Monstera: July 2019 Houseplant of the Month

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The Story of the Monstera

For a plant, the monstera or Swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa) has a lot to offer: a thick stem, sometimes a moss pole, usually impressive aerial roots … there’s plenty to see! That has made it an enormous hit on Instagram and a very popular element for creating the popular urban jungle look, amongst other things. 

The most fascinating aspect, though, are the leaves. Young leaves are simply heart-shaped, like the monstera’s close relative, the philodendron. They only develop the characteristic incisions later, when they’ve had some life experience. 

The plant’s air-purifying properties mean that the monstera also helps create a pleasant environment in the home: another unique selling point for this attractive houseplant.  

Origin

The leaves of Monstera deliciosa (above) and Monstera obliqua (below) are both deeply cut.

Monstera deliciosa is a member of the arum family (Araceae). It’s actually a liana found from southern Mexico to Panama in the wild, although widely grown in the tropics all over the world. It uses its fleshy aerial roots to secure itself to tree trunks, rocks and cliff faces and can climb trees to a height of 65 feet (20 meters). Its roots wrap right around trunks as it clambers upwards, growing its gigantic leaves. The more light the plant gets, the larger the leaves—up to 3 feet (90 cm) in diameter!—and the more cuts and perforations they have.

There are several theories as to why monstera leaves develop holes. One is that they’re designed so strong winds, that could otherwise tear the leaves to shreds, can pass through the leaf without damage. Another says it lets rainfall through to the roots. Yet another suggests that the leaves get bigger so the plant can capture more sunlight, but a huge entire leaf would require more resources from the plant. With cut leaves, it manages to capture more light without using as many resources. 

Monstera Varieties

Monstera deliciosa on a moss pole (left) and Monstera obliqua (right).

There are some 50 species of Monstera, all from the jungles of the New World. The best known is the one described so far, M. deliciosa, called Swiss cheese plant or split-leaf philodendron (although it is not a philodendron) for its leaves filled with cuts and holes. The green-leafed is usually sold, but occasionally variegated cultivars, such as ‘Variegata’ or ‘Thai Constellation’, are available. It’s offered in both small pot sizes without a moss pole and as sizable specimens 3 feet (1 m) or so tall attached to moss poles or other decorative supports. 

M. obliqua is less well known but also very attractive. The plant has small bright green leaves with attractive holes. It can be used as a hanging or climbing plant. Others to look for are M. friedrichstahlii and M. adansonii. 

What to Look for When Buying a Monstera 

Use contrasting sizes for a more interesting display.
  • The pot size, plant height and thickness should be in proportion.
  • Check whether it’s a hanging or climbing plant. With a climbing specimen, the moss pole should be higher than the foliage to allow for future growth.
  • Monsteras should have even leaf spacing: all sides ought to be attractively and evenly covered. If the plants have been placed too close together at the nursery, the plant shape will sometimes be one-sided or have fewer leaves and be less desirable.  
  • Monsteras are generally a healthy, strong plants not particularly prone to pests and diseases. Do check for scale insects and mealybugs, though. They’ll attack almost any plant and are hard to eradicate.
  • The plant should have no brown patches on the leaves. This is a sign of having stood in wet soil for too long.
  • Lime stains or water marks on the leaf diminish the decorative value, but are otherwise harmless and can be carefully removed with a damp cloth dipped in vinegar.
  • If you bring your plant home in winter, make sure it is protected against the cold with a sleeve or sealed inside a bag.

Care Tips

Monsteras like bright night, but not necessarily full sun.
  • Monsteras prefer good light, but don’t need full sun. 
  • The plant doesn’t cope well with cold; don’t place it in temperatures of 55 °F (13 °C) or less. It will take down to freezing in a pinch… but it won’t like it!
  • Water moderately; the soil can be kept slightly damp, but not drenched.
  • Apply a bit of fertilizer monthly during the spring to early fall growing season. 
  • Aerial roots can be seen as an interesting curiosity … or as a nuisance. In a home setting, they give nothing to the plant and can simply be clipped off.
  • Monsteras rarely flowers indoors. If ever yours does bloom, expect a white sail-shaped bloom much like the flower of the peace lily (Spathiphyllum).  After it blooms, M. deliciosa will even produce, as its name suggests, an edible fruit tasting like a blend of pineapple and banana.
  • All parts of monsteras other than the ripe fruit are poisonous. Serious poisonings due to monsteras are however almost unheard of, be it with pets or children, the first taste being so dreadful it is immediately spat out.  

Showing Off Your Monstera 

Monsteras on castors give flexibility to your interiorscaping.

You can create your own little monstera display by placing large, medium and small plants next to one another. Or try setting medium and small plants together in a bowl for an attractive appearance. And you can place the large pots of big specimens on castors. That way you can move them around easily. 

Text and photos adapted from a press release by Thejoyofplants.co.uk
Styling by Elize Eveleens, Klimprodukties

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Scary Plant Names for Halloween!

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Source: http://www.succesrama.com

Tonight is Halloween and everywhere, little ghosts and goblins will ring our doorbells in costumes designed to scare us half to death. But plants too sometimes have names that chill our blood. Here is a selection of plants with horrifying names that seem to have been specially designed for Halloween.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

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The immaculate white flower of the bloodroot belies its blood red sap. Source: laidbackgardener.blog

Let’s start with the bloodroot. It’s common in deciduous forests throughout eastern North America and makes an excellent perennial for woodland gardens. There’s nothing bloody about the immaculate white flower of the small plant, though. You have to dig it up and cut into its rhizome to see the flow of blood red sap that earned it its name. The root was used in traditional medicine to treat blood diseases and cancers and even today bloodroot salves are available online, but the extreme toxicity of the plant has banished it from mainstream medicine.

