between 18 and 25°C, reaching a maximum of around 30°C in peak summer. In winter, therefore, it’s not advisable to keep it on the balcony or in the colder areas of apartments.
The key factor for successful Monstera Deliciosa cultivation is brightness. The plant thrives in bright exposures but not in direct sunlight for many hours a day. Consider that it lives in the forest, an environment that’s bright but shielded by tall plants.
The advice is to place it near a window, preferably facing east or southeast. For direct sunlight, it’s better for the plant to receive the milder morning or late afternoon sun. Too much sun exposure can lead to leaf tip browning.
Conversely, when the plant receives low light, it will produce smaller and duller leaves that are less likely to develop fissures.
Humidity is another essential aspect to consider when cultivating Monstera indoors. Think of the forest’s humid environment where it thrives abundantly. Naturally, indoors, the air will be drier and less humid. In winter, keep the plant away from direct heat sources and use classic ceramic humidifiers on radiators.
Monstera Deliciosa requires well-draining, quality soil, with a good amount of organic matter. Therefore, it’s best to prepare a mix, aiming to maintain a balanced, rich, coarse structure, avoiding using a single soil type prone to compaction.
Starting with good green plant soil (50%), add bark (20%), earthworm humus (20%) (available here), and plant sand (10%).
The Swiss cheese plant doesn’t require frequent repotting, also because we’ve explained that it has an aerial root system that operates differently. On average, it can be repotted every two years, using a slightly larger container each time (with the soil mix just explained). To support the volume and weight of an adult Swiss cheese plant, it’s advisable to use ceramic pots, more stable although more challenging to handle during repotting.
As mentioned, the Swiss cheese plant is a climbing plant that reaches its full splendor by growing in height. Therefore, it’s necessary to provide adequate support in the pot, using the classic cylindrical cones lined with coconut fiber. The support can be used to manually tie the stems but also to allow the aerial roots that develop at the nodes to twine in a circular manner. Without support, there’s a risk that the plant will develop excessively in width, with large leaves sprawling on the ground.
Among the care to dedicate to the Swiss cheese plant, irrigation is the most critical point. We can’t give you a precise indication or a regular watering schedule. It’s necessary to assess by observing the plant and the soil. In general, the Swiss cheese plant suffers more from excess water than from scarcity. Therefore, it’s better to let it feel thirsty than to soak it profusely. To regulate, just touch the soil and water only when, by sinking your fingers, you feel it’s dry. For instance, in winter, the plant slows down its vegetative activity and therefore consumes less water. Additionally, there are lower temperatures, so we might water sporadically, every 15-20 days. In summer, on the other hand, with new leaves emerging from the plant, higher temperatures, and greater leaf transpiration, you might water 1-2 times a week. When watering, wait for the water to come out of the holes in the saucer, then empty it to avoid water stagnation.
Problems due to excessive watering
Exaggerating with water, our Swiss cheese plant risks suffering from root rot problems due to pathogenic fungi. Symptoms of excess water are leaf browning, which also appears wilted. Unfortunately, when these problems occur, it’s almost always too late to intervene and correct. So, be careful not to give too much water to the Swiss cheese plant.
Fertilizing the Swiss cheese plant is important to keep the leaves healthy and of a beautiful vibrant green color. It’s recommended to use liquid fertilizers for organic green plants and to follow the instructions on the product label. Generally, the plant is fertilized more frequently in spring and summer when vegetative activity is at its peak.
How to propagate the Swiss cheese plant
The Swiss cheese plant easily propagates by cutting. To carry out the operation, it’s necessary to cut the end part of a well-developed stem, preferably already equipped with aerial roots. From this apical portion of the plant with leaves, you can obtain as many cuttings as there are nodes. Then, make another cut under the node and let it root in a transparent vase with water. Within 1 or 2 weeks, new adventitious roots will start to emerge from the cutting point. When the new roots are 3-5 cm long, you can transfer our cutting to a small pot.
How to keep the plant clean
In the Swiss cheese plant, it doesn’t make much sense to talk about pruning, as it’s a plant that should be allowed to grow freely. To care for it, it’s more important to keep it clean from dry or damaged leaves for some reason. In reality, if a leaf dries up, it’s not a good sign for your Swiss cheese plant because this means that some of the cultural conditions illustrated above haven’t been respected.