Monstera plants are purchased for their beautiful appearance of distinctly split leaves.
But, soon enough, you might start to notice strange little 'antennae' sprouting from the plant's stem.
Is this normal? What are they? And what do you do with them?
Well, these aerial roots are completely normal. Even better, you don't have to "do" anything with them if you don't want to! Let's take a closer look at Monstera aerial roots.
These specialized roots, often seen dangling from stems, have a dual function. Firstly, they aid in stability and support, allowing the Monstera to cling to trees or other structures in their tropical rainforest environment.
This anchorage prevents the plant from toppling over, ensuring optimal exposure to sunlight for photosynthesis. Secondly, aerial roots can absorb moisture and nutrients from the air, supplementing the plant's diet and promoting growth.
About Monstera Plants
Monstera plants are natural vining plants that thrive in moderate to high humidity. These plants are really easy to care for, which makes them a popular choice for first-time or expert plant growers.
Part of the Araceae family, these attractive South American plants have become a staple in almost every indoor plant grower's home today. Their lush leaves with naturally occurring "holes" (called fenestrations) are what makes this plant so appealing.
You may notice your Monstera producing weird little 'tentacles'. These 'wild' shoots are, in fact, the Monstera's aerial roots — They are actually quite normal and show that your plant is thriving.
These plants - especially the Monstera deliciosa plant variant - grow aerial roots because they are natural vining plants, growing to massive sizes (up to 60 feet) in their outdoor habitat! However, an indoor Monstera plant can still grow up to 10 feet in size!
Monstera aerial roots grow as an adaptation to survive in their natural habitat. Roots often grow outwards or sideways from the plant's stem. It's important to understand the characteristics of these exotic plants to better care for these beautiful gems!
Monstera deliciosa: Known for its large, split leaves. These are commonly seen indoors, often referred to as a Delicious Monster or Swiss Cheese Plant.
Monstera adansonii: Has smaller leaves with intricate hole patterns.
Monstera borsigiana: Similar to the deliciosa variant, but are generally smaller and faster-growing.
Understanding Aerial Roots
Monsteras grow aerial roots from what looks like a yellow bump on one of the plant's nodes. While it may appear as if a new leaf is emerging, it will start to sprout 'legs', which can grow straight, outwards, or sideways. Aerial roots can vary in appearance, ranging from thin and wiry to thicker, more robust roots.
Monstera aerial roots do not penetrate or grow into the soil, but rather 'float' in the air - hence being called "aerial".
Purpose of aerial roots
Monsteras are vining plants that use their aerial roots to 'climb' up trees in their natural habitat. This allows them to reach higher levels, as opposed to remaining on the forest floor, where they can access more sunlight.
Aerial roots give the Monstera plant support and stability as they tend to become top-heavy as they grow bigger.
Aerial roots allow a Monstera to absorb moisture and nutrients from the air. This is useful when nutrients are lacking from their root system.
Monstera aerial roots can be used for propagation. A cutting (that includes an aerial root) can be planted in the soil to generate new plant life.
Comparison with other plants
Many other plants sport these wiry legs. Each plant uses its aerial roots for slightly different purposes, depending on its natural habitat and growth habits. These include:
The difference between Monstera aerial roots and underground roots
Both aerial and underground roots are vital elements for this plant to function. But here's how they differ:
These can be called "air roots", as they are exposed to air and not submerged (covered) in soil.
Aerial roots are generally thinner and have less elaborate root systems.
Their main function is to support the main plant as it climbs and grows bigger and wider.
Aerial roots can absorb water and nutrients from the soil but are less effective than soil roots.
Aerial roots are exposed to environmental conditions, such as harsh weather, rain, humidity, and sunlight. You may need to mist these roots in indoor settings to enhance the humidity.
These roots are submerged underground (i.e. covered with soil).
Soil roots are usually thicker and have more intricate root systems.
Their main purpose is to provide the Monstera plant with nutrients and water needed for healthy growth and development.
