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Monstera deliciosa Liebm.      

Monstera deliciosa, Copyright 2005, Steve Lucas, www.ExoticRainforest.com

Monstera deliciosa Liebm.      

Two published variations:
Monstera deliciosa
variation borsigiana (Engl.)
Monstera deliciosa var sierrana
 
Sometimes sold incorrectly as Philodendron pertusum
Common names:  Mexican Breadfruit, Fruit Salad Plant, Swiss Cheese Plant,
and incorrectly "Split Leaf Philodendron"

This species is not a Philodendron. 
Although similar in shape, this species is not Rhaphidophora
tetrasperma
See the text for an explanation


An aroid with leaves that change dramatically as it grows and produces delicious fruit!

 

Monstera deliciosa juvenile blade, Photo copyright 2010 www.ExoticRainforest.comI've known the name of the large leaf Monstera deliciosa, which scientifically is only a  distant Philodendron relative but not a Philodendron, for many years.  It is likely the first scientific plant name I ever learned as a result of specimens being found all over South Florida. 
 
But then the internet began to offer another name: "Philodendron pertusum" and the internet has totally convinced many average collectors the little green (sometimes artificially variegated) plant is a totally different and new plant!   The so called Philodendron pertusum" is nothing more than a juvenile form of Monstera deliciosa but no amount of scientific proof is ever going to convince many of those collectors of that fact.  Many collectors just love to believe what they read on internet plant discussion groups and will continue to believe their little juvenile "Philodendron" can't possibly be the same plant as the big leaf plant with holes in their leaves known to science as Monstera deliciosa.
 
The recent movie Avatar by famed director James Cameron contains a now famous line which I absolutely love, "We have tried to teach the sky people but it is hard to fill a cup that is already full."  I have now personally all but given up on those few collectors who consider bits and fragments of information on the internet plant chat sites to be "expert" information.  If you have already accepted the plant to the right above is a Philodendron and not a juvenile Monstera deliciosa you will likely find the rest of the photos and information on this page of no use.  The photo to the right (above) is in fact the juvenile leaf of Monstera deliciosa.
 
Monstera deliciosa geniculum, not easily visible on a juvenile plant, Photo Copyright 2010 Steve Lucas, www.ExoticRainforest.comIf you are willing to do a bit of examination I can offer a few simple ways to determine if your plant is likely to be Monstera deliciosa or another Monstera species. Take your specimen and locate the largest leaf on the plant.  Look directly beneath the blade at the point where the leaf joins the petiole (the stalk that supports the leaf).  Can you see or feel a slight "bulge" or "bump"?  Monstera possess a geniculum as do Anthurium and other genera, but Philodendron species do not.  The geniculum allows the leaves to rotate to some degree in order to gather more light.  Look at the geniculum and you are likely to see ridges or grooves beginning to develop.  These are very common on larger leaves but may be difficult to find on an extremely juvenile plant.
 
Now look at the other end of the petiole.  If you have a leaf that recently opened you will notice it grew out of an adjacent petiole.  At the base of the petiole that the new leaf emerged from see if you can find "wings".  Those "wings" are petiolar sheaths and serve the same purpose as a cataphyll on many plantsAs Monstera deliciosa matures it will begin to produce the new leaves from cataphylls.  A cataphyll is a bract-like modified leaf which surrounds any newly developing leaf to protect an emerging blade as it develops.  Now look at the length of the petiole.  Do you see a groove running down the petiole's upper surface?  This groove is known as a sulcus or the petiole is canaliculate.  As the petioles mature they will begin to flatten near the apex where the petiole joins the geniculum.  This is all the nature of the ontogeny or natural changes of the species.  Just like people change as they mature, plants change as they grow.
 
If you find a geniculum, petiolar sheaths, and the canaliculate petiole the chances are extremely high you have a juvenile Monstera deliciosa or a related species of Monstera.  These features combined with the leaf margins beginning to cut into the blade are all but a dead giveaway.  There are many other differences in a Monstera and a Philodendron but you will have to wait for the plant to mature to see them all.  Still, if I quoted all this information verbatim from a scientific text some now reading this will go back to their internet plant chat forum and declare all this information to be invalid.  It is just the nature of collecting plants and the tendency to believe what you read on the internet.
 
The juvenile form of Monstera deliciosa looks nothing like the adult form and  only a few years of additional growth will ever teach most of the growers that have already accepted intenet fiction the facts.  Only time can force that change.  The reason is a common thing that happens to many plants, especially those that are tropical, known as ontogeny and natural variation which will be explained later.
 
Monstera deliciosa from Volume 1, number 1 of the International Aroid Society Journal Aroideana.It appears the name Monstera deliciosa was just too common a name for one large plant cultivation company so they dug out an inaccurate name in order to promote their "new" plant.  The name  Philodendron pertusum (L.) K. Koch & C.D. BouchÚ is a published scientific name but was incorrectly published and is now a synonym for Monstera deliciosa which is not a Philodendron species.
 
Despite commonly held belief, the species Monstera deliciosa is a tree climber, just look at the photos on this page. 
 
