Monstera may be native to Central America and Mexico, but no matter where it’s found, whether tamed or in the wild, the plant definitely speaks Hawaiian.
Also known as the "Swiss cheese plant" for the holes on its lobes, the monstera lends a motif just as dramatic in two-dimensional form on wallpaper or fabric used for accent pillows, upholstery and drapery.
As a house plant, it can serve as a living sculpture. But even a single 17-inch leaf in a vase packs the wow factor of a dozen long-stemmed red roses in a sparse white room. Its art element continues even at dusk, with strategically placed lights casting striking shadows against a wall or on a ceiling.
Plant one in your garden to enjoy the benefit of a year-round supply for your home.
Here are some thoughts from the pros:
Kevin Mulkern of Kevin J. Mulkern Landscaping is drawn to monstera for its unusual foliage. "It reminds me of the patterns that are used on the Hawaiian quilts; it just has a nice Hawaiian feeling," he said.
The past president of the Hawaii Landscape & Irrigation Contractor’s Association often uses it to soften the stark trunk of a coconut tree or pairs it with lauae. "The deep green contrasts real well with the light green of the lauae fern. It does tend to climb a bit on walls but can easily be whacked down close to grass level. It re-sprouts rather quickly and can be grown from cuttings. Just take a 6-inch cutting from its trunk or from the end of the vine and stick that in the ground," Mulkern said.
For a client who added a waterfall feature near an artificial rock wall, monstera transformed the wall into a green hedge.
If there’s a downside, "it likes to cling, so if it’s growing up a painted wall and you remove the plant, it tends to take the paint off and leave remnants of the root patterns." However, Mulkern said, the aesthetic value far outweighs any drawbacks.
As a houseplant, "if it’s close to a window with indirect light, it would do pretty well," he said. "It’s a tough plant."
He usually has them well-stocked at his nursery for $12 to $15 for a 3-gallon pot, but they’re also readily available at nurseries in the Waimanalo area, he said.
A FLORAL DELICACY
Yes, the leaves are grand, said Michael Miyashiro of Rainforest at Kilohana Square in Kapahulu. But Miyashiro was more emphatic about monstera as a fruit.
"Delicious!" he said. The owner of the floral boutique that prides itself on environmental consciousness said the plant’s species name is Monstera deliciosa because "its fruit is a delicacy."
He likens the taste to a cross between breadfruit and jackfruit, and perhaps pineapple, except with a fleshy texture, and he’s surprised it isn’t more readily available for consumers here.
Before taking a bite, he warns, make sure the fruit is ripe. "If not, it’s like eating raw taro, it will have a crystal texture in your mouth. Also, it has a kind of strange smell if you’re not used to it. But if so, you just hold your nose and eat."
Miyashiro said that even though monstera’s origins are in Central America and Mexico, it’s more associated with Hawaii. "On the mainland, if an arrangement is mostly carnation or whatever, and they stick a monstera in it, they automatically consider it a Hawaiian arrangement," he said.
"Monstera is unique in the flower industry because the plant we use today is the exact same as in the wild. You can’t say that about a lot of things; everything these days is man-altered, from roses to anthuriums to orchids, they want bigger flower, better color. Monstera is not hybridized or selectively grown."
Rainforest’s monstera leaf supply arrives Tuesdays and the price is $1 per 8-inch leaf.
IN INTERIOR DESIGN
Interior designer Martha Alabanza suggests using monstera as a stand-alone in an elegant vase for simplicity and drama. "It has such presence, it doesn’t need anything else. They last a long time; we’ve been enjoying one in our office now for months," said the senior designer of Merill & Associates, an award-winning interior design firm.
"At a dinner party you can use it as table-top decor, or it can be used as a place mat." If your party involves a long table, she suggests using monstera as a runner by placing them in a row, each leaf overlapping another at 45-degree angles.
"And I would definitely add some color through use of other fresh flowers sprinkled on the leaves. … plumeria, bougainvillea or orchids."
As a house plant? "The leaves are so big, it would need to have space around it and it should be in a well-ventilated area. But it’s a great filler, so if you have an empty corner, absolutely," she said.
AS A DESIGN TEMPLATE
SoHa Living at Kahala Mall stocks birch templates of monstera in a range of sizes for those who don’t have a plant in their yard and would rather not forage through the Tantalus forest for leaves.
Owner Brooke Watson said, "The leaf transfers so well into print and looks classy on all types of mediums."
The store’s monstera wood cutouts are perfect and easy in several of these applications, said Watson. She suggests using them as stencils on linen or wallpaper, or on paper to frame as artwork.
Panels cost about $85 for a 20-by-55-inch panel and $90 for a 20-by-57 1/2-inch panel, with smaller sizes available on request.
"The wood is also beautiful when painted or stained. A green stain looks incredible on these cutouts since it allows the grain to show through. You can also just paint them and hang them on the wall. Our panels have been used in a lot of cool ways," Watson said.
Some of her favorite uses that customers have shared include:
» As a headboard.
» Glued to an entry door, stained or painted the same color so it looks like a carving.
» Glued around the base of kitchen islands, painted to look like a custom-carved island.
» Glued together to form a box as a casing for a pendant light.