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Aerial roots can look a bit out of place and weird if you’re new to Monstera deliciosa, but rest assured, they’re not harmful.
The primary purpose of aerial roots is to allow the plant to climb.
They can actually be really useful, because you can use them to prop up your Monstera without having to use a moss pole. If you don’t like the way they look, feel free to chop them off – the plant won’t care.
They do look weird when they first emerge, so I understand why people are freaked out:
What are the aerial roots on monstera deliciosa for?
Monsteras grow aerial roots so that they can attach to a tree and grow up towards the sun, using the tree as a support.
They’re classified as hemiepiphytes, which means they live part of their life as epiphytes (plants that have roots above the ground).
In the case of Monstera, they're secondary hemiepiphytes, which means their roots start off in the ground, and then over time they'll climb up into the canopy and their aerial roots can absorb water and nutrients from the air.
Primary hemiepiphytes work the opposite way: seeds are germinated in the canopy and then aerial roots drop down to the ground and root over time. Philodendron Imbe are primary hemiepiphytes.
Aerial roots can absorb water from the atmosphere, which can increase turgor pressure and speed up growth, but their primary purpose is to support the plant.
Monstera deliciosa also have subterranean (underground) roots, which the plant uses to take in nutrients and water. They can also do a combo of the two.
How are aerial roots different from underground roots?
Aerial roots look…pretty weird compared to normal roots. There are other differences too:
Aerial roots are adventitious
This means that not only do aerial roots look weird, but they grow in a weird place. The word ‘adventitious’ sounds like it means they’re either adventurous or give an advantage.
In fact, adventitious just refers to a plant structure that grows in a weird place.
We all know that plant roots grow underground. But aerial roots grow off the main stem of the plant above the ground. So they’re classified as adventitious.
Aerial roots are primarily for climbing
Underground roots…aren’t. There are actually several different kinds of roots that I’ll cover at the end.
Aerial roots can absorb moisture (and any nutrients in that moisture), but that’s a secondary function.
Theoretically, a Monstera could live by its aerial roots alone (if it had enough and humidity was high enough), but they tend to stay attached to their ground roots. Still, it’s good to have a plan B if your roots get severed
If you provide your Monstera with enough humidity, it’ll use its aerial roots to attach any sturdy pillar it can find and start to climb up. Whilst aerial roots can become subterranean (i.e. if you plant them, they’ll root) subterranean roots don’t rise out of the soil and become aerial roots.
We’re often told that Monstera like bright, indirect light, but they don’t know what’s best for them. Monstera deliciosa use their aerial roots to climb nearby trees so they can get as close to the sun as possible.
Interestingly, just the act of growing upwards can cause bigger leaves, even if it’s not growing towards the light.
Monstera display negative phototropism (i.e. they grow away from the light) because it helps them grow close to a tree that they can climb up from a young seedling. They grow slower when they’re young, but that’s offset by the rewards they reap from finding something to climb up early on.
Aerial roots contain more raphide crystal cells than subterranean roots.
Raphide crystal cells are responsible for various processes, one of which is creating oxalic acid in plant tissue.
Who cares? I hear you say, but ACTUALLY it’s pretty cool because the plant knows that aerial roots are more likely to get eaten than subterranean ones. Increased oxalic acid in the aerial roots means that animals taking a bite out of them will experience *slight* poisoning, so they won’t do it again.
AND if you plant the aerial roots so they begin to act like lateral roots, then the amount of raphide crystals decreases. PRETTY COOL, GUYS.
Aerial roots are rounder
They also don’t split and taper like underground roots because they don’t provide support for the plant.
They remain rounder and thicker because the large surface area allows them to better grip whatever they’re attached to (once the roots have attached, they can be extremely difficult to remove)
They also have a thick, barky outer layer, which cracks alarmingly when you try to direct the roots back into the substrate – don’t worry, that’s normal.
Aerial roots can become lateral roots
Lateral roots are roots designed to anchor plants into the ground. They typically grow horizontally out from the vertical roots.
