Monstera adansonii

Is this a new plant? No, it’s actually been grown in Europe for over three hundred years, longer than its better known relative the Swiss Cheese plant.

This is the story of how it got to us.

Barefoot monk

In 1693 a barefoot French monk came across a fabulously exotic looking plant in the steamy forests of Martinique. Charles Plumier, the monk, was a Friar in the order of Minims. He was also a botanist, draftsman, painter, & wood turner, indeed a real Renaissance man. If you check his picture on Wikipedia you will see he is the epitome of a brainy-looking monk.
He had been sent to Martinique (an island in the Lesser Antilles, West Indies, which was later to become a hotbed of pirates) as Botanist to the King (Louis XIV: Sun King, creator of the Palace of Versailles, all-round kingiest of kings). The Minims were, as their name suggests, a minimalist order; they humbly referred to themselves as the smallest of the small. Where other monks followed rules of chastity, poverty and obedience; the Minims added veganism and going without shoes. A rather daring option on an island renowned as the home of the Martinician pit viper. 

Not painted by Matisse

The plant Plumier found was a climber, clinging to its host-tree with aerial roots, having distinctive holes in the leaves. He carefully made a drawing of it, and probably sent bits of it home to France.

Despite being the first Monstera to come to Europe, and being widely grown in public glasshouses; it is still not as commonly found in the home as its relative the Swiss Cheese Plant. It has also not really had its own common name in the UK, which is an indication of its invisibility in popular culture. Monstera deliciosa was beloved by artists and designers in the 20th century, but M. adansonii missed out. And when houseplants began to be mass produced, it just didn’t appear to catch on. It may be that it is just a bit more difficult to grow to a size that fits in a carrier bag, and stacked many dozens to a shelf on a trolley.

Looking after

It has similar needs to its bigger relative: bright filtered light rather than direct sun; warmth and humidity (no lower than 10c) and some space to grow into. As with most plants, you find a sliding scale of conditions and growth: the closer you get to perfect conditions the better growth you will get; the further away the slower the plant will grow and the more vulnerable to pests it will become. 

As it is a climber, it will eventually need to go up or down; so bare this in mind when you are deciding where to put it. You can cut it back when it gets too long, but this will change the growth pattern of the plant a little bit so it will look better if you can wind it on something. Moss poles are a bit of a pain to keep damp in centrally heated homes, but canes are good; look at some of the shapes jasmine and stephanotis are trained on (hoops, wigwams, arches) and scale up for inspiration.

Remember my name!

And take care to give it its proper name. It is often sold as Monstera obliqua, which is a very different plant with thin stems (2-7mm v 1.5-3cm) and delicate, almost transparent leaves. It is rarely seen in Europe in gardens or the trade, though the name is used a lot. Monstera adansonii is a very variable plant, which can appear in many different shapes and sizes; so if you have a small skinny plant, it is likely that you just have a small, skinny form of M. adansonii or a hybrid, rather than M. obliqua.

So you can call it Bob or Bernard, but not Monstera obliqua.

Published by mercyjm

Living in Kent, I am a qualified horticulturist, currently self-employed as a gardener Herne Bay & Whitstable areas; I sell houseplants and airplants at markets locally.

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