If a rose is a rose is a rose, is a monstera a monstera a monstera?
You’re probably familiar with the Swiss Cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa), the most common of the Monstera genus. Bloombox Club’s speciality is the Monstera adansonii (or Monkey Mask), harder to find than the Swiss Cheese, with holes inside the leaves as opposed to leaf splits along the perimeter.
Recently, controversy has arisen over whether the incredibly rare Monstera obliqua, which pop up from time to time in plant shops, are genuine.
Monstera obliqua are close in appearance to Monstera adansonii. They grow similarly-shaped holes inside the leaves, and the leaves themselves are narrow rather than oval or arrow shaped. Differences between the two are subtle but important: the leaves of the Obliqua are paper-thin and will be more hole than leaf; the Adansonii is usually more leaf than hole and is subtly textured to the touch.
World-expert on Monstera, Dr. Thomas B Croat claims there have only been seventeen sightings of the Obliqua in the wild, and many of these have since been called into question. To wishful Obliqua owners, he says ‘trust me, as much as I want this to be true, you do not have a Monstera obliqua. It’s a botanical unicorn.’
So where has this confusion come from?
One issue is that, in infancy, it can be tricky to tell the difference between Obliqua and Adansonii. As they grow, their differences from one another will become apparent but this could mean months or years of uncertainty.
Secondly, plants are organic matter: no two are the same, and they may subtlety mutate or hybridise. Keen to believe that they’re in possession of an Obliqua, suggests Dr. Croat, that growers, botanists and plant retailers alike will mislabel Monstera adansonii that don’t look quite like the norm.
Our own conundrum
This week, we received three batches of Monkey Masks, each from different growers. The first came with a hanger, simply titled ‘Monkey Mask,’ the second under the name Adansonii and the third came with printed ‘Monstera obliqua’ labels stuck resolutely in each pot.
We put them side by side and looked at the differences. Certainly, the larger hanging Monkey Mask had wider leaves than the other two, and the labelled Adansonii had less holes than the so-called Obliqua. Touch-testing split the team, with some refuting significant difference and others convinced the Adansonii was thicker and rougher.
On this occasion we’ve decided to label all of the non-Hanging Monstera as Adansonii, but we’ll leave the Obliqua labels in and let you decide whether you’ve got something extra special ...