Swiss Cheese Plant (Monstera deliciosa)

Ceriman, Cutleaf Philodendron, Hurricane Plant, Mexican Breadfruit, Split-leaf Philodendron, Swiss Cheese Plant

Monstera deliciosa, also known as the split-leaf philodendron or Swiss cheese plant, is a tropical plant often kept as a houseplant. This easy-to-grow climbing evergreen can be found in many designer spaces for its “wow” factor. Monstera deliciosa makes a statement with its glossy, heart-shaped split leaves. Growing fast, about 1 to 2 feet a year; it takes about three years before you have a full-grown monstera.

I. Appearance and Characteristics 

Monstera deliciosa, the Swiss cheese plant or split-leaf philodendron is a species of flowering plant native to tropical forests of southern Mexico, south to Panama. It has been introduced to many tropical areas, and has become a mildly invasive species in Hawaii, Seychelles, Ascension Island and the Society Islands. It is very widely grown in temperate zones as a houseplant.

The common name “Swiss cheese plant” is also used for the related species from the same genus, Monstera adansonii. The common name “split-leaf philodendron” is also used for the species Thaumatophyllum bipinnatifidum, although neither species are in the genus Philodendron.

This member of the arum family (Araceae) is a hemiepiphyte with aerial roots. It is able to grow up to 20 m (66 ft) high in the wild, with large, leathery, glossy, pinnate, heart-shaped leaves 25–90 cm (10–35.5 in) long by 25–75 cm (10–29.5 in) broad. The leaves on young plants are smaller and entire with no lobes or holes, but soon produce lobed and fenestrate leaves as they grow. Although it can grow very tall in nature, it only measures between 2 and 3 m (6.6 and 9.8 ft) when grown indoors. The older the plant, the more the leaves are covered with its familiar large perforations.

Wild seedlings grow towards the darkest area they can grow until they find a tree trunk, then start to grow up towards the light, creeping up the tree.

The inflorescence is adorned with a cream-white spathe of uniform, velvety appearance, covering, like a hood, a yellowish white spadix 10 to 15 cm (3.9 to 5.9 in) high and about 3 cm (1.2 in) in diameter. Flowers are self pollinating, containing both androecium and gynoecium. Since they contain both structures, this plant is able to self-pollinate.

Fruit

The fruit of Monstera deliciosa is up to 25 cm (10 in) long and 3–5 cm (1.2–2.0 in) diameter, and it looks like a green ear of maize covered with hexagonal scales. As the fruit ripens, these scales or platelets fall off the fruit, releasing a strong and sweet scent. The smell has been compared to a combination of pineapples and bananas. The fruit is edible and safe for humans.

Fruits of plants of the Araceae (Arum family) often contain raphides and trichosclereids – needle-like structures of calcium oxalate. In M. deliciosa, unripe fruit containing these needle-like crystalline structures can cause irritation of the mouth.

It takes longer than a year for fruits to reach maturity. The fruit first shows signs of ripening by the yellowing of its lowest scales. As it ripens, the starch that was stored in the green fruit is converted to sugar, giving it its sweet flavor. This mechanism is comparable to how banana fruits ripen. The strong odor the fruit produces becomes noticeable when it is half-ripe. As time passes and the fruit continues to ripen, the odor becomes stronger. After it becomes fully ripe, however, the scent deteriorates quickly.

Toxicity

Monstera deliciosa is moderately toxic to both cats and dogs because it contains insoluble calcium oxalate crystals (needle-like). This crystal may cause injury to the mouth, tongue, and digestive tract. It also causes dermatitis by direct contact with cat and dog skin.

Distribution and growth

This plant lives in the humid tropical forests, in the lowlands and middle mountains, in the extreme south of Mexico and also in Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Panama. The seeds fall to the ground, then the seedlings crawl (negative phototropism) until they meet a tree on which to attach. The many adjacent roots thus allow the plant to anchor against its new support and reach the canopy light (although it rarely grows in full sun and prefers a light dimmed by the foliage). Wild plants can also be found in other parts of North America (Florida), Asia (Malaysia, India), Australia and the Western Mediterranean and Atlantic (Sicily, Portugal, Morocco, Madeira).