If you plant aerial roots, they can develop a root system of their own, and provide even more stability and support.
Underground roots are necessary
It feels like I’m being mean, but it’s true. If you chop off your Monstera’s aerial roots, your Monstera won’t decline in health (unless you introduced a disease by using unsterilised scissors). If you chop off the underground roots, your Monstera will probably die.
Both types of roots will try to grow back, but if you keep chopping off aerial roots, no one cares. If you keep the underground roots short, your Monstera will definitely die.
Can I leave the aerial roots on my monstera?
Yes, absolutely. If they’re not doing any harm, leave them.
And by harm, I mean poking someone in the eye, or just generally getting in the way. Monstera’s aerial roots won’t do damage to your brickwork like ivy can, but they can damage the paint.
They also grow astonishingly quickly, and have a swell habit of attaching to things that you don’t want them to (like your walls or floor) but flatly refusing to attach to the moss pole you bought specially for it. More on that later!
Monstera don’t grow aerial roots for fun – they want to climb up a tree. That you don’t have a tree is not an issue to them. If you provide them with the right environment, they will crawl across your floor until they find something to climb.
If they’re in the way, you can bend the roots and poke them back into the soil. If the roots are brown and hard, they may snap when you bend them. That’s usually just the outer casing breaking, so the root inside won’t be harmed. Be careful though – it is possible to snap aerial roots.
Why should I cut the aerial roots off my monstera?
Only if they’re getting in the way or trying to climb up your dining table etc.
Or if you don’t like them.
Your plant wouldn’t go to the trouble of growing them if it didn’t want them, but remember that it isn’t aware that it isn’t living in a rainforest.
This is really just a personal preference, to be honest. The purpose of aerial roots on Monstera is to help it climb up towards the light in the rainforest – a bit of a non-issue in the average house, you’ll agree.
You probably won’t harm your plant if you cut off the aerial roots – the biggest threat to it is you accidentally stabbing it with your shears, or giving it a disease through non-sanitised equipment.
But yeah, chop away.
Make sure you sterilise your equipment (I just run my scissors under boiling water) and a bit of hydrogen peroxide rubbed on the wound won’t hurt.
If you’re planning on directing the cut root back into the soil let it callous over for a couple of days first, just to dry it out a bit and help stave off root rot.
(I don’t do this I just shove it in, but I probably should).
The cut root will probably try to grow back, like so:
If you have long, wild aerial roots and you want to use them prop up your Monstera, then feel free to cut them to correct size. Allow them to callous over for a day or two and plant them in the soil.
Make sure they’re still long enough that they stay in the soil when you plant them.
My preferred method of soil propagation is sticking an uncut node back into the soil and if you don’t stick enough of the stem in the soil it ends up falling out and flicking soil everywhere.
It’s one of those things that seems so minor as I’m writing this, but can make or break my day if I’m in a bit of a mood.
What do aerial roots look like?
Er, kind of like sticks poking out of your Monstera’s nodes. The nodes are where the aerial roots and leaf petioles emerge from.
Over time they go brown, but very young aerial roots are more, er, wormy (see picture above).
Here are the aerial roots on my Monstera deliciosa:
See, they look like sticks. Younger ones look greener, but I assume they harden off as they get older. If you look directly above the aerial root that crosses over the top of the other one, you can see a new aerial root starting to emerge.
The above picture is a medium-aged aerial root on my Monstera. It’s got a layer of brown barky stuff, but it’s still plainly green underneath.
My Thai Constellation is growing aerial roots as a Thing. It’s its thing. I don’t know if it’s because I’m growing it in the aquarium, or just because it wants to, but it grows them to a couple of centimetres, they brown off, and it starts on another.
You can see that the original root looks like it’s been snapped off, and the root has started growing again slightly further back – like when you cut a plant back so it starts growing from a different node.
I THINK what probably happened was that the aerial root snapped, and the new growth came out a bit wonky.
