Gardening Houseplants

The Mini-Monstera: Attractive and Easy to Grow

Mini-monstera (Rhaphidophora tetrasperma). Photo: greeneryunlimited.co

Yes, it’s being called mini-monstera, but it really isn’t a monstera, that is, a member of the genus Monstera, best known for the Swiss cheese plant (M. deliciosa). It also sold for a few years under the name Philodendron ‘Ginny’, but it’s not a philodendron either.

Leaf shapes of two monsteras and a Rhapidophora.
Comparing three monsteralike plants. Monstera adansonii (left), Monstera deliciosa (center) and Rhapidophora tetrasperma (right). Photo: ohiotropics.com, google.com & GardenBeast

It’s actually Rhaphidophora tetrasperma, an aroid (member of the Araceae family) like both monsteras and philodendrons, but native to Malaysia and Thailand. (Monsteras and philodendrons are native to the New World tropics.) It’s much more closely related to another common houseplant, the pothos (Epipremnum spp.), which is likewise native to Asia as well as Oceania.

The name Rhapidophora means “needle bearing”, a reference to the needle-shaped crystals of calcium oxalate called raphides that make all plant parts unpalatable and somewhat toxic.

From Shingle-leaf to Pinnate

Rhapidophora growing flat against a trunk as a shingle plant.
The mini-monstera is a shingle plant in its youth, with leaves pressed against the bark of its host tree. This photos shows an unknown species of Rhapidophora, not R. tetrasperma. Photo: hortlog.blogspot.com

Like most rhaphidiphoras, R. tetrasperma grows as shingle plant in its youth. It sprouts on the rainforest floor and begins to climb a host tree, bearing small, heart-shaped leaves with no visible petiole that press flat against the bark, each leaf partly covering its neighbor, like a shingle. Eventually, it may sever its ties with the roots below and thus grow as a hemiepiphyte, rooted into tree trunks and branches. It is said to reach up to 16 feet (5 m) tall in the wild, but I’ll bet it can grow much higher than that, although having no jungle to grow it in, that’s something I can’t test myself.

Rhapidophora in the wild, with multiple stems and hundreds of leaves
The mini-monstera, no longer quite so mini, in the wild in Singapore. My guess is that this plant is much more than 16 feet (5 m) tall! Photo: viabnsite.ga

As it grows higher and higher, receiving more and more light, the leaves get larger, eventually producing petioles and growing away from the tree’s bark. As it climbs further and receives even more light, the new leaves start to produce cut edges and fenestrations much like a Swiss cheese plant. Eventually, at least in the wild, they can reach almost 14 inches (35 cm) in length, by which time they are actually pinnate, like a fern. However, the specimens we’re being sold as mini-monsteras are subadults, with just a few cuts and are rarely more than 5 inches (13 cm) long. 

It’s unlikely your mini-monstera will ever bloom indoors and if it did, the blossoms wouldn’t be much to look at: a sort of cone-shaped green inflorescence with a greenish spathe.

Green and yellow variegated Rhapidophora.
This variegated mini-monstera sold for NZ $6,500 at auction in August, 2020. Photo: gardenbeast.com

There is a variegated version, still very expensive. So, buy one, propagate it (so easy to do), sell your surplus plants and pay your mortgage!

Easy to Grow

Baby rhapidophora with no leaf perforations.
Juvenile plant not yet showing leaf perforations. Photo: clorofila.shop

If this plant is catching on so rapidly, it’s not only because of its unusual and attractive leaves, but also because it’s easy to grow. Just pot it up into any well-drained potting mix (some gardeners use orchid mix, but it also grows perfectly well in commercial houseplant soil) and give it medium to good light with some direct sun, although full sun would be too much. It’s the kind of plant you can grow well back from the window in most rooms. Being so fast-growing, it might need annual repotting.

Water it when the soil is dry to the touch (it doesn’t tolerate prolonged drought) and keep it at room temperatures. It does not appreciate the cold and will only be fully hardy outdoors in truly tropical climates (USDA zones 10b to 12).

Light fertilizing with the fertilizer of your choice during the spring through summer growing season is fine. It’s best not to fertilize in late fall and winter so as to avoid encouraging rapid growth under very low light.

For a rainforest plant, the mini-monstera s surprisingly resistant to dry air, even as low as 30% relative humidity, but still, will do best if you can maintain 50% or more. 60% is even better. It makes an attractive terrarium plant, but only if you prune it to keep its rampant growth under control. 

Ah yes, its rampant growth! You need to know about that!

Rhapidophora growing up a stake towards the ceiling.
The scrawny growth habit of the mini-monstera means it will look fuller it you plant several cuttings in a pot. Photo: plantsbybenny, reddit.com

The mini-monstera can be very fast-growing—and rangy!—under good conditions. Left alone, it will produce a single floor to ceiling stem and that’s rarely very attractive. It’s not given to branching on its own, so you’ll have to help it. Cut it back whenever it starts to look too thin, then root the cuttings (they’re a snap to root under high humidity!) and plant them up into the original pot so the plant can fill in. Plus the cutback stem will soon produce a new stem or two. Soon you’ll have a full, attractive pot.

Your mini-monstera will look best trained up some sort of support like a trellis and will even cling on its own to a bark slab, a moss pole and even the wall of your living room thanks to its aerial roots. 

It also looks wonderful in hanging baskets, but as the stems trail, the leaves get smaller and smaller and they lose their perforations, leaving it looking like a puny philodendron. To understand why, read Climbing Plants Like to Climb.

Pests and Diseases

The usual roster of houseplant pests can theoretically attack the mini-monstera (spider mites, mealybugs, scale insects, etc.), but in fact, it’s a pretty sturdy plant and not terribly attractive to pests. Rot caused by consistent overwatering or growing in containers with no drainage hole is one of the rare diseases that seem to affect it. 

A Bit Poisonous

Like most aroids, this plant is a bit poisonous and certainly chewing it can lead to a painful burning sensation thanks to the raphides mentioned above. This will quickly dissuade the chewer from every attempting that again, but still, it’s best to keep this plant (and all aroids) out of the reach of children and pets.

Where to Find It?

Just a few years ago, this plant was very expensive, but it is so commonly available today its price is dropping fast … or at least it should be. Some boutiques haven’t heard the news and still sell it at outrageous prices, so shop around. 

Rhapidophoras in a garden center.
The mini-monstera used to be a rare plant, but is now easily found in local garden centers. Photo: Knollwood Garden Center

You’ll now find this plant in most garden centers or, if not, take a look online. I mean, is any online houseplant source not selling it? You should have no trouble finding it, either locally or by mail order. 

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The mini-monstera: more than just a passing fancy, it can be a long-lived and attractive indoor plant, maybe one you’d be interested in trying.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

1 comment on “The Mini-Monstera: Attractive and Easy to Grow

  1. If it grows sixteen feet tall, does that mean that the adult growth can stand sixteen feet above its lowest support? I mean, it can climb very high, like other genera in the family, but the adult growth that branches out and supports its own weight may have a limited height of sixteen feet.

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