CULTIVATING MONSTERA DELICIOSA (Swiss cheese plant)

13 deg C/55 deg F

Despite its need for moderate warmth the whole year, this species has become a popular houseplant in recent years. It does best in centrally-heated homes with reasonable humidity, but it is probably seen at its best in public buildings and offices where it can be allowed to grow to its full size. Its botanical name can be interpreted as delicious monster. The leaves are very large and roundish. even on young plants. On fully-grown plants, they can become enormous, tending to elongate to 1m (34ft). The plant itself can grow to at least 3m (10ft) in a conservatory and much taller in its natural environment which is Mexico and tropical America. These plants make excellent large features in the home, growing to form a shape that easily fits a corner. They often require good strong stakes for support. and large pots.

The leaves are curiously slashed and in mature plants, tend to display elongated holes rather than wide slits. Their colour is a pleasing medium green, and there is a glossy sheen. The description ‘delicious’ refers to the fruit. Mature plants produce large arum-like flowers, usually in groups of two or three, at any time of the year. The spathe of the flower is creamy-yellow and the interior surface has an extraordinary fine diamondlike pattern impressed over the entire area. The large, central spadix develops into a fruit looking like an elongated pale green pineapple. When ripe, it has a fruity taste, like a mixture of pineapple and banana. Unfortunately, it has a very fibrous texture, and these numerous sharp fibres can stick in the tongue and throat.

The plant sends out long aerial roots. When growing in its native habitat. these roots penetrate moss growing on tree trunks, but on a pot-grown plant they may turn downwards and enter the pot’s compost, travelling a long distance. The best way to grow this plant is up a moss-covered stake. The support must be a stout one. with at least 5cm (2in) thickness of sphagnum moss, mixed with a little bonemeal, wound around it and secured with wire. Monstcra is a greedy feeder and the bonemeal will provide extra nourishment for the aerial roots when they penetrate the moss. The plant grows tall, but can be kept within bounds by cutting off the top. This encourages the formation of sideshoots. The tops should be removed when they have formed aerial roots, and they can then be potted and will grow away quite

quickly, provided there is adequate warmth and humidity. The operation is best done in early summer. This species will survive at temperatures as low as 7 deg C (45 deg F). but it is risky – M especially in the case of a large well-grown specimen which may then deteriorate. Ideally, a minimum of 18 deg C (65 deg F) should be maintained, although this will encourage more rapid growth which may be inconvenient if there is limited space.

The plant must have plenty of moisture at all times, unless the absolute minimum temperature has to be maintained in winter. Watering should then be cautious and the roots kept slightly dry. At other times, spraying with water is most beneficial and the moss used on supports must be kept moist. The plant will tolerate shade or a bright position. In shade, the leaves lend to remain relatively small and oval in shape and the plant seems to stay more compact. owever. direct sunlight should be avoided, since the leaves can easily become scorched, especially alter being sprayed with water. The foliage responds very well to treatment with a leaf-shine preparation, and takes on a brilliant gloss.

When potting, use peat-based compost. Eventually, large pots or even small tubs may be needed if it is proposed to grow the plants to maximum size. Potting is best done in spring, and plants not so treated should be fed with a liquid feed during the summer growing period. Monstera delieiosa is very rarely troubled by pests, but low temperatures, low

humidity, or erratic watering, causes leaf yellowing and brownish patches on the foliage.

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