Monstera deliciosa is also called Swiss cheese plant, delicious monster, fruit salad plant, windowleaf, or simply cheese plant. It got its name because of the typical holes in its leaves. the plant is one of the most popular houseplants.
Its imposing size, as well as the huge, glossy leaves, explain the popularity of the vine.
The Swiss cheese plant is often mistakenly confused with tree philodendron (Thaumatophyllum bipinnatifidum).
With good care, the Monstera can even develop flowers and also fruits.
Origin and Distribution
The popular houseplant with the large, conspicuously slit leaves is native to the tropical rainforests of Central and South America.
Here, the plant first germinates on the ground. It then climbs along the enormous trunks high up into the huge crowns of the jungle giants.
No one can say exactly how many species of this genus there actually are. Estimates range from around 30 to as many as 60 different varieties.
Some – including in particular Monstera deliciosa – spread rapidly in climatically favorable areas. In some cases, it even needs to be controlled by human hand.
For example, there are wild, invasive occurrences in the south of the USA. But also in India and other Asian countries. And even in Australia and in some regions of the western Mediterranean such as Morocco or Portugal.
The first specimens of Monstera deliciosa arrived from Mexico as early as the beginning of the 19th century. A few decades later, the species was already in cultivation in numerous places.
Monstera had its heyday as a houseplant in the 1970s and 1980s. But for some years now there has been a renewed interest in this easy-care and attractive foliage ornamental plant.
However, the Swiss cheese plant is not only interesting as a foliage decoration plant for the living room at home. You can also find its stylized leaf as an art and decorative object on numerous products.
Due to its tropical origin, the Monstera is only suitable as a houseplant or in tropical winter gardens and greenhouses.
Appearance and Growth
In its natural habitat, the Swiss cheese plant easily reaches the highest treetops. In culture, however, the Swiss cheese plant only grows upright to a height of about 10 ft (3 m).
They have long aerial roots that help the plant anchor itself to any support. This can be other plants such as the already mentioned jungle trees. But also rock walls or, in indoor cultivation, special climbing aids.
As soon as the aerial roots encounter soil, they penetrate it and anchor themselves in it. They then take on the normal function of roots, absorbing water and nutrients.
The fleshy, also very long shoots of the Monstera, on the other hand, are not stable on their own and need support.
Which Climbing Aid is Suitable for the Monstera?
In order for the plant to follow its natural growth pattern in the living room, it needs a reliable climbing aid.
Of course, you can offer it a wooden or metal one, but its aerial roots will not always find a secure hold on its smooth surface.
Moss poles are better suited for this purpose. You can find these in any hardware or garden store. Moss poles are often thick rods made of plastic or another sturdy material wrapped with coconut fibers or moss.
Alternatively, you can simply divert the aerial roots into the substrate, where they grow like normal roots. Then they can perform their function of supplying the plant with water and nutrients. The only thing you must not do is cut off these roots.
Mainly because of its up to 20 inches (50 cm) long and very broad, shield-shaped leaves, the Monstera is cultivated as a decorative houseplant.
This attractive foliage ornamental initially develops heart-shaped, entire-edged, and light green colored leaves.
The leaves acquire their characteristic breakthroughs at the leaf edges and surfaces as well as the glossy, dark green later.
The thick, leathery leaves probably have this unusual appearance because the slits and apertures enhance the light penetration of plant parts located in shadier areas of the rainforest.
The petioles of the window leaf also have a specific feature. The remarkably strong and long petioles often angle downward (“geniculate” as the botanist says).
This allows the plant to literally hook itself to the branches and shoots of other plants with this additional climbing aid.
Flowers and Fruits
With good care and optimal conditions, older specimens of the Swiss cheese plant can produce flowers even when grown indoors.
As a rule, this occurs in plants that are at least ten years old. The flower looks very similar to that of Spathiphyllum or Anthurium. After all, they are related species.
The plant forms a yellowish, long-stalked flower bulb surrounded by large white bracts. This flower form is typical of Araceae.
Later, they develop into purple berries, which are considered a tasty delicacy in some countries. In fact, the fruits of Monstera are edible, but sensitive individuals should hold off on eating them. The calcium oxalate needles contained in the berries can irritate the throat mucosa.
The species Monstera deliciosa – which means delicious monster – bears its name for a reason. It forms elongated green fruits which are edible and taste somewhat like pineapple.
Since these fruits contain a lot of oxalic acids, similar to rhubarb, you should be cautious when eating them.
Not everyone can tolerate large quantities of this substance. It can irritate the mucous membranes as well as the digestive tract. In living room culture, as a rule, Swiss cheese plants do not develop fruit.
Apart from the fruits, all parts of the monstera – from leaves to roots to flowers – are poisonous. Therefore, you should not consume them.
In addition to oxalic acid and calcium oxalate crystals, the climbing plant also contains resorcinol and various pungent substances, among other things.
Symptoms of poisoning, ranging from skin and mucous membrane irritation to nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, occur after consumption in both humans and animals.
To avoid hazards, monstera belongs out of the reach of small children and pets such as dogs, cats, rodents, and even birds.
Furthermore, the plant’s sap can cause allergic reactions. This is why you should always wear gloves when performing maintenance tasks such as pruning.
Which Location is Suitable for Swiss Cheese Plant?
