Monstera: The King of houseplants

Easy to find, hard to kill, instgrammed infinite times and used as a statement plant in many houses since the 70s.

If you like statement pieces but don’t have a lot of space then a Monstera is not the plant you want. Once they are comfortable with the spot you put their pot in, they will grow and grow and take over all neighbouring space.

They are nice plants but they do get huge. Put it in a pot near the sofa, they will grow and get huge. Give them something to climb, and it’ll grow and get huge. Want to try some exotic fruit? well, Monstera gives you that, it will take a year to mature and yes, you guessed it, it’s huge.

THe scientific name literally means delicious monster. Apt as the fruit is very delicious, mixing flavours of pineapple, jackfruit and mago. However, in its unripe form, the fruit can literally make your life hell as it contains raphides and trichosclereids – needle-like structures of calcium oxalate. 

These can produce severe toxic reactions on top of tearing the soft tissues of your throat and esophagus. 

The plant has a number of unusual adaptations to its natural habitat (It’s an understory plant in rainforests from Mexico south to Panama.). The most obvious one is the perforated leaves, which are pretty obviously a compromise between the need to have a lot of leaf area, to maximize light collection, and the need to minimize wind resistance during intense storms. Perforations allow wind to flow through without making the leaves completely useless for light collection.

Another notable adaptation, which I personally think is like the coolest thing ever, is that when a Monstera seedling first sprouts, it exhibits negative phototropism, also called scototropism (scoto being the Greek root for darkness or blindness), growing in whichever direction is darkest. Why? Because that’s where the tallest tree trunks are going to be, and once it can find a tree trunk, it can scramble up and get good light. If it had to make a living from what light is available on the forest floor, it’d be screwed.

The aerial roots are a related phenomenon. From a houseplant-growers’ perspective, aerial roots are kind of annoying: they’re not what you’d call pretty, and if you can’t bend them toward a source of moisture (they’re brittle, like the rest of the plant, so until they get to a certain length, it’s difficult to get them to go where you want without breaking them), they just hang there, useless. They can be cut off, with no harm to the plant, though I generally try to leave mine alone. In the wild, of course, the aerial roots can acquire some additional moisture, and incidentally anchor the plant (which brings us back to the whole high-winds situation), but even there, aerial roots don’t seem to be required so much as just frequently handy.