Monsteras are a plant that really do live up to their tremendous title! They truly are the monsters of houseplants, both in stature and in reputation. The classic varieties are a firm favourite amongst many growers and hobbyists, whilst the rarer and more unique varieties have garnered an almost cult-like following amongst diehard houseplant enthusiasts.
Such is the enduring popularity of the monstera, it’s difficult to imagine any home without one. If you are yet to add one of these tropical beauties to your houseplant collection, what are you waiting for? Here’s our ultimate guide to growing and caring for the mighty monstera!
What are Monsteras?
Monstera is a genus containing 49 tropical and sub-tropical evergreen flowering plants.
All monstera species are native to the warm, humid rainforests and jungles of the Americas, although several species have become naturalised in other tropical regions across the world.
Monsteras are a vining species with a climbing growth habit. They are hemiepiphytes, meaning they begin growing from the ground, but use nearby trees, branches, and other structures for support as they stretch upwards. Monsteras produce a network of thick, tendril-like aerial roots from which they anchor themselves both vertically to the ground and laterally to nearby supports.
These aerial roots are so robust that native communities traditionally used them to weave baskets and ropes. Some of the larger species of monstera have been known to reach heights of 66 feet tall as they entwine themselves with nearby trees, although monsteras grown as houseplants rarely exceed heights of around ten feet tall.
Most species of monstera have distinctive large glossy, thick, heart-shaped leaves. As they mature, monstera leaves often develop splits, holes, and perforations in a process known as fenestration.
The older the plant, the more pronounced its fenestration will become. The exact reason for fenestration is something of a mystery, although scientists generally agree that these distinctive leaf patterns are a reaction to the scattered, low light levels that monsteras receive on the forest floor. The holes form a structural modification which allows each leaf to expand and cover a wider area, thus capturing more of the dappled sunlight available to them.
The genus name Monstera is derived from the Latin monstrum, meaning ’monster’, a tribute to the colossal size and unusual leaf shape of some species in the genus. Its vernacular name, the ‘Swiss cheese plant’ is also acquired from the shape of the leaves, since the holes and splits resemble the holes in Emmental cheese.
Fruits and Flowers
Although very rare when grown indoors, most wild varieties produce striking, architectural flowers. The singular, thick outer petal resembles that of a calla lily, and is usually a creamy or off-white colour, enveloping a single central stamen.
Monsteras have no specific blooming season and will bloom prolifically in the wild. If your indoor monstera does produce one of these unusual flowers, consider yourself extremely lucky!
Some, but not all monsteras produce fruits, although this is incredibly rare in monsteras kept as houseplants. One of the most productive varieties is the monstera deliciosa, which produces a year-round supply of fruit. Also known as the Mexican breadfruit, they resemble a closed corn ear, with an almost crocodilian thick skin, which begins to peel away as the fruit ripens.
The fruits taste like a hybrid between banana and pineapple and are highly prized for their sweet taste, hence the ‘delicious’ moniker given to this variety.
Types of Monstera
Monsteras are the hottest houseplants right now, and no wonder, since there are plenty of exquisite and unusual varieties to choose from. In fact, some of the rarer varieties are so coveted that they can command prices well into the hundreds for just a single cutting! Here’s our pick of the best monsteras to add to your houseplant collection.
Monstera Deliciosa is the classic monstera houseplant. It is by far the most common, and most affordable of all the monsteras. They have large, glossy green heart-shaped leaves and will develop lots of quintessential splits over as they mature. They are low maintenance and fast-growing, so be prepared to make plenty of space to accommodate these sprawling plants in your home.
Monstera adansonii is another popular and easy-to-find variety. They have a more compact growth habit than deliciosa, with smaller, leathery leaves, although they have a more intricate and frequent fenestration pattern, often with up to half of their leaves given over to holes. This variety looks particularly striking when placed in a hanging planter and allowed to trail downwards.
Monstera deliciosa ‘Albo’ is a rare, but naturally occurring mutated form of the deliciosa. Due to this mutation, parts of the foliage lack chlorophyll, giving it a beautiful cream, white, and green variegated pattern. Because the mutation is naturally occurring, it is unstable, meaning it cannot be guaranteed or recreated, even when taking cuttings from a variegated mother plant. Its rareness, coupled with its striking beauty makes the Albo a much coveted, and very expensive monstera variety.