II. How to Grow and Care

Sunlight

This evergreen prefers bright, indirect sunlight between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Too much direct light in warmer months may burn the foliage. Still, set indoor plants outside at least once a year in direct sunlight to encourage lush growth.

Outdoors, the Swiss cheese plant can grow in the full shade of deep woodlands and semi-shade of light forests.

Temperature and Humidity

Monstera deliciosa grows best in temperatures between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. It can tolerate temperatures down to 50 F and up to 90 F but will stop growing at these extremes. It prefers high humidity, about 60%. Mist it or provide a humidifier to keep its leaves moist daily.

Watering

Give the plant regular waterings during the growing season every one to two weeks. Water until excess drains through drainage holes. Do not return the excess water to the plant’s container because it has taken all the necessary water. The soil will need to dry out slightly in between waterings. Water only occasionally in fall and winter. To increase humidity indoors, mist the foliage using a spray bottle of demineralized water or rainwater.

Soil

When established in a container, it requires peat-based potting media. Outdoors, it is suitable for light sandy, medium loamy, and heavy clay soils with acid or neutral pH. Even so, it thrives most in well-drained, moderately moist soil. You’ll also spot intricate aerial roots growing out of the soil, which benefit the plant by supporting the stems that hold leaves that can grow up to 3 feet long.

Fertilizing

Choose a balanced liquid 20-20-20 fertilizer to feed the plant every few weeks during the growing season. Dilute 1/2 teaspoon of the fertilizer in a gallon of water. Use the diluted fertilizer in place of regular watering. Pour the mixture into the soil until it begins to flow out of the drainage holes. Throw out the excess diluted fertilizer because the plant has taken what it needs and cannot use the extra that it drains off.

Pruning

Trim aerial roots if they get too unruly for the space, though tucking them back into the pot is preferred. Unlike some other houseplants, their roots do not damage surfaces. Stems and leaves respond well to trimming and can be used for propagation.

Propagation

Monstera deliciosa can be easily propagated by stem cuttings from pruning. However, the most popular method of propagating Monstera deliciosa is air layering. Here are the steps for both methods:

To propagate with stem cuttings:

  • Using a clean, sharp pruning shear, cut off a stem that includes a node (a little bump where the roots will emerge), an aerial root, and at least two leaves.
  • Put a dash of ground cinnamon (the usual spice you can get at the grocery store) on the mother plant where you cut. This will prevent the disease from entering the cut and help the wound heal.
  • Put the cutting in a glass of water. Change the water every three to five days, and if possible, use filtered water or rainwater over tap water.
  • You will see a clump of roots growing in a couple of months. At that point, you can put your new plant in a pot with fresh soil and keep it moist as it establishes itself in its new home.

To propagate with air layering:

The mother plant may not look attractive for a while, but getting a healthy new plant is worth it. Air layering is a preferred low-risk method because you’re not cutting the mother plant until the baby is ready to be put in a pot with new roots. You’ll need floral or sphagnum moss, a plastic bag or wrap, and twist ties for this method.

  • Find a stem with a couple of nodes (where the roots will grow). Or, find a leaf growing out of a stem with a short aerial root below it.
  • Cut a small notch about 1/3 of the stem’s width below that root.
  • Wrap a 1-inch layer of sphagnum moss around where the leaf joins the stem.
  • Spray the moss with water to increase moisture, and wrap it in plastic. Use twist ties to secure it (it may look a little messy, which is okay).
  • Ensure the moss can remain moist until the roots develop.
  • When roots develop in a few months, you can cut (with a clean, sharp tool) the stem below the roots and establish the young plant, with its roots, in a fresh pot of soil.
  • Don’t forget to pat ground cinnamon on the wound created by the mother plant. This will stop any disease from entering the cut and help the wound heal.

