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Aerial roots weren’t something I used to devote a lot of time thinking about, but I’ve become increasingly intrigued by them over the past couple of years.
TL;DR: chop off aerial roots if you want – it won’t harm your plant. But there’s also no problem with leaving them where they are.
There are also rumours that if you want your plant to develop mature leaves, it’ll need it’s aerial roots. They’re as yet unconfirmed by my experience, but I have plans. Big plans.
Or find the quick guide on my Plant Index linked above. They’re alphabetical. Took me bloody ages to rearrange them, because I’m an idiot that made them in whatever order I wanted.
What are the aerial roots on monstera deliciosa for?
Aerial roots, also sometimes referred to as prop roots, are grown with the intention of supporting the plant.
I suppose ‘intention’ isn’t really the right word because plants don’t really have intentions, but that’s why they have them. It takes a lot of energy for plants to support themselves, so why bother?
Instead, they grow aerial roots that attach to other trees and then use those trees to support themselves and climb towards the forest canopy.
How are aerial roots different to underground roots?
They’re for climbing, and maybe absorbing a bit of moisture. Underground roots…aren’t. There are actually several different kinds of roots that I’ll cover at the end.
Underground roots, broadly speaking, take up moisture and nutrition from the soil to help your plant grow and photosynthesise efficiently.
The aerial roots on monstera deliciosa don’t help much in this area, although some specific types of aerial roots (found on plants that live in marshes) take in oxygen.
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!
If you see aerial roots on spider plants LEAVE THEM. They’re most likely propagative roots and will produce babies.
The argument against aerial roots is that they take energy away from the plant that could go into making leaves HOWEVER some plants won’t grow their leaves past a certain size unless they have a decent aerial root system.
I’m not sure whether it’s because the plant thinks it doesn’t have enough light or enough support, but either way, cutting your plant’s aerial roots isn’t necessarily the best way to grow really big, mature plants.
(Cutting blooms off is a good way to conserve your plant’s energy, but again, it’s up to you. I leave oxalis blooms on because they look so pretty, but I do lose about half of the leaves).
Why should I cut the aerial roots off my monstera?
You shouldn’t, you big meanie. Jokes, jokes, jokes.
Unless, like I mentioned above, they’re getting in the way, or trying to climb up your dining table etc.
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 of root rot.
What do aerial roots look like?
Er, kind of like sticks. 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. This monstera has had a hard life.
My Thai constellation has grown one aerial root plus a little nub, but my Peru, currently growing a very long vine for reasons best know to himself, has some:
My Thai Constellation is now 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.
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.
Can I grow a new plant from aerial roots?
Well, probably not. There is talk online of some plants that can be propagated from their aerial roots but the chances of success are slim to none, so if that’s the reason you’re cutting off your plant’s aerial roots, you’re wasting your time.
To grow a new plant you will need a node.
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.
The thing is, plants are amazing things. There’s always one outlier that perhaps did produce a pup from a detached aerial root, but it’s NOT the norm. Once you’ve removed an aerial root from its mother, it’s highly unlikely to do anything other than wither and dry out or rot.
I don’t want to claim that Monstera are hard to root (they’re really not), but I REALLY don’t want you to spend upwards of $100 on a variegated Monstera leaf that’s unlikely to root (unless you have the money to spare, in which case, go ahead. I’m not your mum).
I think that 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 (for whatever reason) you very well may still have a viable cutting.
If you snip off a length of aerial root and submerge it in water, it’ll probably just rot. But that bit that your aerial root was attached to? That’ll probably root.
I’m currently propagating a Rhapidaphora tetrasperma and a P. golden dragon, and both have grown roots from what I assumed were aerial roots on the stem (although they were just stubs or bumps). So maybe roots are a bit like stem cells, and can turn into whatever kind of root is required?
Still, if an aerial root is brown and woody, it will probably just rot if you try to root it in soil or water.
Should I put my Monstera’s aerial roots in water?
I’m going to update this section because a ‘hack’ recently went viral about putting Monstera aerial roots in water.
Rumour has it that if you do it, the plant will start shooting out new leaves with abandon.
I’m not saying that this person is lying, just that it isn’t a hack. Correlation/causation and all that.
I personally don’t put Monstera aerial roots in water since it’s likely that they’ll just rot.
If you put your Monstera’s aerial roots in water, they might grow, but they’re not particularly likely to produce a pup. You never know though – it might be a fun experiment to try, as long as you’re not betting on a positive outcome.
