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What is a Swiss Cheese Plant?

By J.M. Densing
Updated May 17, 2024
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Swiss cheese plant is a common name for a large-leafed, climbing tropical vine with aerial roots that bears a large, edible fruit. The name comes from the decorative holes and slits that make the leaves resemble Swiss cheese. The scientific name of the plant is Monstera deliciosa, and other common names include fruit salad plant, split leaf philodendron, and Mexican breadfruit. It grows attached to a tree in the wild, and it's commonly grown as an indoor houseplant in cultivation. The vine grows very quickly, but the fruit can take more than a year to ripen enough to eat.

The Swiss cheese plant is a climbing vine that needs a tree or other support, and it has aerial roots that grow down from the vine, taking root when they touch the ground. It can grow as long as 30 feet (9 m) under optimal conditions in the wild. The leaves are huge, typically reaching lengths of 1.5 to three feet (0.5 to 0.9 m) long, and they have a thick, leathery feel. Once the leaves mature they develop a variety of holes and slits. The Swiss cheese plant produces a large cream colored flower that contains the fruit in the center, which measures about 10 inches (25 cm) long and 1.2 to 1.6 inches (3 to 4 cm) in diameter and resembles a green, scale covered ear of corn.

The native area of the Swiss cheese plant is Central America, from southern Mexico south to Panama. It is commonly found in the tropical rainforest, thriving in the high humidity. It typically grows creeping up a tree trunk toward the sunlight, with much of the plant remaining in the shade. It requires a warm environment and is killed by frost, so it is typically grown as a houseplant in cooler climates.

The fruit of the Swiss cheese plant is toxic before it ripens completely due to a high concentration of oxalic acid. If eaten, it will cause painful irritation and swelling in the throat, blistering, and voice loss. The fruit is ripe and safe to eat when the green scales covering it are able to be knocked off easily; this often takes a year or more. Once it's ripe, the scales can be brushed off and the flesh inside, which has a taste like pineapple or mango, can be eaten.

When grown as a houseplant, the Swiss cheese plant grows best in warm temperatures with indirect or filtered sunlight. It needs enough water to keep the soil slightly moist at all times, and it's best to use water that is slightly warm rather than cold. The plant can also benefit from frequent misting or a nearby humidifier. It needs some sort of support or trellis to grow on, and should be kept away from pets since the leaves are toxic.

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Discussion Comments
By Wisedly33 — On Apr 25, 2014

As big as the article says the plant it, I can't quite imagine them being cultivated in a pot in the house. I would love to see one, though. They sound fascinating!

By Rotergirl — On Apr 24, 2014

A swiss cheese plant, of all things! Never heard of one before. I don't think even my most plant-happy friends have one.

I wonder why the fruit takes so long to ripen, and if a plant kept in the house will even bear fruit.

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