Monstera deliciosa: Swiss cheese plant

Family: Araceae
Common name: Swiss cheese plant, Monstera, Delicious monster, Cheese plant, Fruit salad plant, Fruit salad tree, Monster fruit, Ceriman, Monster fruit, Monsterio delicio, Hurricane plant, Penglai banana, Monstereo, Balazo, Mexican breadfruit, Windowleaf, Split leaf philodendron, PiƱanona, Zampa di leone, Locust and wild honey

Monstera or Swiss cheese plants are in demand these days, adorning interior design magazines, as tastefully placed cut leaves in vases. Or as humongous plants that can transform your living room into a tropical forest.

In the wild, these plants can grow to a height of over 20 meters as large epiphytes twining around trees. But most houseplants only grow 2-3 meters when places indoors and 4-5 meters when placed outdoors. Swiss cheese plants are characterized by beautiful cuts in the leaves called fenestrations, that is similar to the holes in cheese, the reason behind its name.

Monstera leaves are dark green, glossy, large and heart-shaped, about 30-90 cms long with almost the same width. The name Monstera denotes the plant’s size, and deliciosa stands for its tasty fruits. Most plants don’t flower and fruit when grown in home gardens.

The flower is a long whitish-yellow spadix that’s 15 cms long and 3 cms wide, enclosed by a white spathe. Flowers contain both male and female reproductive organs, and is capable of self-pollination. Once pollinated, the plant produces long, maize-shaped fruits that are 20-25 cms long.

The fruits are covered by scales which lift up and fall away as the fruit ripens. This lifting of scale is a good indication as to when the fruit ripens. Unripe fruits and other parts of the plant contain oxalate crystals that are mildly toxic, causing a burning sensation in the mouth and throat.

Ripe fruits can be eaten after wiping away the black, flaky scales, the fruit tasting like jackfruits or pineapples. Leaves of Monstera plants contain a sap that can irritate the skin, and hence it is advisable to keep the plant away from children and pets.

These plants grow equally well indoors as well as outdoors, flourishing in low sunlight that resembles the tropical forest floors that they usually grow in. Filtered or indirect sunlight is best for Monstera plants, as direct sunlight can burn or scorch their leaves.

Yellowing, browning and drooping of leaves indicate water or light distress which must be addressed quickly to promote healthy growth. They need well-drained, moist soil, but otherwise are quite fuss-free and low maintenance.

Once they are established in a pot, the size of the leaves keep increasing with each new set of leaves. Small plants do not have holes or fenestrations till they are a few months old.

As the plant grows older and the leaves matures, it gets large holes that grow outwards splitting the leaves horizontally into strips. These holes help increase the surface area of leaves to capture sunlight for photosynthesis, since they grow in dark areas.

In forests, the seeds of Monstera plants crawl towards dark places away from the light, a phenomenon called negative phototropism, till they reach a tree that they can climb with epiphytic roots clinging on to the trunks.

They are mostly pest-resistant and can live for many years. Monstera plants can be pruned severely, each cutting forming a new plant when placed in water, provided they have stem nodes. Misting and cleaning the leaves will help keep the plants healthy.

Propagation is through seeds or stem cuttings that root easily in water in 10-14 days