Soil roots anchor the plant into the ground for stability.
Some underground roots store nutrients and water for energy, as seen in tubers, bulbs, etc.
Soil roots are less exposed to environmental fluctuations but are more sensitive to soil quality, pH levels, and water drainage.
Types of Monstera Roots
These roots grow vertically (downwards) beneath the soil surface, hence their "subterranean" name. Their primary function is to absorb water and nutrients from the soil.
They are usually thicker and can branch off into finer 'root hairs' for better absorption. These subterranean roots keep the plant firmly planted in the ground.
A Monstera plant grows aerial roots from its stem, which are exposed to the air and grow above the ground. They serve multiple functions, such as nutrient absorption, and stability, and can be used in propagation.
Aerial roots vary in shape and size; some are quite wiry while others are thicker. They attach themselves to surfaces for support and can either be guided into the soil or attached to structures such as a moss pole.
Young aerial roots may only appear after your Monstera plant has reached maturity - usually at 1-2 years old. Don't be alarmed when they begin to grow, as they're usually brown in color as opposed to the plant's bright green.
To ensure your aerial roots attach to your pole, make sure to water the pole in addition to the soil. The roots will seek out moisture to absorb and will attach to those sources. It can be almost impossible to get mature aerial roots to attach to a support. It's always best to have your monstera tied to the pole/support as the roots are first emerging.
Aerial roots serve similar functions for a variety of plants, such as ivy, ficus, and orchids.
Aerial-subterranean roots are the perfect combination of the two above-mentioned roots. These roots start as aerial roots but naturally grow (or are trained) into the ground, therefore transitioning into subterranean roots.
Their main function is similar to that of lateral-subterranean roots, absorbing water and nutrients from the soil.
Role Of Aerial Roots In Wild Monsteras
Some Monstera plants are considered understory species - which means they live and thrive in the undergrowth of larger plants. aerial roots are extremely vital for the plant's survival and growth.
The reason behind Monstera's aerial roots
It's not "just an aerial root", but rather vital for a Monstera plant's survival! These roots are not just a fancy feature, they have evolved to fulfill specific functions that enable the plant to adapt to its environment - both in wild and domestic settings.
The main purpose of these "wild-looking" aerial roots is to aid the plant in climbing and give support as it grows bigger.
Role of aerial roots in climbing
In their natural habitat, the Monstera is a climbing plant. They use their aerial roots to attach to trees, rocks, or other sturdy structures in their vicinity. The aerial roots provide the necessary grip and support for the plant to climb upwards, allowing it to reach higher levels where sunlight is more accessible.
Indoors, Monstera plants still produce aerial roots, which can be guided to climb a moss pole, trellis, or other support structures that mimic their natural growth behavior.
Significance of sunlight in the rainforest ecosystem
Sunlight is critical for all plant life, as it is part of the natural photosynthesis process. This process is where plants convert sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water into energy and oxygen.
In dense, competitive rainforest environments, these tropical plants need to climb up to reach areas where they can receive sufficient sunlight to optimize their growth.
For indoor conditions, good sunlight is needed if you want healthy plants. While Monsteras can tolerate some level of lower lighting; bright indirect light is what they need to thrive.
Lower lighting conditions can lead to fewer fenestrations (leaf holes), slower growth, and weaker aerial roots.
Unique behavior of Monstera seedlings: negative phototropism
The phenomenon of phototropism is that most plants grow towards light, which is called positive phototropism. The fascinating thing about Monstera plants is that they initially display negative phototropism - meaning they grow away from the light source.
This survival adaptation is due to the competitive nature of their natural habitat, where plants are all fighting for the sun's attention.
Seedlings display negative phototropism until they can attach and secure themselves to a structure to begin their climbing journey upwards. Once they secure their spot, they switch to positive phototropism, aiming to reach higher and brighter levels. This is why Monstera aerial roots are so important!
Misconceptions About Moisture Absorption
One common misconception is that Monstera aerial roots are highly efficient at absorbing moisture from the air. While they can absorb some water, they are not as efficient as the primary root system in the soil.