The large leaf favorite with holes in it's leaves resembling Swiss cheese is very easy to grow and will live well even as a house plant or in the yard if you are fortunate enough to live in a semi-tropical climate.  To a scientist those "holes" are known as fenestrations from the Latin word for window.  But if you elect to grow this plant in a pot, give it a big one with porous soil that does not remain soggy! 
 
Be aware this species is variable and not every leaf of every plant will look exactly the same!   As a result, expect to see several different leaf shapes and sizes.  A link which better explains variation within plant species is located near the bottom of this page.  
 
Monstera deliciosa was the very first plant ever profiled in the International Aroid Society journal Aroideana, Volume 1, number 1, in May, 1978.  A subscription to Aroideana is included with your annual membership.  For information on joining the International Aroid Society (IAS), Join the IAS
 
The species Monstera deliciosa originates in Mexico in the state of Oaxaca. The species is not as commonly seen in the wild as in cultivation.  M, deliciosa is often found growing near water at elevations ranging from 1,525 to 2,135 meters (5,000 to 7,000 feet) and has heavily coriaceous (leathery) leaves.  It is native primarily to the forests of both Oaxaca and Veracruz but is also found south through Central America into Ecuador and Peru.  Some of the specimens found in Central America have smaller leaf blades and include Monstera deliciosa var. borsigiana (Engl.) and Monstera deliciosa var. sierrana.  The shortened form of variation is "var".
 
Only when mature does the plant produce the cream colored spathe.  All aroids, including Monstera deliciosa, are Monstera deliciosa var borsigiana, Photo Copyright 2008, Russ Hammermembers of the family Araceae and reproduce by developing a spathe and spadix which many people consider to be a large "flower" .  The true flowers, are tiny and grow on the spadix at the center which resembles a long, thin pine cone.   The spadix is a spike on a thickened fleshy axis which can produce tiny flowers.
 
Monstera differ from Philodendron species since all Monstera produce perfect flowers containing both male and female organs while Philodendron produce imperfect flowers containing only a single sex.   When an Monstera is "in flower" the reference is to the tiny flowers containing both pefect male and female sexual parts that grow on the spadix at the center of the inflorescence.  To help prevent self pollination nature has designed the female flowers to be receptive before the male portion of the flower produce their pollen so in most cases an insect must bring pollen from another plant.  For more information on the sexual reproduction of any aroid click the pollination link below.   However, self pollination is possible.
 
The spathe (right) measures approximately 25.5cm (10 inches) and the spadix at the center measures up to approximately 17.75cm (7 inches) before the fruit begins to develop.  Once pollinated, the spadix begins to swell and Monstera deliciosa inflorescence (spathe and spadix), Photo Copyright 2008, Steve Lucas, www.ExoticRainforest.comsubstantially increases its own size.  The fruit is delicious, and quite safe to eat once ripe (yellow).  That fruit is how the species received the name "deliciosa", or delicious and will eventually contains seeds.  Just make sure the fruit has turned yellow before eating. 
 
In all its natural range the fruit is commonly consumed. The ripening process takes close to 10 months from the time the spathe is first seen. The fruit tastes very much like pineapple mixed with strawberry.   Before the fruit ripens the spathe will completely fall away.    The spadix at the left (below) is not ripe and will be ready to eat in several more months from the date of this photo (7/08).  This spadix already stands 24cm (9.5 inches) above the peduncle which is at the base of the spadix.   The photo (below, ) shows the spadix Monstera deliciosa ripening spadix. will turn yellow when ripe, Photo Copyright 2008, Steve Lucas, www.ExoticRainforest.comas the fruit is just beginning to ripen.  To achieve maximum flavor the spadix should change color to yellow.
 
If you have read on the internet that all Philodendron and Monstera sp. and their fruit are poisonous, I am proof this one is not.  My family eats every fruit that matures on our plants.  Some scientific sources report there is as much of the chemical compound that is supposedly "poisonous" in spinach as in this plant.  Just don't try to eat the leaves!  However, if you or a family member is known to be sensitive to calcium oxalate crystals, caution should be used.  It is possible to cut the peduncle which is the support of the spadix just prior to ripening and allow it to fully ripen in a controlled situation.  Aroid expert Leland Miyano offers this information and a caution, "Pick or buy a mature fruit.  It should be green and firm and there should be a slight separation between the scales near the peduncle. Wrap the fruit in a brown paper bag or aluminum foil. Do not attempt to eat it until the little green plates or scales of the rind begin to fall off.  When the remaining plates are very easy to remove, it can be eaten.  The inedible core should just pull away.  Some people are sensitive to the calcium oxalate, even in fully ripe fruit. If you have never eaten Monstera deliciosa or are sensitive...caution is advised." 