Potting and Repotting 

The Swiss cheese plant will likely outgrow its pot every two years or so. Transplant into a pot a few inches wider and deeper to accommodate growth. This plant prefers well-draining porous pots, such as terra-cotta or ceramic, because they like airflow and drainage; however, any material pot with drainage holes will do. Pot the plant using these simple steps:

  • Fill the bottom third of a pot with peaty potting soil.
  • Establish a stake gently for the stem to climb on.
  • Set the roots into the container. Fill with soil around the roots.
  • Firmly surround the stake with soil and use plant ties to attach the stem to the stake.

Pests and Diseases

Common Pests 

Wiping dust or debris off leaves with a damp sponge or paper towel will keep the plant clean and deter pests. However, common pests that may invade the plant include sap-sucking mealybugs, aphids (plant lice), tiny cigar-shaped thrips, scale insects, and spider mites. If any are found on the foliage, spray the plant with a direct water stream. Leaves can also be washed with insecticidal soap.

Common Problems 

Though it’s a somewhat easy-going houseplant, Monstera deliciosa can cause a few headaches. Figure out the cause of your sickly plant and how it can bounce back. Review these common symptoms of failing health.

Browning Tips

If the tips of the leaves are turning brown, that usually means the soil could be dry, or you need to consistently water the plant on a schedule to keep it moist. Remove the affected leaves.

If there’s a yellow halo around the brown spots or tips, that means your plant has contracted a fungus. Remove the affected leaves and let the plant dry out before watering. The fungus likely got there because of overwatering or keeping the plant in overly wet soil for too long.

Yellow Leaves or Light Brown Spots

Yellowing leaves are an indication of dry soil. The oldest leaves on the plant will turn yellow first. Remove the affected leaves. If you notice dry, crispy spots on the leaves, check the soil; if it’s bone dry, give it a good watering.

Wilting, Curling, or Drooping Leaves

If you see wilting leaves, it’s likely a watering issue. The plant is either overwatered or underwater. It’s submerged if the first few inches of surface soil are dry. Also, curling is a sign of low humidity; mist the leaves regularly or place them near a humidifier and move it away from air conditioning or heat vents.

Try taking the plant out of the pot to evaluate the roots. If it’s overwatered, the plant could be suffering from root rot. Clean the roots, prune off mushy parts, and repot in new soil.

III. Uses and Benefits 

There are a lot of advantages regarding keeping Monstera Deliciosa:

  • It makes your home or office more attractive with its beautiful unique leaf patterns.
  • It can purify the air and is useful in humidifying air conditions.
  • Its fruit is full of vitamin C, proteins, some vitamin B, calcium, phosphorous, and no fat but it is poisonous if it does not fully ripen.
  • It can be a cure for different diseases and health problems such as arthritis and insect or snake bites.

IV. Harvesting and Storage

In those areas where it grows naturally, M. deliciosa is considered a delicacy due to its sweet and exotic flavor. The fruit may be ripened by cutting it when the first scales begin to lift up and it begins to exude a pungent odor. It is wrapped in a paper bag and set aside until the scales begin popping off. The scales are then brushed off or fall away to reveal the edible flesh underneath. The flesh, which is similar to pineapple in texture, can be cut away from the core and eaten. It has a fruity taste similar to jackfruit and pineapple. The unripe green fruits can irritate the throat and the latex of the leaves and vines can create rashes in the skin, because both contain potassium oxalate: that is the reason why the fruits have to be consumed when the scales lift up. The black irritant fibers can be swept off with the application of a little citrus juice.

Swiss Cheese Plant (Monstera deliciosa) Details

Common name Ceriman, Cutleaf Philodendron, Hurricane Plant, Mexican Breadfruit, Split-leaf Philodendron, Swiss Cheese Plant
Botanical name Monstera deliciosa
Plant type Edible
Hardiness zone 10a, 10b, 11a, 11b, 12a, 12b
Growth rate Fast
Sunlight Dappled Sunlight (Shade through upper canopy all day)
Soil condition High Organic Matter
Flower color Green
Leaf color Green