As in its natural habitat, the Swiss cheese plant feels most comfortable in semi-shady to off-sun areas. Direct sun – especially the blazing midday sun – will permanently damage the attractive green leaves. You should therefore avoid it.
Only in the early morning as well as in the evening do a few rays of sunlight make the Monstera feel even more comfortable. In summer, you can also place the plant on the balcony or terrace at temperatures above 68 °F (20 °C).
The temperature should not fall below 64 °F (18 °C) in summer and winter.
When choosing a location, you should consider not only the light requirements but also the expected final size of the Monstera. This plant needs a lot of space.
You should therefore ideally place it where it can remain permanently and undisturbed for many years from the beginning. Plan for this sufficient space both in height and width.
A change of location due to lack of space or other reasons does not please the Swiss cheese plant at all. In this respect, the plant is a diva and you should leave it alone accordingly.
The Monstera also feels most comfortable in soil that corresponds to its natural habitat conditions. Optimal is a humus-rich, loose, and slightly acidic or neutral substrate. You can either mix this yourself or buy good soil.
A high-quality rhododendron soil based on compost instead of peat is well suited. Alternatively, mix two-thirds commercial compost with one-third coco coir or even perlite.
In addition to the classic soil culture, you can also cultivate the monstera in hydroponics without any problems.
Place the plant in vermiculite or expanded clay and use a special pot with a water level indicator. You want to renew the planting substrate every one to two years, as lime and other deposits collect in it.
Planting Swiss Cheese Plant Properly
It is best to plant the monstera in a large pot from the start so that its roots have enough space. The planter should leave at least two finger widths of space between the pot wall and the root ball.
Also, if possible, use a pot with a drainage hole to allow excess water to drain away and prevent waterlogging in the first place.
Plant the Swiss cheese plant as follows:
- Cover the drainage hole with shards of clay
- Fill in part of the substrate
- Loosen the root ball with your fingers
- Place the plant in the center of the container
- Carefully guide the aerial roots into the pot
- Do not bend or otherwise injure the roots
- Fill up with substrate
- Water the plant well
Repotting Swiss Cheese Plant
Younger specimens of the Swiss cheese plant should be repotted annually because of their rapid growth.
But older plants only need fresh substrate about every two to three years. The best time to do this is in the spring.
Watering Swiss Cheese Plant
Monstera feels most comfortable when the substrate is always slightly moist, but not constantly wet.
The rainforest plant has a high water requirement, especially in the warm summer months. But like most other plants, it does not tolerate permanent waterlogging.
So water it regularly between April and October, but always after the top layer of the substrate has already dried.
In the winter months between November and March, on the other hand, you can water much more sparingly. The Monstera needs less water during this time.
In addition to a regular supply of water, the Monstera also needs an environment with high humidity. Especially in winter, this might be hard to achieve.
To remedy this, spray the plant regularly with water or place it in a bowl filled with rocks and water.
Fertilizing Swiss Cheese Plant Properly
Like almost all rainforest plants, monstera has quite high nutrient requirements. Therefore, you should fertilize it regularly.
For this purpose, give it a liquid green plant fertilizer together with the watering water approximately every two weeks between April and September.
Alternatively, you can also use a slow-release fertilizer, for example in the form of sticks. In the remaining months between October and March, however, you suspend the fertilization.
What to Do When the Swiss Cheese Plant Drops Leaves Or Gets Brown Leaves?
If the Swiss cheese plant suddenly gets brown leaf edges, it is often due to overfertilization.
This occurs if you do not apply the fertilizer according to the manufacturer’s instructions or if you apply it undiluted.
Pot the plant in a fresh substrate and be sure to apply the manufacturer’s instructions.
On the other hand, if the window leaf sheds its foliage, a nutrient deficiency may be the cause. It might be helpful to increase fertilization in that case.
Pruning Swiss Cheese Plant Properly
Basically, the Monstera does not need to be cut back. But you should remove diseased or dead leaves regularly.
However, since the plant can grow very tall in a short time, you might want to limit its growth if necessary.
For this purpose, you can simply shorten the main shoot. But you might also want to bring the side shoots into shape when you are at it.
The Swiss cheese plant does not lignify and is very tolerant of pruning. You can prune it throughout the year. The only drawback is that if you prune the Swiss cheese plant, it will not produce flowers.
Propagating Swiss Cheese Plant
You can use the cuttings from pruning to propagate this pretty plant. Head cuttings, shoot cuttings and stem cuttings are all suitable for this purpose, as long as they have at least one bud.
However, cuttings should always have aerial roots, as these are where the new roots form. You can root the plant pieces both in a water glass and in a low-nutrient growing medium.
Diseases and Pests
Monstera is a hardy and low-maintenance houseplant. It is rarely affected by pests or pathogens.
Signs of disease are often due to care errors and will disappear as soon as you remove the cause. Brown leaves, especially at the edges, as well as yellow discoloration usually indicate that the plant has been kept too wet or that fertilization has been incorrect.
Since newly sprouted leaves only divide over time, failure to divide the leaves is also a sign of disease. In this case, the Swiss cheese plant often does not like its location, which might be too dark.
Species and Varieties
The species Monstera deliciosa is usually the one cultivated as a houseplant. It also exists in the following interesting cultivars:
- Variegata: It has striking variegated leaves and needs more light than the pure green species.
- Borsigiana: It forms rather narrow and less open-worked leaves.
Both varieties mentioned grow slower than the original form, with Variegata needing more heat in addition to a bright location.