Another misconception is that aerial roots can substitute for watering, especially in indoor settings. While they do absorb some moisture from the air, it is not enough to sustain the plant's growth. Regular watering is still your best bet!
Indoor Monsteras Aerial Roots
Behavior and appearance of indoor aerial roots
Behavior: Aerial roots tend to grow towards the closest source of support or moisture, such as a wall or a humidifier in indoor settings.
Appearance: Monstera aerial roots can vary in thickness and length, depending on the plant's age and overall health. Aerial roots tend to be brown as opposed to green.
The progression of root development and coloration
Seedling stage: In the early stages, Monsteras focus on developing their underground root system to initiate proper root growth.
Juvenile stage: As the plant matures, it begins to grow aerial roots (from about 1-2 years old). Young Monstera roots start off thin with a greenish tint.
Adult stage: Fully mature plants have thicker, longer aerial roots that can extend several feet, depending on the plant's environment. They become more 'woody' in texture.
Role in propagation
If you're wondering what to do with Monstera aerial roots, they're great when it comes to propagating! A cutting that includes a segment of the stem (and an aerial root) has a better chance of successfully rooting.
If you don't mind chopping your plant, you can propagate monsteras by cutting individual nodes with aerial roots and planting the node so that it's half out of the soil with the roots in the soil.
Age-related root development
Young Monstera roots are thin with a greenish tint.
Mature Monstera aerial roots are thicker, turn brown, and have a woody texture.
Handling and caring for aerial roots
Personal preference: Some people appreciate the "wild jungle look" of these tropical plants and usually leave them as is.
Trimming: If you are not a fan of unruly aerial roots, they can be pruned or trimmed back.
Guidance: Monstera roots can be guided into the soil or onto a support structure (moss pole, totems, etc.) to make the plant look more 'organized'.
Caring for Monstera aerial roots: Ensure your Monstera plant has bright, indirect sunlight for at least 8 hours per day. A Monstera loves well-draining soil with a pH of around 6.0-6.5. Maintain moderate humidity levels and keep temperatures around 65-80°F (18-27°C).
Step-By-Step Guide: Trimming Aerial Roots
Necessary tools and preparation
Sharp pruning shears: Make sure your shears are clean and sharp to ensure a clean cut, reducing the risk of disease.
Gloves: Optional, but useful to protect your hands.
Prepare the plant: Make sure the plant is healthy and not under stress from factors like overwatering, underwatering, or disease.
When and how to prune
Timing: The best time to prune is during the growing season (spring and summer).
Identify: Decide which aerial roots you want to trim. It's generally best not to remove too many at once.
Technique: Use the pruning shears to make a clean, angled cut near the base of the aerial root. Avoid tearing or crushing the root, as this can lead to disease.
Precautions and aftercare
Disinfect tools: Always disinfect your pruning shears before moving on to another plant to prevent the spread of any potential diseases.
Wound care: Some people choose to apply a plant wound sealant to the cut area, although this is generally not necessary for healthy plants.
Monitor the plant: Keep an eye on the plant for any signs of stress, pests, or disease.
Watering: Resume normal watering, but be cautious not to overwater as the plant will have fewer roots to absorb moisture.
Fertilizing: It's generally a good idea to hang back on fertilizing after pruning to avoid stressing the plant.
Why are my Monstera's aerial roots brown?
This is perfectly normal, as aerial Monstera roots turn brown when they are mature.
Can Monstera plants get bugs or pests?
As with all houseplants, these exotic plants can encounter pests from time to time. Common bugs are spider mites, aphids, scales, mealybugs, and thrips. They're easily managed with the use of insecticide soaps or neem oil solutions.
What are moss poles?
A moss pole is a vertical support used for climbing houseplants like Monstera, Pothos, and Philodendron. They are wooden or PVC poles wrapped in sphagnum moss, which is a type of moisture-retentive organic material.
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