What is a Cheese Plant?

Mary McMahon

A cheese plant is a flowering plant in the arum family, native to Central America and parts of South America. Known formally as Monstera deliciosa, this plant goes by a number of alternate names including Swiss cheese plant, Monstera, windowleaf, and Mexican breadfruit. It is cultivated as a houseplant in many regions of the world and can also be grown in greenhouses and gardens. Gardeners should note that this plant contains high levels of oxalic acid, and can cause severe reactions in people and pets who attempt to consume the leaves, flowers, or immature fruit.

The cheese plant is native to Central America and parts of South America.
The cheese plant is native to Central America and parts of South America.

In nature, cheese plants are epiphytic, growing above ground with a creeping growth habit. The seedlings naturally seek out tree trunks and climb them to reach the upper levels of the forest canopy. A healthy plant should flower in approximately three years, producing large white flowers similar to those of the calla lily or peace lily. The flowers develop into large, cone-shaped fruit that can take a year or more to fully ripen. Once ripe, the fruit is edible, and has a strong odor reminiscent of cheese, explaining the common name.

The cheese plant has flowers similar to the calla lily.
The cheese plant has flowers similar to the calla lily.

In low light conditions, the large, glossy, heart-shaped leaves of the cheese plant will remain whole. As the plant finds more light, the leaves will develop lobes and holes. This creates a distinctive visual appearance and is one of the reasons people enjoy cultivating cheese plants as ornamentals. Indoors, the plants rarely flower, as the conditions are usually not optimal for flowering and setting of fruit.

Native to the tropics, the cheese plant requires filtered light, warm temperatures, and high humidity. Although these plants tend to be more tolerant of extreme temperature ranges than some tropical species, they are frost tender and cannot survive in cold conditions. It is important to keep the roots out of soggy conditions, as they are adapted to environments where they are humid, but not wet, and where they get plenty of aeration. Growth media designed for epiphytic plants are usually recommended for people cultivating cheese plants indoors.

These plants can grow quite large if they enjoy the growing conditions. It is advisable to provide them with a sturdy stake to grow on. In outdoor gardens, people may prefer cultivating them on trees or large poles to allow them room to develop. Propagation is most easily accomplished through stem cuttings. People can ask for stem cuttings from gardeners with established plants, or purchase cheese plant seedlings at a nursery.

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