Monstera Thai Constellation is another beautifully variegated variety, except this monstera was created in a Thai laboratory through genetic modification. Unlike the Albo, the Thai constellation has a stable, and thus, guaranteed variegation pattern. It takes its name from the spattering of white specks which adorn the leaves, reminiscent of the stars in the night sky.
Monstera Dubia is a rare, elegant, and pint-sized member of the Monstera family. But what it lacks in stature, it certainly makes up for in its unique beauty. A true climbing plant, its small, leathery, heart-shaped leaves will wrap themselves tightly around any nearby supporting structure.
Monstera Obliqua is the rarest of all monsteras. In fact, it’s so rare that up until 1977, there had only been 17 documented Obliqua specimens ever found in the wild. Now, that number is in the high 700s, but it is still an incredibly rare plant indeed.
Their delicate, tissue-paper-like leaves are often almost fully fenestrated, giving them a dramatic, almost skeletal appearance. Whilst it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to find one for sale as a houseplant, they are on display in many botanical gardens. Monstera adansonii are often mis-sold as Obliqua because of their similar appearance.
Monsteras are a fabulously low-maintenance houseplant whose striking foliage is sure to create a stunning centrepiece in any home. So whether you’re tempted by the popular, sprawling deliciosa variety or a unique, show-stopping variegated variety, our guide to monstera care will ensure your new plant thrives in your home.
Potting and Repotting
Monstera roots like to breathe, so a terracotta pot is ideal since their porosity means air can circulate freely through the soil. Make sure there are plenty of drainage holes in the bottom of the pot, as monsteras hate sitting in waterlogged soil. Choose a fairly deep pot, since the roots like to spread downwards, but the diameter of the pot should only be an inch or two wider than the root ball.
Healthy monsteras grow quickly and vigorously, and will probably need to be repotted every couple of years. Select a pot that is a few inches wider in diameter than their previous pot. However, if you are happy with the size of your monstera and don’t want it to become any bigger, keeping it in the same pot will prevent excessive growth.
Use a loose, well-draining soil for your monstera to allow their roots to breathe and prevent them from becoming waterlogged. Adding in perlite, vermiculite, or clay pebbles will help the substrate to drain more freely. Monsteras like rich, peaty soil, so mix in plenty of fertile organic matter such as sphagnum moss or humus. Monsteras do best in neutral or slightly acidic soils.
Monsteras are perfectly happy in low light since it mimics their natural habitat on the forest floor where only dappled light penetrates down through the canopy. They do, however, grow faster and denser when they receive around six hours of bright, indirect sunlight each day.
Monsteras will develop more pronounced leaf splits and holes when they receive plenty of indirect light, whilst monsteras in shadier spots will develop fewer fenestrations. South or east-facing windows offer the most appropriate lighting for monsteras. Avoid very intense light, as it can scorch your monstera’s leaves.
Variegated monsteras will need more sunlight than pure green varieties. This is because the variegation pattern is the result of a mutation caused by a lack of chlorophyll. This chemical gives plants’ their bright green colour and allows them to capture energy from photosynthesis.
The partial lack of chlorophyll in variegated monsteras is what creates the beautiful pale marbled or patchy patterns on leaves, but it means the chlorophyll-rich green parts of the foliage must work harder to produce enough energy to sustain the entire plant through photosynthesis.
The broad, flat leaves of your monstera are a great place for dust to settle, so make sure you wipe them over regularly, as the dust can block them from receiving enough sunlight needed to photosynthesise efficiently. This is even more important in variegated varieties.
Monsteras prefer water in moderation. They don’t appreciate very dry soil, but they are equally intolerant of very wet soil. Aim to keep your monstera’s soil evenly and very lightly moist. Watering once every week or two should be sufficient, but remember to allow the top two inches of soil to dry out completely between waterings.
Make sure the pot drains fully after each watering to prevent waterlogged roots. Yellowing, wilted leaves are a sign that your monstera is being overwatered, whilst droopy, curling, and brown leaves are a sign that it’s being underwatered.
