Garden Variety: Monstera plants growing in popularity

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Interest in indoor plants has increased steadily in the U.S. over the last several years, and a few specific plants and types of plants are stealing the show. One of these plant groups is Monstera. Basic types of Monstera are widely available, but rare forms sell for hundreds or thousands of dollars. Rare plant collectors, social media, and millennials are suspected to be the driving forces behind these plants’ popularity.

Monstera is a genus of about 45 species of plants native to Central and South America. Two species – M. deliciosa and M. adansonii have been cultivated for decades for use as indoor plants in regions where they cannot survive winter outdoors. Variegated cultivars and new cultivars such as Thai Constellation Monstera have probably spurred some of additional interest in Monstera in recent years.

Monstera deliciosa has large, glossy-green, heart-shaped leaves that develop perforations or holes as they age. Enthusiasts describe this condition in the leaves as fenestrate. The plant is also sometimes called Swiss cheese plant because of the holes, but that nickname may refer to other species as well. Representations of Monstera leaves are popular on T-shirts, reusable bags, pillows, jewelry and other items.

This species is available for sale in the U.S. in a wide range of sizes, but size is relative to maturity and the size of the pot in which the plant is growing. In nature, the species grows to more than 60 feet tall and produces leaves that are up to 3 feet long. In a home or office, plants are typically 6 to 9 feet tall at maturity but can be kept somewhat smaller with a smaller pot. They still need a significant amount of floorspace.

When Monstera deliciosa are young, they are less expensive, but their leaves lack the characteristic holes and may be confused with other species. Mature plants have perforations that may reach the edges of their leaves and resemble serrations, also adding to the confusion with other species.

Variegated versions of this species are considerably more expensive than basic Monstera deliciosa because they are harder to find. The most common is Variegata, which produces leaves that may have white marbling or may be split half-green and half-white (known as half-moon Variegatas). The variegation may also be silvery or yellow rather than white. Price will depend on the appearance and rarity of the variegation as well as the size and maturity of the plant.

The variety ‘Borsgiana albovariegata’ is next in the list of less common cultivars. This one is unique because leaves may be predominantly white or split green and white.

Thai Constellation Monstera is another new and uncommon cultivar and is probably the most sought-after plant right now. The plants are produced by tissue culture, making their variegation more stable than that which appears in Variegata. They have a marbled appearance, with the white variegation resembling stars on the dark green of the leaves.

Monstera adansonii is much smaller than deliciosa but also has fenestrate leaves. Size is variable dependent on the size of the pot – in a 6-inch pot without support, the plant might max out with 4-inch leaves and only a foot or so of height. In a larger pot with a stake or trellis for the plant to climb, M. adansonii will vine and leaves will expand. In nature, it grows to 13 feet with 20- to 30-inch leaves.

Archipalego is a variegated cultivar of M. adansonii that is similar to Variegata versions of M. deliciosa.

In indoor conditions, Monsteras grow best with bright indirect light and temperatures between 65 and 85 degrees F. If kept outdoors for the summer, plants should be brought inside before nighttime temperatures reach 50 degrees F to prevent cold temperature injury.

Avoid purchasing and trying to cultivate seeds of Monsteras, especially variegated cultivars, unless you are an expert in the subject and have a reliable source of seeds. Many seeds for sale online are unreliable and germination of monsteras in general is very difficult.

Also use caution when purchasing pricey Monstera plants. Be sure you know what you are getting, are purchasing from reliable sources, and plants are free of insects and diseases prior to completing the purchase. Like any other industry there are scam artists looking to take advantage of the rarity of some cultivars and large price tags associated with them.

Another species of plant, Rhaphidophora tetrasperma, is nicknamed “Mini Monstera” because of its resemblance to Monstera deliciosa. It is not related but is also seeing a surge of popularity. Leaves are not fenestrate but are lobed.

— Jennifer Smith works in regulatory horticulture and has worked as a horticulturist for various government entities. She has experience in landscape design and maintenance and as an educator.


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