Can I grow a new Monstera from aerial roots?
You need a node from the stem of the plant.
The reason it’s advisable to include an aerial root on a cutting is that you’re guaranteed to have a node, but if you have a node on your cutting that doesn’t have an aerial root you very well may still have a viable cutting.
Also, aerial roots can turn into subterranean roots. Here’s a Philodendron brasil I’ve been propagating. The little dried out aerial roots have begun to grow into water roots:
By the way, you can root a leaf-cutting without a node, but it won't produce any more leaves unless there's a node. You'll just have a leaf with roots.
Should I put my Monstera’s aerial roots in water?
I have a dedicated article for all the info on putting Monstera aerial roots in water, btw, but here’s the short version
I’m going to assume we’ve all seen the TikTok that went viral because the girl GUARANTEED that putting an aerial root in water will make it shoot out a new leaf.
I’m not saying that this person is lying, just that it isn’t a hack. Correlation/causation and all that, plus a bit of biology.
Whilst I don’t do it myself, I think it’s a great way for people with e.g. ADHD to deal with forgetting to water plants.
There are two reasons that that particular hack worked. One is extremely obvious, and one is not:
1…It was literally June
Of course, her Monstera grew a leaf, it’s the growing season. She’d done enough research about Monsteras to have come across this hack, so we can safely assume she was providing it with a level of care.
We don’t know what level of care, just that she sometimes watered it. In June, that’s all Monstera need to grow. If it wasn’t growing I’d be looking for pests and adjusting the lighting.
2. Turgor pressure
Plants that are droopy have low turgor pressure. Upright plants have higher turgor pressure.
If you put an aerial root in water, turgor pressure will increase. The aerial root is absorbing water and causing the plant to plump up like air inflating a tyre.
So how does that makes a plant grow faster?
It doesn’t always BUT it does mean that the plant is getting a consistent source of water. In June. When it might dry out more often.
The aerial root in water hack is just a lazy way of watering your Monstera consistently.
Which I am all for.
If it works then what’s the issue?
A couple of things:
- You’re bound by the little vases of aerial roots forever
If you remove the water, the turgor pressure will reduce and you’ll have to be more on it with your watering to get the same level of growth.
- Monstera roots are…not small
Meaning that you’ll have to either trim the roots or use bigger and bigger vessels to keep the secondary root systems in. Monstera roots grow quickly (though admittedly, they do grow slower in vases than they do under soil) and the bigger you let them grow, the more the plant will suffer if you decide the roots are getting too big.
- You’re increasing the chance of root rot
You’ll need to keep the water in the vases well aerated, otherwise bacteria will thrive and you might end up with root rot.
It’s just one more thing, you know?
- If you want to put the roots back in with the mother plant, you have to transfer them to soil
Okay, so you’ve tried the whole roots-in-water thing, but you’re sick of it now. You decide to plant the secondary root system back into the same pot as the main plant.
Transferring water roots to soil is my pet hate.
Keeping the soil moist without rotting the roots is tough. It’s even harder when you risk overwatering an established plant as well.
My tip here is to mist the top of the soil so it remains damp but not wet OR wait until the secondary root system is very well established (i.e. it has a decent-sized root ball, not just a couple of straggly roots) and hoping it’s strong enough to ride out the transition period relatively unscathed.
Should I point my Monstera’s aerial roots into the soil?
Yes. This is my answer and I stand by it.
Aerial roots are strong, and Monstera are heavy and liable to fall over. When you point the aerial roots back into the soil the ends begin to behave like subterranean roots. They grow bifurcated and tapered and provide a solid foundation for the Monstera.
If you have a big enough pot and high enough humidity that aerial roots will grow well, you can grow a MASSIVE Monstera without needing a moss pole.