IMonstera deliciosa fruit (spadix), Photo Copyright 2008, Steve Lucas, www.ExoticRainforest.comn many aroid species the leaves are very distasteful and may be harmful if eaten.  Many aroid species are eaten once properly prepared.   Unless you know how to properly prepare an aroid, consumption is is not advisable.  However, many including Alocasia and Colocasia species have been eaten by ethnic communities around the globe for at least 10,000 years.  This link explains some of the myths relating to calcium oxalate crystals: Calcium oxalate crystals
 
Although found on the internet as Philodendron pertusum, that name is not applicable within science to this species.  The name appears to be poor copy of Monstera pertusam, a synonym of Monstera adansonii, (click the highlighted link to see that plant).  Monstera adansonii is not the same as Monstera deliciosa.  Monstera pertusum is also a non-scientific name, simply one someone made up.  The scientific name Monstera pertusa can be located on TROPICOS (a service of the Missouri Botanical Garden) but is not associated with the species Monstera deliciosa.  
 
So how should you grow aroids such as Monstera deliciosa?  If you could visit a rain forest you would quickly learn the soil is composed of leaf litter, decaying wood, compost, animal droppings and the charcoal left behind when a part of the forest burns. If we'll just listen to Mother Nature we can all make our plants grow as they do in nature. That is precisely what I attempt to explain when I recommend mixing soil, not just buying a bag at the store. Over time we've arrived at a soil mixture for most of our aroid species which duplicates the rain forest. We use this mixture on the advice of the aroid keepers at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. The goal of this mix is to allow the roots to freely find places to extend and grow without constantly finding wet places where they will rot. This mix will remain damp but drain quickly and as you can see from the photo above will make the plants thrive.

Rather than using a rich, soggy soil and watering only once a week (or less), use a soil that holds moisture well but drains quickly. With the help of botanical garden researchers we've developed a soil mixture for most of our rain forest species that works great. People who visit our artificial rain forest are often amazed at the size of many of our specimens that grow much faster and larger than they often do in a home.
 
Exotic Rainforest atrium, Siloam Springs, AR, Photo Copyright 2009, Steve Lucas, www.ExoticRainforest.comThe exact mixture is not critical but we use a soil mixture  composed of approximately 30% soil, 20% peat, 40% orchid bark with charcoal , 10% Perlite and some finely cut and shredded sphagnum moss works well.  We also make our own compost and add it in place of some of the peat and bark  when available. We often add extra hardwood or aquarium charcoal to help purify the soil and sometimes volcanic rock.   If you are concerned about your soil remaining wet just add more orchid mix, cypress mulch, Perlite and sphagnum moss.  Never use a pot that cannot drain!
 
We grow many different aroid species in this basic mixture and some of our specimens have reached their adult or near adult size and regularly produce a spathe and spadix (inflorescence).  The goal of our mixture is to cause the water to flow through the soil quickly, remain slightly damp, but never soggy. The roots of our plants attach to the bark just as they do in nature on the side of a tree. Most growers call a mix similar to the one we use a "jungle mix".
Rhaphidophora tetrasperma Hook.f. Copyright 2008 Steve Lucas Exotic Rainforest
Some collectors also confuse Rhaphidophora species and believe they are a small form of Monstera delicosa.   Aroid botanist P.C. "Pete" Boyce, who teaches and works in the Malaysian rain forests near Singapore, offered this information on the aroid forum Aroid l regarding the name Rhaphidophora pertusa, an Asian species with a similar leaf appearance to Monstera delicosa,  "most plants in cultivation labeled as R. pertusa are actually R. tetrasperma. In fact, I have very seldom seen true R. pertusa cultivated and never seen it in European or US collections."  (See photo right) You can see Rhaphidophora tetrasperma here:

The leaf size of Monstera deliciosa can reach nearly 90cm (3 feet) but can be controlled by simply not watering the plant as often.  The variations of this species may be somewhat smaller in size.  Some websites claim the leaves can grow to 150cm (5 feet), but no scientific documentation to prove that size leaf blade can be found.  If you like big leaves as much as I, then pour on the water!   The plant grows in nature close to water and water tends to increase the plant's size.
 
The species Monstera delicosa was first published to science in Videnskabelige Meddelelser fra Dansk Naturhistorisk Forening i Kj°benhavn in 1849.  An epiphyte (ep-a-FIT), the species is quite capable of climbing a tree despite internet posts which claim this species is not a climber.  The scientific description points out the species is truly epiphytic which means it can grow upon another plant such as a tree. The leaves emerge from a petiolar sheath.

Monstera deliciosa has proven to be variable and not every leaf of every plant will look exactly alike!  Some sources estimate as many as one out of every eight  plant species on earth have natural variations.  In addition to variability juvenile specimens undergo an enormous amount of change in exactly the same way as any child changes from a baby to age two.  Then the child continues to change from age two to the time they become a teenager and finally an adult..  Those changes are known as ontogeny and it happens all the time in both humans and plants.  Leaves do not always look the same from one specimen to another.  This link will give you an easy to understand explanation of the natural variation within plant species using many photographs.  If you don't care to read the text, at least look at the photos.  You will be very surprised:  Natural Variation

 

More information about growing the related family Philodendron can be found here.

Curious about calcium oxalate crystals?  That is the compound many websites claim is a "deadly poison".  People in the Caribbean and Polynesia eat it all the time, and so do vegetarians!  Click this link for more information.

 

Want to learn more about aroids?
Join the International Aroid Society:
  http://www.exoticrainforest.com/Join%20IAS.html