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I love the story behind naming Monstera the Swiss Cheese Plant.
So some botanist (a lot of them ‘discovered’ Monstera at around the same time so I’m not sure who first called it a Swiss Cheese Plant) saw a Monstera delicious in the wild, noted that the holes in leaves looked like the Swiss cheese Emmentaler, and gave it the nickname of Swiss Cheese plants.
The issue arose when they looked around a bit more and discovered Monstera adansonii, which looks a LOT more like Swiss Cheese than Monstera deliciosa.
It wasn’t that big of a deal at the time, because Adansonii is a lot rare in the wild and not as invasive as deliciosa. Fast forward a couple of hundred years to when both are extremely common in cultivation and they’re both called Swiss Cheese plant.
Sometimes people try to differentiate between the two by calling adansonii a Swiss chess vine, but…they’re both vines. The distinction doesn’t hold up.
The cheese fruit is nothing to do with Monstera. They're often called cheese plants, and they do have fruit, but cheese fruits come from the Morinda citrifolia plant, which is no relation at all of the Monstera.
Are swiss cheese and monkey mask plants the same?
No, but also probably yes.
It’s a bit like Monstera deliciosa, vs Monstera deliciosa borsigniana – they’re broadly the same plant, in that you could hybridise them, but there differences have been reported.
I’ve owned both a regular Monstera adansonii AND a Monstera Monkey Mask and they were pretty similar. To add a bit of extra confusion, you can often buy Monstera Obliqua Monkey Mask, which is NOT a Monstera Obliqua – it’s just a naming error.
There are reports that Monkey Maks has shorter internodal spacing than swiss cheese, so they’re bushier rather than vinier, but internal spacing is more or less dependent on care. Genetics might play a small role, but light and humidity are more likely to determine this.
I’m pretty sure that Monkey Mask is just the name that the tissue culture company came up with in Europe, and then it was taken over to America under the guide of being a separate cultivar to appeal to amateur collectors.
Another example of this is Epipemnum Happy Leaf – it’s just the European name for a Manjula Pothos.
When it comes to tissue-cultured plants, there will always be genetic differences, because the labs in Europe will use a different mother plant than the ones in the US. It doesn’t mean the plant is different species – it just might have slightly different characteristics.
You can take two identical cuttings from a plant, propagate and grow them in identical ways and have them turn out differently. Both nature and nurture play a role, plus there’s always a bit of weird, unexplained stuff thrown in there (like sport variegation).
What’s the difference between a Swiss cheese and a monkey mask?
As, I said, some people say that they’re a more compact, bushier form of adansonii. I’m pretty sure the main difference is the tissue culture lab they came out of, and the marketing company.
How many different types of Monstera adansonii are there?
There are so many people growing them nowadays that a new cultivar pops up every week.
As well as the wide and narrow form, there are TONNES of cultivars offering different types of variegation. There was a mint one for sale for £12.99 in my local garden centre.
The green/white ones with high levels of variegation are still quite, pricy, but the ones with yellow variegation are quite cheap.
The photo above says these were £249, but there is a smaller form one that goes for like £50.
You’ll notice it says ‘Monky Leaf’ not ‘Monkey Mask’. I’m pretty sure the whole thing is just marketing.
As well as different cultivars, there are sub species. A cultivar is a plant that’s been selectively bred by humans to display certain characteristics, like a Monstera Tha Constellation. A subspecies is a naturally occurring close relative to the plant. So if Monstera deliciosa and adansonii are cousins, then Monstera adansonii and laniata are parent and child. Or possibly siblings.
It’s different for plants, but that’s how much closer they are.
As well as M. Laniata, there’s also friedrichsthalii, blanchetii, klotzschiana, and archipelago.
These aren’t really rare, they’re just not readily available. The vast majority of houseplant demand comes from ‘normal’ people, as opposed to plant enthusiasts. There’s not enough demand for five cultivars of Monstera adansonii that basically look the same to most people.
There are variegated laniatas though, which are rare and Pricey. With a capital P.
What’s the difference between a Monstera adansonii and a Monstera obliqua?
Monstera obliqua are becoming increasingly common and cheap. You can definitely get one for under £100.
They look pretty different to most adansonii, whilst also looking broadly the same. The holes are much bigger, and the leaves are thinner.
There are adansonii that have larger holes, but it’s unlikely that you would find a rogue obliqua in with a load of adansonii.
What’s Philodendron Swiss cheese?
There’s no such thing as a Philodendron Swiss Cheese – it’s like split-leaf philodendron (which is either a Monstera or a Thaumatophyllum, but not a Philodendron).
Philodendron and Monstera are not the same thing. They’re related, in that they’re all aroids, but they’re not more closely related to each other than they are to peace lilies, anthuriums, or even ZZ plants.
I’m pretty sure that Monkey Mask is the name the marketing team gave to a load of tissue-cultured Monstera adansonii. They may all have similar characteristics (like short internal spacing) because they’re all clones of the parent plant, but they’re basically the same plant.
Swiss Cheese is just a common name that people apply to all plants with holes in the leaves.