Monstera deliciosa, the ceriman, is a species of flowering plant native to tropical forests of southern Mexico, south to Panama. It has been introduced to many tropical areas, and has become a mildly invasive species in Hawaii, Seychelles, Ascension Island and the Society Islands.
Monstera deliciosa may be confused with Philodendron bipinnatifidum as they have similar leaves and growing habits. However, the ingestion of Philodendron bipinnatifidum may cause irritation to the digestive tract and will induce internal swelling. The sap is also known to irritate the skin.
The specific epithet deliciosa means "delicious", referring to the edible fruit, while monstera means "monstrous," in reference to the size that this plant can grow to—over 9 m (30 ft) in many cases.
Common names include fruit salad plant, fruit salad tree (in reference to its edible fruit, which tastes similar to a fruit salad), ceriman, Swiss cheese plant (or just cheese plant), monster fruit, monsterio delicio, monstereo, Mexican breadfruit, windowleaf, balazo, Penglai banana and (inaccurately) split leaf philodendron. The names in Spanish (costilla de Adán), Portuguese (costela-de-adão), and French (plante gruyère) refer to the change of the leaves from entire to fenestrated (comparing it in the first two cases with the ribs of Adam and in the third with the hole-filled gruyère cheese). In Mexico, the plant is sometimes referred to as piñanona.
This member of the arum family Araceae is an epiphyte with aerial roots, able to grow up to 20 m (66 ft) in the wild high with large, leathery, glossy, heart-shaped leaves 25–90 cm (10–35.5 in) long by 25–75 cm (10–29.5 in) broad. Young plants have leaves that are smaller and entire with no lobes or holes, but soon produce lobed and fenestrate leaves as they grow. Although it can grow very tall in nature, it only measures between 2 and 3 m (6.6 and 9.8 ft) when grown indoors. The leaves are large (up to 1 m or 3.3 ft long), heart-shaped and pinnate. The older the plant, the more the leaves are covered with large perforations which earned the name of "swiss cheese plant" in English.
The flower of M. deliciosa is composed of a special bract called a spathe enclosing a spadix and the inflorescences are adorned with a cream-white spathe uniform, velvety appearance, covering, like a hood, a yellowish white spike 10 to 15 cm (3.9 to 5.9 in) high and about 3 cm (1.2 in) in diameter. These flowers are bisexual, meaning they contain both androecium and gynoecium. Since they contain both structures, this plant is able to self-pollinate.
Monstera deliciosa is commonly grown for interior decoration in public buildings and as a houseplant. It grows best between the temperatures of 20–30 °C (68–86 °F) and requires high humidity and shade. Growth ceases below 10 °C (50 °F) and it is killed by frost. In the coastal zones of Sicily, especially in the Palermo area, where it is called "zampa di leone" ("lion's paw"), it is often cultivated outdoors. In ideal conditions it flowers about three years after it is planted. Flowering is rare when grown indoors. The plant can be propagated by taking cuttings of a mature plant or by air layering. The Monstera deliciosa is a plant with rapid and vigorous growth. As a result, it is widely used as an ornamental plant in the tropics and subtropics. Its ease of cultivation also makes it a very widespread plant in apartment in temperate regions.
The fruit of Monstera deliciosa is up to 25 cm (9.8 in) long and 3–4 cm (1.2–1.6 in) diameter, looking like a green ear of maize covered with hexagonal scales. As the fruit ripens, these scales or platelets fall off the fruit, releasing a strong and sweet scent. The smell has been compared to a combination of pineapples and bananas. The fruit is edible and safe for humans.
Forcing a M. deliciosa to flower outside of its typical tropical habitat proves to be difficult. Specific conditions need to be met for the plant to flower. However, in its tropical and subtropical habitat, the plant flowers easily. In these areas where it grows naturally, M. deliciosa is considered a delicacy due to its sweet and exotic flavor. Plants grown indoors in temperate regions occasionally produce flowers and fruit.
Fruits of plants of the Araceae (Arum family) often contain raphides and trichosclereids – needle-like structures of calcium oxalate. In M. deliciosa, unripe fruit containing these needle-like crystalline structures can cause irritation of the mouth.
It takes longer than a year for fruits to reach maturity. The fruit first shows signs of ripening by its bottommost scales becoming yellowed. As it ripens, the starch that was stored in the green fruit is converted to sugar, giving it its sweet flavor. This mechanism is comparable to how banana fruits ripen. The strong odor the fruit produces becomes noticeable when it is half-ripe. As time passes and the fruit continues to ripen, the odor becomes stronger. After it becomes fully ripe, however, the scent deteriorates quickly.
The fruit may be ripened by cutting it when the first scales begin to lift up and it begins to exude a pungent odor. It is wrapped in a paper bag and set aside until the scales begin popping off. The scales are then brushed off or fall away to reveal the edible flesh underneath. The flesh, which is similar to pineapple in texture, can be cut away from the core and eaten. It has a fruity taste similar to jackfruit and pineapple. The unripe green fruits can irritate the throat and the latex of the leaves and vines can create rashes in the skin, because both contain potassium oxalate: that is the reason why the fruits have to be consumed when the scales lift up. The black irritant fibres can be swept off with the application of a little citrus juice.
This plant lives in the humid tropical forests, in the lowlands and middle mountains, in the extreme south of Mexico and also in Honduras, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Panama. The seeds fall to the ground, then the seedlings crawl (negative phototropism) until they meet a tree on which to attach. The many adjacent roots thus allow the plant to anchor against its new support and reach the canopy light (although it rarely grows in full sun and prefers a light dimmed by the foliage). Wild plants can also be found in North America (Florida), Asia (Malaysia, India), Australia and the western Mediterranean (Portugal, Morocco, Madeira).
The plant requires a lot of space and a rich and loose soil (ideally garden soil and compost in equal parts). If it grows in the ground it is better to plant it near a tree, where it can climb, if not against a trellis. It is moderately greedy and needs to be watered just to keep the soil slightly moist. Its hardiness is 11 (that is to say the coldest at −1 °C or 30 °F). It can not withstand these temperatures for only a few hours, but it can live outside in certain regions (Mediterranean coast, Britanny). Ideally of course it is better that it pushes all the year with a minimum temperature of 13–15 °C (55–59 °F) allowing continuous growth. It needs a very bright exposure, but not full sun (except in winter in temperate regions where the insolation is much less than in its natural habitat).
The aerial roots have been used as ropes in Peru, and to make baskets in Mexico.
In Mexico, a leaf or root infusion is drunk daily to relieve arthritis.
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