If your beloved Monstera deliciosa houseplant suddenly starts sprouting dead-looking brown growths, it can be easy to worry. Is your plant in trouble? Nope, it’s probably just Monstera aerial roots!
Let’s go into what aerial roots are, their function, and if you should leave them on your plant or not.
What are Monstera aerial roots?
Like many other Aroids (plants from the family Araceae), Monstera deliciosa is naturally a climbing plant. It uses taller trees and other supports in order to make its way towards the higher and more well-lit areas of the forest.
Wild specimens of Monstera deliciosa, in their natural habitat of tropical forests in Central America, can have aerial roots that are over 30 meters (100 ft.). These can hang all the way down from the highest parts of the plant to the soil. But what are these woody, brownish or green, worm-like appendages that sprout from the stem actually for?
Monstera aerial roots tend to sprout from the plant’s nodes just like leaves or normal roots, although they don’t always. They can be up to a centimeter (0.4″ in thickness.) Aerial roots on Monstera have two basic functions:
- Providing nutrients and water. The aerial roots that hang down and make contact with the forest floor convert into normal roots underground. These are known as aerial-subterranean roots (Hinchee, 1981). They absorb water and nutrients and transport them all the way up to be distributed throughout the plant.
- Anchoring. Without some way to support the plant while it reaches for the skies, it would obviously just fall off the tree or rock it grows on. Aerial roots help clasp onto the surface to keep the Monstera in place in a non-parasitic manner.
Aerial roots are really not uncommon in plants and Monstera deliciosa isn’t the only houseplant that grows them. There are other aroids that do. Succulents might grow aerial roots as well, especially if they’re neglected or tilting too much to one side, but these are not meant for climbing. Another excellent example is the amazing Banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis).
Did you know? Aerial-subterranean roots can branch out after they’ve reached the soil, just like normal roots. It’s not as common, though, and mostly happens if their growth tip has been damaged.Hinchee, 1981.
Aerial roots vs. soil roots
As discussed above, there is some overlap between Monstera aerial roots and soil roots in terms of function. After all, some aerial roots do make contact with the soil and perform the same function as underground roots.
This being said, there is actually a significant difference between aerial roots and normal roots on a cellular level. Eskov et al. (2016) found that the growth of aerial roots is more similar to that of leaves, stems and fruits than that of soil roots in Monstera deliciosa.
Did you know? In the wild, a mature Monstera deliciosa can end up relying entirely on its aerial roots. It can lose its connection with the soil roots and the spot it sprouted from. This makes it a hemiepiphyte: a plant that spends part of its life cycle as an epiphyte (a plant that doesn’t grow in soil but on rocks or other plants in a non-parasitic manner).
What do aerial roots look like?
An aerial root on your Monstera deliciosa houseplant isn’t too difficult to recognize. It can start out green, but unlike normal roots, will eventually become covered in a brown, woody layer.
Monstera aerial roots can grow quite thick in the wild, but in the home, they tend to stay thin. They can grow pretty long and stick out in all directions as your plant looks for support.
If lots of aerial roots are appearing, it might be helpful to affix your Monstera deliciosa to a moss pole (also called a plant totem). This will give the roots a place to attach to. These are climbing plants, after all, and they’ll grow better this way. It also reduces the chances of branches breaking at a later stage!
Should I remove aerial roots from my Monstera?
Monstera aerial roots can be an alarming sight for new plant enthusiasts who don’t know what they are. Some also consider them an eyesore that clashes with the lush green color of the rest of their Monstera.
But should you remove aerial roots from your Monstera? Nah, there’s no real reason to do so. Even if the plant is against a wall, it won’t damage the structure of your home like something like ivy can. The only real reason to cut off air roots, therefore, is aesthetic. I always leave them on my plants. If I disliked aerial roots, I’d simply choose another plant species that’s not a hemiepiphyte! I find them charming.
That being said, you can totally remove them with a clean knife if you prefer. It won’t hurt your Monstera, as the aerial roots they tend to grow in the home appear to mainly have a support function.
Some do argue that if you cut off your Monstera’s aerial roots, it won’t grow past a certain leaf size. I haven’t found any scientific studies backing this up, though, but we all know that in the houseplant hobby a lot is based on observation by hobbyists.
Did you know? Some Monstera deliciosa enthusiasts tend to trail their plants’ aerial roots into the soil so they can act as aerial-subterranean roots. I haven’t tried this myself, so I can’t comment on whether this works. It sounds unlikely, though.
How to remove aerial roots
All you have to do to remove a Monstera aerial root is to just cut it off and toss it. There is one important thing to keep in mind, though. As with any cutting or clipping you do on any houseplant, your tools should be clean. With dirty tools, you run a small risk of introducing fungus or bacterial infections.
Give the knife or pruning shears you use a nice spray with some alcohol and you’re good to go. But remember: Monstera deliciosa is simply a type of plant that grows aerial roots. If you cut one off, it’ll just sprout another one in a different spot. This especially applies to mature plants.
Can you use aerial roots for propagation?
If you only have an aerial root, then no, unfortunately that’s not possible. For successful propagation, you’ll need a piece of Monstera stem that has at least one node. Ideally it should also have a leaf or two.
If there’s an aerial root growing out of the node on your Monstera cutting, that’s absolutely fine. The cutting can sprout roots from this spot and thereby provide you with a whole new Monster deliciosa houseplant.
Did you know? You can read all about the ins and outs of multiplying Monstera in the full Monstera propagation guide.
Monstera aerial roots in water
I’ve seen some sources recommend that you place a container of water in your Monster deliciosa’s planter and trail its aerial roots in there. This is supposedly because aerial roots can absorb moisture, which is true. However, placing them in water 24/7 probably won’t do much more than make them rot and possibly endanger your plant.
What you can do, however, is regularly spray your Monstera’s aerial roots. Again, there’s no scientific proof that this makes any big difference, but it definitely won’t do harm. And of course, make sure the air humidity is not too low, as these tropical plants like things moist.
If you have any more questions about Monstera aerial roots or if you want to share your own experiences with these amazing tropical houseplants, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below! 🌿
Eskov, A. K., Zhukovskaya, N. V., Bystrova, E. I., Orlova, Y. V., Antipina, V. A., & Ivanov, V. B. (2016). Growth of aerial roots with an extensive elongation zone by the example of a hemiepiphyte Monstera deliciosa. Russian journal of plant physiology, 63(6), 822-834.