The Swiss cheese plant or split-leaf philodendron (Monstera deliciosa Liebm., 1849) is a herbaceous species belonging to the Araceae family.
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Species M. deliciosa.
The terms are synonymous:
– Monstera borsigiana Engl.;
– Monstera borsigiana K.Koch;
– Monstera deliciosa subsp. borsigiana Engl.;
– Monstera deliciosa subsp. sierrana G.S.Bunting;
– Monstera deliciosa var. borsigiana (K.Koch) Engl.;
– Monstera deliciosa var. sierrana G.S.Bunting;
– Monstera lennea K.Koch;
– Monstera lenneana K.Koch;
– Philodendron anatomicum Kunth & C.D.Bouché;
– Philodendron fenestratum Linden;
– Philodendron pertusum Kunth & C.D.Bouché;
– Tornelia fragrans Gutierrez;
– Tornelia fragrans Gutierrez ex Schott.
The term Monstera, according to some authors, derives from the Latin monstrum, that is, prodigy, extraordinary thing.
The specific epithet deliciosa comes from the Latin deliciosa, meaning delicious, in reference to the flavor of the fruit.
Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Monstera deliciosa is a plant native to the tropical forests of southern Mexico, south of Panama (in the regions of Chiapas, Oaxaca and Veracruz) and Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama. Wild plants can also be found in other parts of North America (Florida), Asia (Malaysia, India), Australia and in the western Mediterranean and Atlantic (Sicily, Portugal, Morocco, Madeira).
It has been introduced into many tropical areas and has become a mildly invasive species in Hawaii, the Seychelles, Ascension Island, and the Society Islands. It is also widely cultivated in temperate areas as a houseplant.
Its natural habitat is that of humid or wet mountain forests at altitudes of 900 – 1,500 meters, where it grows as a climbing plant on tree branches.
Monstera deliciosa is a large herbaceous plant that has aerial roots and in nature is capable of growing up to 20 m in height. Although in nature it can grow very tall, when grown in an apartment it only measures between 2 and 3 m.
The leaves are large, leathery, shiny, pinnate, heart-shaped, 25–90 cm long and 25–75 cm wide. The leaves of young plants are smaller and entire, without lobes or holes, but they soon produce lobed, fenestrated leaves as they grow. The older the plant, the more the leaves are covered with its familiar large perforations.
The inflorescence is adorned with a spathe, creamy white in color with a uniform and velvety appearance, which covers, like a hood, a yellowish white spadix 10 to 15 cm high and about 3 cm in diameter. The flowers are self-pollinating and contain both androecium and gynoecium. Because they contain both structures, this plant is capable of self-pollination.
The fruit is up to 25 cm long and 3–5 cm in diameter and looks like a green ear of corn covered with hexagonal scales. As the fruit ripens, these scales or platelets fall off the fruit, releasing a strong, sweet scent. The smell has been compared to a combination of pineapple and bananas. The fruit is edible and safe for humans.
The seeds, rarely produced, are pear-shaped, green in color and have a short-term germination potential (a few weeks).
Monstera deliciosa is a plant that can be grown outdoors in tropical and humid subtropical climate regions where it is used, both in shade and in filtered sunlight, as a ground cover, to cover rocks and walls or left to climb trees to which it adheres with its aerial roots; furthermore it can also be grown in regions with a warm temperate climate, possibly in a sheltered position, remembering that the foliage is already damaged at temperatures just below 0 °C.
In nature wild seedlings grow towards the darkest area where they can grow until they find a tree trunk, then they begin to grow towards the light, crawling up the tree.
This plant is frequently grown in pots for the decoration of spacious interiors, appropriately supported given its size; it is appreciated for its ease of cultivation, resistance and adaptability to rather arid and shady environments; it is not particularly demanding in terms of soil, but it is preferable to use porous, draining and rich in organic substance substrates.
In its areas of origin, this plant grows in warm, humid tropical lowlands, although it can also be found at altitudes up to 1,500 meters.
It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are between 28 – 34°C, but can tolerate 18 – 38°C.
In its dormant state it can survive temperatures down to about -3°C, but shoots are severely damaged at -1°C.
It prefers an average annual rainfall of between 1,300 and 2,000 mm, but tolerates 1,000 – 2,500 mm and, furthermore, prefers to grow in a shaded position although it can tolerate a wide range of areas, from deep shade to a fairly open and sunny area.
Although it is often an epiphytic plant, it grows very well in the ground, often becoming a weed due to its rapid growth and spread.
From a pedological point of view, it prefers fertile, moist but well-drained soil, with a pH between 5.5 and 6, tolerating 5 – 7.5.
The plant forms two types of aerial roots from the nodes and internodes of the stems: one type grows down to the ground where it roots and is a source of moisture and nutrients, the other type is an anchor root, which grows around the stem of the trunk.
Seedlings can start bearing fruit at 6 – 8 years, plants from cuttings at 3 – 4 years.
The plants can flower and produce fruit all year round.
It takes more than a year for the fruits to reach maturity. The fruit first shows signs of ripening through the yellowing of the lower scales. As it ripens, the starch stored in the green fruit is converted to sugar, giving it its sweet flavor. This mechanism is comparable to the way banana fruits ripen. The strong odor that the fruit produces becomes evident when it is half ripe. As time passes and the fruit continues to ripen, the smell becomes stronger. After it becomes fully ripe, however, the scent deteriorates rapidly.