Having said that some people have had success growing Monstera really quickly above fish tanks, with the aerial roots trailing in the water. It does look pretty cool, and I bet the fish like the cover.
Is it the fish poop, the superior humidity or the lighting? There’s probably no way to tell. Feel free to give it a go though.
I’m pretty sure the aeration of the water is the main factor. I’ve had my Thai growing in water for a few months now, and I’m convinced it’s the additional oxygen in the water that stimulates growth. It makes sense since the biggest threat to your aerial root is rot.
You could always try putting an air stone in your water vessel if you fancy trying submerging your aerial root.
I’m currently growing a couple of my Monstera in the aquarium (roots submerged, leaves above the water) and they grow SO QUICKLY. There’s a whole post here about growing plants in water.
Should I point my Monstera’s aerial roots into the soil?
Again, for every person that claimed they grew a whole new plant from sticking an aerial root in the soil are ten others that said they just rotted.
Aerial roots are designed to be in the air, but if you have a young one (i.e. one that hasn’t gone woody and brown yet) you can convince it to become an underground root.
Sometimes an aerial root will make its way into the pot. I’d just leave it where it is, since they can provide a bit of stability for the plant.
It’s actually a good way to keep your Monstera upright if you don’t have a pole for it to climb.
I did this with my Thai’s new aerial root, and when I washed all the soil of it (the Thai is one of the Monstera that’s gone off to live in the aquarium, which is VERY exciting), the aerial root had basically turned into a ‘proper’ root.
By which I mean that it had grown into the soil and had a few little rooty offshoots.
Will aerial roots grow back?
In my experience, er, no.
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.
So if you accidentally snap your aerial root, chances are it’s not going to start growing again.
However, your plant will most likely divert that energy to another aerial root on the same node, or even start growing from a younger node.
Don’t worry about accidentally snapping off aerial roots – bad stuff happens to plants in the wild all the time, and they’re well-equipped to deal with it.
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.
How to help your aerial roots grow
Aerial roots grow largely by themselves. You don’t need to encourage your plant to produce them – you just need to encourage it to grow full stop. Aerial roots just….happen.
The skill comes with nurturing them and
tricking encouraging them to attach to something.
Like I said, aerial roots are there so a plant can attach itself to something (usually another tree) and grow up towards the sun.
Monstera are DESPERATE to climb, which is why their aerial roots remain pliable for such a long time after they grow them.
We love Monstera, and we want them to grow the big leaves with the holes – the mature form of the leaves.
It’s easy with Monstera. We give it a heck of a lot of light and something to climb, and up it goes. Because its aerial roots are so long, it’ll find something to climb and isn’t that fussy what that is.
Most other climbing plants will only climb up something they can attach their aerial roots to, and they won’t even bother growing their aerial roots.
So to get your plant to grow aerial roots, you need to make it worth its while, which means giving it something to climb.
How do plants with aerial roots support themselves?
In the wild, they’d look for a handy tree, but they will attach to anything that they can.
Plants WANT to grow aerial roots. They want to be sturdy so they don’t blow over in the wind, and they want to grow up towards the light. More light = bigger leaves = more energy (also less competition as they block the light from the plants below).
If you’re a very diligent waterer, go for a moss pole.
Moss poles aren’t quite the same as the more readily available coir poles.
Neither are ideal if you want your aerial roots to actually attach to the pole. Coir and moss aren’t materials that your plant will view as good attaching materials. They’re great for substrate, but not support.
Instead of using traditional moss or coir poles, go and watch this video from Plant Life in the Tropics.
She advises growing plants up planks of wood because wood is a surface aerial roots can attach to. If you want your plant to attach to a moss pole, you’ll have to keep it moist CONSTANTLY.
I’ve tried this. Other than soaking the whole pole in water (which is hard to do when it’s a) stuck in a pot of soil and b) has a plant attached to it), they’re quite difficult to moisten sufficiently, without also moistening all your other furniture.
Just misting it doesn’t seem to moisten it enough. I’ve seen hacks using water bottles and elastic bands, but that seems like an accident waiting to happen.
Even if you manage to keep the moss pole moist enough for the aerial roots to attach, it may very well lose its grip at the first hint of dryness.
I have my plank of wood ready though. This summer I’m going to train my Philodendron micans up a plank of wood. Like Caitlin advises in the video, I’m going to stick the vine to the plank with sellotape (we love a cheap solution) and wait for it to latch one.
The reason I’m trying my micans first is that its mature leaves are really cool and they grow really quickly.
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 that $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.