There was a time when people would groan when they saw a Swiss Cheese plant, or simply be indifferent, they were pretty common. I grew up with them being a fixture at art college, stashed in a corner of the studio, tied to a moss pole, ready to be pulled out for the class when we had to paint a still life. ‘Not the Monstera again!’ we’d cry.
But Monstera deliciosa’s image has undergone a makeover. Its popularity has rocketed and now these jungle giants have become something of a commodity, commanding handsome price tags.
In China these dark green exotics are the symbol of long life and honouring elders, they symbolise good luck in Feng Shui and ‘rays of hope’ in Hawaii.
These evergreen vines have aerial roots, which hook onto trees in the wild for support, just as well as they can reach the heady heights of 20 metres, growing up towards the light in the rainforest canopies of southern Mexico and Panama.
Starting their life as epiphytes, Monstera gain moisture and nutrients from rainwater and the surrounding air via their aerial roots. As they grow some roots reach down to anchor in the soil for extra support, making Monstera hemiepiphytes, with both aerial and soil bound roots.
Their monstrous leaves naturally develop holes as they mature. As well as ensuring tropical downpours can easily pass through the leaves without damaging them, it is theorised that this evolutionary adaption protects them from predators in the rainforest of Central America, cunningly disguising them as an ailing plant to be left well alone. Funny that these holes are exactly what make them so desirable to us humans.
Monstera deliciosa also produces a spectacular edible fruit. Although I haven’t personally eaten it, it is supposed to taste of pineapple and banana. So the Latin name is rather apt – delicious monster!
This genus of 45 species holds a diverse range of specimens including Monstera borsigniana, dubia, siltepecana, pinnatipartita and the much-prized variegata. Two of the most lucrative plants of the moment are Monstera adansonii variegata and Monstera obliqua Peru, which respectively fetch £2500 per cutting! So if you have either at home, get propagating!
I was invited to write this article for Fagus Gardening Club's Fagus Times issue No 14 written and edited by Fagus President Mary Payne MBE.
All photos © Debi Holland 2021