Split-leaf philodendron, Monstera deliciosa

Monstera deliciosa in Costa Rica.

Monstera deliciosa in Costa Rica.

Split-leaf philodendron, Swiss cheese plant, or windowleaf (Monstera deliciosa) is a tropical plant native to rainforests of Central America from southern Mexico to Panama, and commonly grown as a foliage houseplant. It was introduced into cultivation in England in 1752. It is the only ornamental aroid also grown for its fruit. In spite of its common name, it is not a member of the genus Philodendron (it was formerly classified in that genus) but is in the same family (Araceae). It has glossy, heart-shaped or rounded leathery leaves that develop deep clefts and oblong perforations as they grow older. The leaves may be as much as 18” wide on foot-long leafstalks. The cultivars ‘Variegata’ and ‘Albovariegata’ have variegated foliage, and the leaves tend to be somewhat smaller than the species.

M. obliqua has smaller leaves than M. deliciosa.

M. obliqua has smaller leaves than M. deliciosa.

Other related species, such as M. obliqua, have smaller leaves.

In nature this plant is actually an evergreen liana, a trailing or climbing epiphytic vine, which grows high into the rainforest canopy. It can grow 70 feet or more and rarely branches. The heavy, cylindrical, 2½ -3” stems are rough with leaf scars.

Clinging aerial roots of split-leaf philodendron.

Clinging aerial roots of split-leaf philodendron.

It produces numerous, long, tentacle-like aerial roots as it grows upward which attach to nearby branches and tree trunks. The tough roots grow downward from the thick stem and will root if they touch the ground.

The young plants appear very different. Seedlings grow toward the darkest area until they encounter a tree, then they grow upwards. The leaves are small and without lobes or holes, and they grow closely overlapping each other up the tree trunk in a stage called “shingle plants.” As they grow older they develop the characteristic foliage of the mature plant. The fenestrations (holes in the leaves) theoretically are a way of allowing high winds to pass through the large leaves without tearing them.

The flowers, which are rarely if ever seen on houseplants, are a 8-12” long, creamy-white, Jack-in-the-pulpit type. The fleshy upright spike (spadix) with tiny flowers is surrounded by the boat-shaped spathe. It takes a little over a year for the fruit to mature, swelling into a 9” cone-like structure that looks sort of like a green cob of corn with hexagonal kernels. The edible fruits, called cerimans or monsteras, supposedly taste like a combination of banana, pineapple and mango and are high in potassium and Vitamin C. They are used to flavor drinks and ice cream, or are eaten fresh. The fruit ripens from the bottom up. Once the thick, hard rind of hexagonal plates or “scales” covering the individual segments begin to dry out and fall away, the off-white, custard-like pulp underneath is cut away from the inedible core to eat. There usually are no seeds, but occasionally pale-green, hard seeds the size of large peas, may occur in some of the segments.

Inflorescences (L) and fruit (C and R) of Monstera deliciosa.

Inflorescences (L) and fruit (C and R) of Monstera deliciosa.

The plant contains oxalic acid, so all parts are poisonous except the ripe fruits. Young fruit, that still has the covering firmly attached, contains enough glass-like calcium oxalate crystals to cause immediate and painful irritation to the throat.

Split-leaf philodendron makes a goodhouseplant in the right conditions

Split-leaf philodendron makes a good houseplant in the right conditions

As a houseplant, split-leaf philodendron does best in bright light in summer and direct sun in winter. It can be grown under florescent light, but will not develop the leaf perforations when light is inadequate. It prefers warm room temperature and medium to high humidity, but is fairly tolerant of a wide range of conditions once acclimated. Plants do not grow below 50ºF, however, and frost will kill them.

Grow split-leaf philodendron in a rich soil mix, with ample root room to promote larger leaf growth. They can be very vigorous growers and need support to keep the stems from breaking. Provide a tree bark or strong, moss-covered support sunk into the pot for the aerial roots to attach to. Sphagnum moss wrapped around a wooden slat, secured with monofilament fishing line or nylon thread, will work well. Water thoroughly and allow the soil to dry slightly between waterings, being sure to also water the moss-covered support so the aerial roots can obtain water and nutrients. The leaves will “sweat” if the growing medium is too moist. If this happens, reduce watering to prevent root rot.

Leaves of split-leaf philodendron.

Leaves of split-leaf philodendron.

Plants kept on the dry side will have slower growth. Water less in winter. Fertilize regularly from spring until fall. The leaf edges will turn brown if humidity is too low. Wipe the dust from the leaves periodically. This plant has few pests indoors, but may be infested by aphids, mealybugs, scale insects or spider mites.

Container-grown plants need frequent repotting to accommodate the root system. They can be moved outside for the summer, but need to be acclimated to higher light levels gradually or will sunburn.

Propagate from stem cuttings from mature plants or by air layering or simple layering any time of the year. Cut the tip of the stem just below an aerial root and pot the cutting. For more plants, cut the vine into 1-foot sections, press the sections half way into the surface of a bed of rooting medium (such as a mixture of leafmold and sand), and then transplant when roots have developed. Plants can be grown from seed, but seedlings require warm temperatures and are slow to develop.

– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison


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7 comments

  1. Great that Kate pointed out that a split leaf philodendron is not the same as a monstera. Also the picture above labeled as a “obliqua” is incorrect. That is a “adonsonii”. There are only 17 known times in botanic history when Monstera obliqua was seen in the wild and leaves or other were collected for study. And some of those times happened in the 70s and since then have been corrected. Some botanists use the term “probably obliqua” when posting a photo and yet so many plant shops and online stores sell “adonsonii” as “obliqua”. You will never see a true obliqua in a store and it is practically a unicorn in nature.

  2. I have had my houseplant 10 years and it is taking over my living room! Is it safe to cut it back and if so, how do I do so?

    Thank you,
    Diane Ryder
    dianegryder@gmail.com

  3. what different between Split leaf philodendron and Swiss Cheese?

    • Monstera deliciosa is commonly called a swiss cheese but a split leaf philodendron is different to a monstera.
      Monstera is NOT a member of the genus Philodendron (it was formerly classified in that genus) but is in the same family (Araceae).
      There are actually many types of split leaf philodendrons including but not limited to: polypodioides, squamiferum, camposportoanum, elegans, radiatum, xanadu and Bipennifolium
      There are many types of monstera including but not limited to: adansonii, subpinata, deliciosa, obliqua, acuminata, acacoyaguensi, xanthospatha and Standleyana

  4. will this plant as it grows up on tree kill the tree like vines do example ivy I have been told they will choke out and kill an oak tree I don’t want to cut they are so cool

  5. I had no idea these produced edible fruits in their natural habitat! And it makes sense that the holes in the leaves would protect them from high winds.

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