Monsteras can be sensitive to some of the chemicals in regular tap water, especially when they are young. To protect your monstera, allow tap water to stand for 24 hours before watering. Monsteras in sunnier positions will need more regular waterings than those in shady positions.
During the winter months, you can reduce your watering schedule to once monthly since your monstera won’t be actively growing.
Humidity and Temperature
Predictably, these tropical plants absolutely love humidity. A humidity level of between 60 and 80 percent is best. You could position your monstera in a naturally humid environment such as a kitchen or bathroom, or alternatively, place them on a pebble tray to create an artificially moist environment.
Grouping several humidity-loving tropical plants together and misting them regularly is another way to create a humid microclimate within your home.
You won’t need to make any particular temperature adjustments for your monstera, since they like a moderate to warm temperature that is normal in most homes. They grow best at temperatures between 18 and 30°C.
Keep your monstera away from cold drafts or windows, especially in winter as they aren’t cold tolerant plants, and are prone to shock when exposed to low temperatures. Temperatures below 10°C are likely to severely damage your monstera and could even be fatal.
If your monstera is planted in a fertile substrate, you really won’t need to provide it with much additional fertiliser. If you do want to give yours a boost, try a monthly feed with a diluted liquid houseplant fertiliser through spring and summer, whilst the plant does most of its growing. You won’t need to feed your monstera at all through the winter months.
Monstera plants grow vigorously once established, spreading quickly and reaching impressive heights. A well-cared-for monstera can grow up to two feet each year! Once your monstera has maxed out its available space, you may need to prune back any new growth to keep it manageable and prevent overcrowding.
The stems can grow pretty thick, so you will need strong, sharp shears. You will probably need to continue regular pruning to maintain the shape and size you want.
If your monstera has become leggy or spindly, light pruning of the longest stems can redirect energy back to the main plant to encourage denser foliage. You can also trim back the aerial roots if they have become overgrown and wayward. Prune these in the same way you would prune a normal stem, but don’t remove them all completely, since they absorb nutrients and help to stabilise the plant.
Monsteras have a natural vining and climbing growth habit, extending their aerial roots to cling onto any nearby support as they grow. They also have a tendency to spread horizontally, rather than vertically, so training them to climb a moss pole, trellis, or stake, is the most efficient way to both contain and curate their growth.
Monsteras can grow incredibly tall and their height, coupled with their large leaves can often cause them to become top-heavy and unstable, so it’s always a good idea to provide them with some form of support even as juveniles.
Propagation is a great way to prevent your mother plant from becoming too unruly, whilst creating plenty of baby monsteras in the process. Propagating monsteras is really easy using either the cutting method or the air layering method. The best time to propane your monstera is in the spring when they begin actively growing.
To propagate your monstera from cuttings, locate a leaf node on an established, healthy stem with at least two leaves. Leaf nodes are thicker than the rest of the stem, and they often have two or more stems growing from them, as well as a small aerial root. Carefully snip just below the leaf node, ensuring the small root remains intact.
Place the node-end of the cutting in a clear container filled with water, and position it somewhere with plenty of bright, indirect light. Keep the water clean and fresh by replacing it every few days. After a few weeks, you will see new roots emerging from the leaf node. Once these roots become fairly established, you can transplant your monstera cutting to a pot filled with a well-draining substrate.
Propagating your monstera by air layering is a good way to encourage strong roots to form before removing anything from the mother plant. Locate a node with a protruding aerial root, and make a small incision just beneath the node, but don’t remove it completely.
Next, wrap the incision, node, and aerial root in a layer of moist sphagnum moss, and wrap the whole bundle in clear plastic. Keep the sphagnum moss moist with regular misting until new roots begin to emerge from the bundle.
These new roots can take a few months to appear, so you’ll need a little patience. Once the new roots become well established, you can then remove the whole stem with node and roots intact, and transfer it to a pot filled with well-draining soil.
These monstrous tropical plants are sure to make a lasting impression. With a variety to suit every home, and every budget, and an undemanding temperament for even the most inexperienced of gardeners, there’s really no reason not to make space for one of these delicious monsters in your own home!