Ghost Plant (Monotropa uniflora)

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The absence of chlorophyll gives the ghost plant a spectral white color. Source: laidbackgardener.blog

The ghost plant, also called ghost pipe or Indian pipe, owes its phantasmal name to its unique cadaveric white coloring. It’s a parasitic perennial living on conifer roots and spends most of its life underground. Only the arching flower stem, bearing scales and a single bell-shaped flower, all of a ghostly white, rises from the ground. Many people mistake it for a mushroom, but the ghost plant is a true flowering plant, in fact, belonging to the rhododendron family (Ericaceae). A flowering plant of such pallor, and parasitic to boot, seems particularly ghoulish. It’s found in the forests of the Northern Hemisphere and is especially abundant in Eastern North America.

Monstera (Monstera deliciosa)

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The huge cut leaves of the monstera. Source: laidbackgardener.blog

As far as monsters go, this popular houseplant is rather a nice one. The name comes from its heart-shaped leaves of monstrous size, up to 3 feet (90 cm) in diameter, full of holes and slashes. To stay with the Halloween theme, you could say that they seem to have been carved out by Freddy Krueger! The holes in the leaves also give this plant a less gruesome name: Swiss cheese plant. Curiously, while monstera fruits are poisonous when immature, they are edible and, in fact, delicious when ripe, tasting, I’m told, like pineapple, hence its deliciosa epithet.

Dracula Orchid (Dracula vampira)

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It’s the black flower of the Dracula orchid that earned it its name. Source: Eric Hunt, Wikimedia Commons

This Ecuadorian orchid takes its name from its large, almost black, three-sepaled flowers that can be reminiscent of the cape of the mythical Count Dracula or perhaps, with a little imagination, a bat with three wings. It’s an epiphytic plant (one which grows on other plants) and you sometimes see it in orchid shows. Needless to say, with a name like Dracula vampira, it attracts a lot of attention!

Zombie Palm (Zombia antillarum)

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The sharp spines of the zombie palm are downright scary! Source: tropical.theferns

The zombie palm gets its name from its origin as well as its frightening appearance, since this small palm because it comes from Haiti, the country of origin of zombies. Its stem is so covered in piercing thorns that nobody but a zombie would dare to approach it.

Devil’s Claw (Proboscidea louisianica)

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You wouldn’t want to run into a devil’s claw seed capsule barefoot! Source: Steven Laymon, Office of Land Management and John D. Byrd, Mississippi State University, Bugwood.org

The plant is a pretty annual with pink flowers and is indeed sometimes sold in seed packets. There is absolutely nothing threatening about it at this stage. But the seed capsule that follows bloom is long and black with two very pointed “horns” at the end, like devilish claws. The capsule latches onto the legs of passing animals, dropping seeds as the animal scratches desperately in an attempt to remove it. And it would appear that a barefoot meeting with this ultra-thorny capsule is nothing to laugh about!

Death Apple (Hippomane mancinella)

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The fruit of the death apple could be mistaken for a little green apple … but don’t eat it! Source: laidbackgardener.blog

This tree, also called manchineel, is a common sight on the beaches of tropical America. It produces small green fruits that look like apples (in fact, the name manchineel derives from the Spanish manzanilla, or “little apple”), but are so toxic that they would kill anyone who dared eat one, thus earning it its macabre name. In fact, this plant is toxic in all its parts. Even sheltering under its branches during a rain storm can cause skin lesions from particles picked up by water dripping over the leaves!

Strangler Fig (Ficus spp.)

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This strangler fig tree is attacking a sculpture of Buddha in Ayutthaya, Thailand. Source: laidbackgardener.blog

There is not just one species of strangler fig, but dozens species of Ficus found throughout the Tropics that share the same ghoulish way of life. The seeds germinate on the branches of a tree of another species, then the roots of the strangler gradually wrap around the trunk of its host. Over time, it eventually suffocates (strangles) the other tree and then takes its place as a forest giant. The weeping fig (Ficus benjamina), a common houseplant often used as an indoor tree, is one of these strangler figs. So maybe taking a nap it its foot isn’t the wisest thing to do!

Bat Flower (Tacca chantrieri)

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The bat flower’s shape and color can indeed seem quite batlike. Source: laidbackgardener.blog

The huge black flowers of this houseplant are the stuff of nightmares. They can be up to 1 foot (30 cm) across and consist of two black “wings” with long, slender black whiskers that can exceed 2 feet (60 cm) in length. It’s often sold as a houseplant, but you’ll need really good humidity (i.e. greenhouse levels!) to keep it happy.

Corpse Flower (Amorphophallus titanum)

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When the corpse flower is fully open, you can smell it from afar! Source: Leif Jørgensen, Wikimedia Commons

This plant, which produces the world’s largest inflorescence, up to 10 feet (3 m) tall, grows from a huge underground tuber. Every year, it produces a single gigantic, deeply cut leaf, perfectly erect on a petiole measuring up to 20 feet (6 m) tall. It could easily be mistaken for a trunk and gives the leaf the appearance of a tree. Every decade or so, the plant produces a gigantic inflorescence that gives off an intense smell of decaying flesh, hence the name corpse flower. You’ll have guessed that it attracts, as a pollinator, carrion flies. The bloom lasts only three days, but often attracts crowds to the botanical gardens that grow it: everyone wants to see—and smell!—the horrendous monster!


If you do a bit of research, you’ll find lots of other plants with equally scary names: spider plant, bloody cranesbill, wolfsbane, ‘Bloody Butcher’ corn, devil tree and many more. Certainly enough to give Halloween a macabre touch of green!