Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

Swiss Cheese – it’s a plant

In this series of monthly articles Bob explores the incredible range of plants you can grow in a greenhouse, conservatory or plastic tunnel. Not just the purely decorative but the scented and edible also, and maybe those plants that are just downright interesting. This month Bob nominates ~ The Swiss Cheese plant.

We all know this plant but rarely ever give it much attention. One of the most drought resistant, draught proof, shade tolerant, relatively pest and problem free house and office plants is correctly called Monstera deliciosa. More commonly known as the Swiss Cheese Plant, huge leaves with holes through them making each resemble a Swiss cheese. (Those holes may be to let hurricane winds pass through, allow light to lower leaves or even to clear rain more quickly yet no other plant leaves are so pierced.) This plant is condemned to grim existence in countless places where all else would fail. It is extremely durable and if not thriving will at least survive a surprisingly long time, even in hostile conditions.

However, give it better conditions and it changes from surviving to prospering then flowering. Give one a large root run in a really big pot, fill this with good rich compost, then give it more light and water, more like a citrus tree, and it will show it’s true nature. For this is a vigorous tropical and sub tropical forest climber, or rather a forest floor ground covering creeper that runs up trees- much like ivy on steroids. It is normally compact enough to be a house plant only by being kept starved and under-potted in dense shade. Now if you get one growing happily it will throw a series of impressive creamy white Arum flowers the size of small dinner plates and almost as thick. In the middle of each magical shell like bloom sits a fat green spike just as with our own smaller native Arum the Lords and Ladies. The bloom withers and drops while the spike within grows slowly for months until it ripens.

At this point small hexagonal plates covering the fruit are conveniently eased off by the sweet pulp inside swelling up. Now and only now the fruit pulp can be eaten off the central stem. Be warned a very few may find the texture of this flesh irritant, more so if tried under –ripe. But the vast majority experience no ill effects only a sweet acid taste, a sort of cross between banana, custard apple and pineapple. Cerimans as these are called are widely sold in markets in many hot countries for one good reason -why? Because for once their Latin description is quite accurate they really are indeed Monstera deliciosa.