Name: Monstera (Monstera deliciosa)
Otherwise known as: Swiss Cheese Plant, Mexican Breadfruit
Habitat: A perennial vine member of the Araceae family growing up to 20m in tropical America. From a thick root it sends out aerial roots that climb the nearest tree. The dark green, lobed leaves may have a span of 1m and when mature the plant produces a small, white, lily-like flower that transforms into the torpedo-shaped fruit that will detach and embed in the base soil of the host tree. The sap and immature fruit are toxic.
What does it do: Monstera is one of the most popular house-plants, and properly maintained will last for years; however, it is unusual for it to fruit when in captivity. In the American tropics the bomb-like fruit can prove to be as much a hazard as falling coconuts for the forest traveller, because they can weigh half a kilo, and may detach from a height of more than twenty metres on route to embedding in the soft rainforest soil at the base of the host tree. The fruits resemble Indian Maize and develop in a sheath; as they ripen they exude an aroma of Jackfruit but because the sheath contains Calcium Oxalates in the form of needle-like crystals (Raphides) that will lodge in the throat and gums. It remains inedible until the scaly covering dries and falls away.
In Mexico the native Indians use the vine for ropes and baskets, they also make an infusion from the leaf to treat arthritis and rheumatics. In the West Indies the medicine men make a poultice from the root to treat spider and snake-bite.
When handling the houseplant be aware that the white latex from the leaf will cause serious skin irritation.
Alexander McCowan is author of The World’s most Dangerous Plants