For cultivation in apartments, watering must be regular in summer, always avoiding water stagnation which can cause rot, and reduced in winter, but without allowing the substrate to dry out completely. All parts of the plant, including the immature fruits, contain toxic substances, in particular calcium oxalate, which can cause even serious reactions; even ripe fruits can be irritating to particularly sensitive individuals.
There are numerous varieties, among the most widespread are: Monstera deliciosa, the classic variety, with large leaves, long leaf petioles and rapid growth, Monstera deliciosa borsigiana, a slow-growing dwarf variety characterized by shorter petioles, and Monstera deliciosa albo- variegata, with the same habit as the first, but with the leaves characterized by clearly distinguishable white variegations on the leaves, the leaf petioles and the stem.
The seeds, rarely produced, have a short-term germination potential and the plant generally reproduces by division, tip cutting and by portion of the stem with at least two nodes, in which case it takes 4-6 years to bear fruit.
Customs and Traditions –
Monstera deliciosa is a plant known by various common names, among these we remember: monstera (Italian); ceriman, cut-leaf philodendron, fruit-salad plant, Mexican breadfruit, swiss-cheese plant, split-leaf philodendron, hurricane plant, window leaf (English); pineapple des pauvres, cériman, monstera, philodendron monstéra, philodendron à feuilles incisées (French); balaço, banana de macaco, costela de Adão fruta de Mexico, tornelia (Portuguese); balazo, chirrivaca, costilla de Adán, hocadello, hoja de piedra, ojal, piñanona monstera (Spanish); fensterblatt, köstlicher kolbenriese, zimmer-philodendron (German), ceriman (Trinidad), ojal (Venezuela), hojadillo (Colombia), monster fruit, monsterio delicio, monstereo, Mexican breadfruit, windowleaf, balazo and Penglai banana, costilla de Adán (Spanish). Furthermore, in the coastal regions of Sicily, particularly in Palermo, it is called the lion’s paw.
This plant lives in humid tropical forests, lowlands and mid-mountains, in the far south of Mexico and also in Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Panama. The seeds fall to the ground, then the seedlings crawl (negative phototropism) until they find a tree on which to take root. The numerous adjacent roots thus allow the plant to anchor itself to its new support and reach the light of the foliage (even if it rarely grows in full sun and prefers a light attenuated by the foliage).
The fruits of Araceae plants often contain rhapids and trichosclereids, needle-like structures of calcium oxalate. In M. deliciosa, unripe fruits containing these needle-like crystalline structures can cause mouth irritation.
The individual fruits, whose flavor is reminiscent of banana and pineapple, must be removed from the spadix and consumed in a short time, as they deteriorate quickly.
In areas where it grows naturally, M. deliciosa is considered a delicacy due to its sweet and exotic flavor. The fruit can be considered ripe by cutting it when the first scales begin to lift and it begins to give off a pungent odor. It is wrapped in a paper bag and set aside until the scales begin to peel off. The scales are then blown away or fall off to reveal the edible flesh underneath. The pulp, which has a consistency similar to pineapple, can be cut away from the core and eaten. It has a fruity taste similar to jackfruit and pineapple. Unripe green fruits, as mentioned, can irritate the throat and the latex of the leaves and vines can create skin rashes, because both contain potassium oxalate: for this reason the fruits must be consumed when the scales lift. The irritating black fibers can be washed away with the application of a little citrus juice.
Among other uses, it should be remembered that the aerial roots of these plants, like those of some other aroids, in particular Philodendron, often reach a great length, reaching from the branches of quite tall trees almost or completely to the ground. They are widely used in Guatemala to make so-called mimbre furniture, similar to the lightweight rattan furniture commonly produced in the United States. Dried roots of uniform diameter, or sometimes fresh ones, wrap tightly and evenly around a wooden frame, forming beautiful and durable decor items.
The roots are also used to make sturdy baskets.
The aerial roots have been used as rope in Peru and to make baskets in Mexico. In Martinique the root is used to prepare a remedy for snake bites. In Mexico it is used to relieve the symptoms of arthritis.
Please also remember that Monstera deliciosa is moderately toxic to both cats and dogs because it contains insoluble calcium oxalate crystals (needle-like). This crystal can cause injury to the mouth, tongue, and digestive tract. It also causes dermatitis by direct contact with the skin of dogs and cats.
Preparation Method –
Monstera deliciosa is a plant that produces an edible fruit (with the requirements described above) much appreciated by many people and often collected in nature. The plant is widely grown as an ornamental and is also occasionally grown for its edible fruit in tropical areas.
It is also a very popular pot plant in cooler areas.
Calcium oxalate is easily broken down by thoroughly cooking the plant or drying it completely, and in either of these states, it is safe to eat the plant. People with a tendency to rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones and hyperacidity should be especially careful if they include this plant in their diet.
Among the edible uses, the fruits, which are eaten raw, have an excellent aroma and taste, combining the flavors of bananas and pineapple.
The fruit is consumed raw, transformed into jellies and jams, and is also used in the preparation of ice creams, sorbets, drinks, etc.
– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– GBIF, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.
– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora d’Italia, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.
Attention: Pharmaceutical applications and food uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not represent in any way a medical prescription; we therefore decline any responsibility for their use for healing, aesthetic or food purposes.