I can’t show you any pictures of my Monstera roots growing in the soil, because they’re so embedded in the soil that they’ll snap if I remove them. I do have pictures of my Monstera Thai Constellation aerial roots that grow in water as subterranean roots though:
You can see that the aerial root on the right (pink circle) had previously browned off, but when I directed it into the water, it greened up again, and will probably split over time. Will I kick myself when I can’t get it out of the vase? Probably.
On the left, you can *kinda* see where the root has started to split and other roots are growing out of it. I checked – it’s definitely an aerial root – but it has variegation towards the end (the bit that’s not submerged is just a regular brown aerial root – you can see it on the right-hand picture). Pretty cool!
FYI the reason for all the greenery in the vase is so that I don’t have to change the water – the plants aerate the water and help keep algae down.
Will aerial roots grow back?
Aerial roots often stop growing, callous a bit at the end and just…do nothing. They don’t seem to wither and fall off like leaves, so I assume the plant is still sending out energy to aerial roots even though they look dead.
It doesn’t help that aerial roots naturally develop a brown, barky texture after a while, so they look quite dead even when they’re not.
Sometimes they just start growing again. I have no idea what the decision-making process is for this, they just do.
From my experience with my Thai constellation aerial root growing wonky after snapping, if I had an aerial root that I wanted to grow, I’d cut off a bit more to kind of remind the plant that the aerial root is still there, and hope that activates some growth.
You can also put the aerial root in water, or basically air layer it – cover the end in damp moss and wrap it in plastic wrap. Keep it moist (spraying with a spray bottle is the easiest way to do this) and over time it’ll start to wake up.
How to help your aerial roots grow
Assuming you’re already giving it enough light and water, there are two other factors to consider if you want to encourage your plant to produce aerial roots:
- Something to climb
If you can only provide high humidity but not something to climb, you’ll probably get good results. Something to climb but low humidity is less than ideal, but if you have an established plant and great care then you could still grow great aerial roots.
Ideally, though, you need both high humidity and to provide something for your plant to climb.
Humidity is life-changing for aerial roots because it can keep them more supple and green. The green aerial roots grow quickly, looking for something to climb.
The higher the humidity, the more er, furry, the aerial roots grow. The furrier they are, the quicker they’ll attach. They’ll also be less discerning about what they attach to.
If there’s low humidity, the aerial roots quickly brown off UNLESS you can get it something to climb. But then it might not want to attach and climb (because nothing’s ever easy).
If you want a Monstera that grows aerial roots that attach, give your Monstera a plank of wood to climb up. Treat the bottom so it doesn’t rot, and increase the humidity.
How do plants with aerial roots support themselves?
In the wild, they’ll grow next to a tree, and they won’t support themselves – the tree will*.
As I mentioned before, Monstera seedlings grow towards the bases of trees, even though it’s darker there. As soon as their first aerial root attaches to the tree, all the support comes from the tree itself.
Sometimes an aerial root will root in the ground, but most of the aerial roots attach to the tree and the plant's weight is taken by the tree.
Our homes tend to be a bit thin on the ground with regards to trees, which is why I recommend rooting aerial roots back in with the main plant to provide support. They’re surprisingly solid and look pretty cool. They also don’t require any extra care.
I don’t recommend using a moss pole if you want your Monstera to attach to it using its aerial roots.
Those coir moss poles aren’t a good environment for aerial roots, because they’re not solid and they’re extremely dry. By all means, use them if you’re happy to use plant ties, but trying to keep a moss pole damp is a struggle. And self-watering ones inevitably end up rotting.
A plank of wood, or even a wall is a better option. I've used sphagnum poles, but again, you have to keep them damp and I don't have the time to be watering a moss pole three times a week.
*Monstera aren’t parasitic, so the tree won’t be damaged by the aerial roots. If anything, a large bushy vine surrounding a tree is beneficial to the tree because it provides a layer of protection from the elements and any animals that are in need of a snack.
Aerial roots on Pothos
A lot of aroids do this thing where they grow a load of aerial roots at once, like little, nubs, and they look pretty creepy. It can look like white scale on the stems (or, in the really creepy cases, like little teeth). I currently don’t have a picture of a really grim one, but my satin pothos is displaying a pretty typical set of aerial roots on a fairly new node.
