Monstera Deliciosa, is there a botanical name any more descriptive or intriguing for a tropical plant? I don’t think so. The name refers to a magnificent plant that tends to grow monstrously huge with heavily indented, perforated leaves, and as a bonus it produces a custardy pineapple-banana flavored fruit that is a food staple in its native Central American environs. While wading through the confusing mess that is common botanical nomenclature you will find this plant referred to as Split Leaf Philodendron, Philodendron Pertusum, Swiss cheese plant, Window leaf plant, Breadfruit plant and dozens of other regional generic names. This plant naming free-for-all makes it hard to figure out what plant you actually own. Believe it or not, Monstera is not a philodendron, nor is it a breadfruit, or even a plant to make swiss cheese from.
Monstera Deliciosa and Philodendrons are both members of the Araceae family, but they are distinctly different plants. The still-popular name, Philodendron Pertusum, dates back to when the Monstera were in the same category as Philodendron, before it and 45 other Monstera varieties were given their own genus.
Although Monsteras and most Philodendrons require very similar care, their growth habits are different. This will need to be considered when choosing the right plant for your space. Monsteras and Philodendrons are understory plants that require 6-8 hours of bright but indirect sunlight daily. Direct sunlight may burn their leaves, especially in the summer.
Both groups of plants will thrive in a well-drained planting medium that will hold some moisture. The Coast of Maine Bar Harbor potting soil works well for these plants; add a bit of orchid bark to this for extra root aeration. Let your plant become a little dry before watering. The size of the plant, the size of the pot, and the time of the year will determine how much it drinks. I have a 10” pot for my massive Monstera, and I water it thoroughly once every 2 weeks in winter when growth is dormant and every 10 days in the spring and summer, due to active growth and air conditioning which tends to dehydrate plants.
Monsteras and Philodendrons are both tropical forest plants that will benefit from high humidity. Misting the leaves or using a humidifier in the winter months will give your plants the extra humidity they need to maintain healthy growth. Give your plants a shower and a good soak in the tub once a month to ensure that the center of the root ball is hydrated and the leaves remain clean for maximum photosynthesis. Watering your plants with a liquid fertilizer such as Dyna Gro every other watering during the growing months will ensure they get all the nutrients they need. Maintain temperatures for these tropical plants between 60-80 degrees.
Being able to tell the difference between a Monstera and a Philodendron when houseplant shopping is important, as their growth habits will require different settings, space and containers. It is not uncommon for customers to drop off their Monstera plants with us a few years after their purchase because the plant has outgrown the intended space. Most mature Monsteras will grow huge and have a more vertical growth habit (with the exception of the Monstera Adansonii which keeps its small leaves and tends to trail) as opposed to mature Philodendrons which will end up smaller with more horizontal growth. You should be prepared to give your Monstera some climbing support as it matures.
One way to Identify if you have a true Monstera plant is this genus’s unique ability to develop fenestrations in the leaves. The word fenestration comes from the latin word for window, fenestra. Fenestrations develop as holes in the leaves of mature Monstera plants; the higher the intensity of light the more fenestrations the leaves will develop. One reason for this environmental adaptation could be so that the plant can access the maximum amount of daylight on its leaves while still allowing the younger understory leaves to receive light. It is also commonly believed that holes in the leaves as well as the leaves’ deep indentations allow for high winds to blow through without ripping up the plants. The leaves of young Monstera plants do not have fenestrations, making them appear to be identical to Philodendrons.
Another identifying trait unique to Monstera plants is a joint on the stem called the Geniculum. This joint allows for the leaves to follow the movement of sunlight through the day. The Geniculum also gives the stem more flexibility during high winds. Monsteras as well as Philodendrons will develop aerial roots that help to stabilize the plants, helping them to climb towards daylight while also seeking moisture and nutrients.
Monsteras and Philodendrons are fairly easy plants to grow. They will occasionally be bothered by pests such as scale or mealy bugs. This can be avoided by giving your plants the correct water and light, and by keeping the leaves clean. The occasional pest can be treated with a dab of alcohol or a spray with some horticultural oil.
All parts of these plants are toxic except for the ripe fruit that only develops on the Monstera in the wild, so keeping these plants out of reach of children and pets is a must. Monstera Deliciosa can develop 2-3 foot leaves and become fabulously huge and lush. Give these plants support and ample room to grow by placing them on a pedestal, a super tall vase or even hanging them from the ceiling, this will keep them out of trouble. These spectacular plants deserve the perfect spot, in the perfect light, in the perfect container.
Come by Fifth Season Gardening, where we can help you create the indoor tropical jungle you always dreamed of!