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There are a tonne of reasons that contributed to them remaining popular for the last 70 years, but the reason they became popular in the first place is that basically…they look really good from an interior design perspective.
They’re tall, can be trained (within reason), look jungley but are still quite sculptural.
Coupled with the fact they’re easy to care for, you end up with a plant that has remained in the cultural zeitgeist for a long time.
Buuut there are always interlopers. Plants like Fiddle leaf fig and other Ficus are trying to take Monstera’s title as the most popular house plant.
First, let’s have a little history lesson…
Where does Monstera deliciosa come from?
Monstera deliciosa are native to Central America. They can be found in southern Mexico and as far south as Panama.
However, due to the fact that humans REALLY like them and took them, er, everywhere, they can be found growing wild everywhere from Australia to Florida, and there’s a lot of them on Hawaii. They’re considered invasive, but also pretty, so we tend to just let them be.
They also produce a delicious fruit (hence the ‘deliciosa’ part of their name) which I guess contributes to them being invasive but no one really minding.
When were Monstera first ‘discovered’?
I put ‘discovered’ in inverted commas, because Monstera have been a staple of Central American lifestyle for, I would think, thousand of years.
Uses for Monstera deliciosa include:
- Eating the deliciosa fruit
- Using the aerial roots for making ropes and baskets
- Making an infusion of the leaves/roots as a way to relieve arthritis*
- In Martinique, they use it as an ingredient for a snakebite remedy*
*Do not try this at home. Monstera is toxic.
So yeah, it’s safe to say that Monstera deliciosa has been known for thousands of years. But it was 1693 when Charles Plumier, French botanist, first took it back to show the king, who really, really liked it.
That was when it was first discovered by people other than the people who’d known about it for thousand of years.
Anyway, Plumier wrote a book about the plants he found in America. I tried to download it, but it wouldn’t let me. Not that I speak French very well (I got an A in my GCSEs though!).
Then we have to skip forward 250 years, because I couldn’t find much about Monsteras in that time.
There was a book written in 1869 by horticulturist William Robinson with a brief mention “Monstera deliciosa was much sought after during recent winters,”
Henri Matisse and the Monstera
French artist Matisse is often credited with starting the Monstera craze in the 50s. There’s not a lot of direct evidence that this is true. What we do have is pictures of Matisse and his (very impressive) Monstera, and the fact that Matisse drew a few Monstera.
We don’t have causation. Perhaps Matisse bought into the Monstera craze at the time. WHO KNOWS
Monstera in popular culture & interior design
Monstera were very popular in interior design all through the 50s, 60s, and 70s. They were frequently used in staging interiors photos, the Pinterest of the last century.
The general public saw them and wanted them. So they bought them. And they didn’t die. That, kids, is the formula to a trend.
Monstera were used in offices and shopping malls. They were pretty cheap and anyone could take care of them. There was no social media then. No ‘top 20 best house plants’. Monstera was the cool one. Aspidistra was the old lady one.*
*Incidentally Aspidistra had been the It house plant for DECADES before Monstera came and stole her crown. The Victorians loved them.
A couple of things that may have led to Monstera becoming more popular was 1. influences from America and 2. central heating becoming more common.
Monstera deliciosa are easy to grow in places like California. Where a lot of films are, er, filmed. People in the UK go to the cinema, see a Monstera and think ‘cool!’. And because their houses are warmer than they were in Victorian times, they have more hope of keeping one alive.
People consider the Victorians to be big house plant lovers, and they were, but we see a lot of images of vast greenhouses full of plants. This was very much a rich person’s hobby. Plebs like us probs just had one Aspidistra because other plants, er, died in winter.
Monstera are only hardy inside because we have warm houses. A Victorian greenhouse would NOT have been a good place for it, meaning only the super rich who could afford a heated greenhouse would have been able to keep one.
The decline of Monstera
According to the Financial Times, the inevitable decline of the Monstera was caused by the rise of everyone being too busy to have time for plants. #relatable.
The 80s and 90s were a time of massive change in terms of consumerism and work-life balance. Everyone was working longer hours, and didn’t have time to water their plants. They became the hallmark of old people.
Weekends were spent working, raving, or watching TV. We spent more time in restaurants and bars. We were just…busier. We had three kids, 2 cars, a dog, and a full-time job.
And because only old people had time for plants, they became an old people thing. The only plants kids would see would be at their grandparents (a boring place) and garden centres (hell on earth for a 7-year-old.
I know, I was there.
If seven year old me knew that 35 year old me VOLUNTARILY spent nearly every weekend at various garden centres, she would be horrified.
The rise of Monstera (again)
Monstera seemed to skip a generation. My parents consider them old-fashioned, but my grandma had one.
And then millennials happened. Monstera became massive again.
I actually did a poll in a Facebook group, asking people with 10+ houseplants who DIDN’T have a Monstera. The results were quite interesting, for a given value of the word ‘interesting’.
IT’S INTERESTING TO ME OK
I made a spreadsheet and everything:
|no. of plants
|Has a Monstera
Look! I collected and collated my own data! Original research! Like a scientist!
As you can see, there’s a fairly even split. Monstera are still pretty popular, and whilst there are plenty of people that don’t have them, the overwhelming reason people gave for not having a Monstera was that they don’t have the space.
|Reason for no Monstera
|No. of people who gave that reason
|don’t like/ meh
|pet ate it
|scared of killing it
Interesting information I discovered in my research about Monstera popularity
- Quite a few people love Monstera, but are waiting/saving up for a variegated one
- One respondent had over THREE THOUSAND plants. THREE THOUSAND. 3000.
- Another person had over 100 Monstera. How big is their damn house?!
- Several people thought Monstera were overdone
- A few had them because they felt they should (peer pressure in the house plant community is definitely a thing)
- Two people said they simply didn’t spark joy. I can’t argue with that.
Here are a few of my fave responses:
BUT one person responded that actually has a house plant shop:
I mean, that’s the answer, right? Ask someone with a shop. They would know!
Monstera deliciosa are still incredibly popular. Sure, there are some young upstarts like watermelon peperomia and Philodendron Pink Princess that are elbowing their way to the top of our wishlists but Monstera are still going strong.
It seems that it’s one of its characteristics that either makes or breaks it: size. There’s no denying that a huge Monstera gives structure and life to a room BUT if you have a tonne of plants and a small space…it’s not gonna work. Hence one person renting out a space in a nursery for one.
I personally think that when it comes to beating the competition, Monstera deliciosa’s adaptability will always give them an edge. If you want to move it to another spot in your house, it’ll most likely be fine. If you want to move a Ficus you have to ask really nicely, give it 30 days advance notice, and you’ll still probably lose a few leaves.
Thank you to everyone that responded to my Facebook question. I thought I’d get about a dozen responses and I got like 300. Nice.