In my experience, unless you give the plant something to cling to, pothos/Scindapsus aerial roots won’t grow any longer than that.
Aerial roots on Philodendron
Philodendron roots are a bit different to other aerial roots – in fact, it’s an easy way to tell the difference between pothos and philodendron.
The aerial roots start out the same way. Here are some young aerial roots on my Philodendron golden dragon:
Just little brown/green nubs. So far, so Pothos.
Philodendrons ascertain very quickly whether or not they’re going to be using those aerial roots to climb. If they’re not going to be, they shrivel up to little crisps.
This is totally for a lot of Philodendron species, so don’t worry if yours looks like that.
In fact, aerial roots that have decided to grow are SO CREEPY on heartleaf Philodendrons. I’ll ease you in with my Phildeodnron Brasil:
Thanks, I hate it.
IT GETS WORSE
They go all furry and gross. Those little fibres are amazing at gripping, which is why they have them, but they’re suuuper creepy.
Why does my succulent have aerial roots?
My Jade plant got spider mites last year and, er, he’s having a bit of a rough time of it, which is why he looks a bit dead in the photos. Don’t worry – he has a summer of tlc to look forward to.
Anyway, onto the aerial roots.
Succulents don’t have aerial roots for the traditional reason – they’re not about that climbing-trees-in-the-rainforest life. If your succulent is growing aerial roots, it probably isn’t very happy.
The one in the picture actually had aerial roots before the spider mites incident, but I felt that I really had to address the leaflessness.
Succulents grow aerial roots for three main reasons:
- It’s not getting enough water
- It’s getting too much humidity
- It’s not getting enough light.
Most of the time, the succulent/aerial root issue can be solved by moving your succulent to a brighter spot or getting some grow lights.
Succulents need a LOT of light. They don’t need much of anything else, but they do need light.
In my case, lack of light wasn’t the issue, because this particular jade plant lives in a south-facing window.
Yes, dear reader, I underwatered a succulent. I also underwatered ponytail palm, as evidenced in my house plant tour video. I 100% that thing had rotted, so I watered it as a last-ditch attempt to save it (the trunk was soft) and when I was filming I realised it had firmed up. FFS.
So the underwatering is an issue, but I have high humidity in my home, which also reeeeally doesn’t help. It also means that I’m not sure whether giving it more water will help or hinder.
Other types of roots
Non-botany nerds, you may go now. I just find this stuff kind of interesting.
Food storage roots – you know, carrots, potatoes etc. All roots.
Water storage roots – not to be confused with water-storing rhizomes, which are underground stems, found on plants like ZZ plants. A tree called a Starburst has water storage roots.
Propagative roots – plants that send out runners to make new plants – spider plants, strawberry plants and this one week in my garden I can’t get rid of.
Pneumatophores – an aerial root specialised for the exchange of gases. Fair enough. Mangroves use then to obtain oxygen from the air, since their roots are submerged in the swamp.
Contractile roots – plants like hyacinths use contractile roots to pull the new bulb down to the right level for it to grow, since the new bulb is produced above the old one in the soil.
Buttress roots – large, wide roots put out by trees in tropical forests with nutrient-poor soil. The roots can both stabilise the tree and grab nutrients from the surface.
Parasitic roots – parasitic plants have modified roots which penetrate the host plant and suck up nutrients from it. Who knew plants could be this mean? Parasitic plants are different from epiphytes because epiphytes don’t harm the host plant, they just use it as a place to live.
If you’re interested in all this root stuff, this article is useful.
There is NO reason to pay more than $40 for a Monstera. NO REASON. Unless it’s a behemoth I suppose.
If you live in the UK, a LOT of garden centres have them – they’re super common, but you can also check out Etsy.
Aaaaand if you just want to know how to keep your monstera alive then have a look here.