The monster fruit (Monstera deliciosa) is a plant part of the Araceae family, which also includes the arum flower. It is native to the Central American jungles, from Southern Mexico to Panama. Humans have introduced it in many other tropical areas of the world. Monster fruit is considered an invasive species in Seychelles, Hawaii as well as Ascension Island and the Society Islands.
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Monster fruit is an epiphyte, or a plant that grows on top of another one, without being a parasite. It feeds through a system of aerial roots that don't go into the ground. The monster fruit can reach an impressive height of 20 meters, with distinctive large leaves. These have the shape of a heart, with a shiny and leathery appearance, and can have a length of up to 90 cm, with a maximum width of 75 cm, with lobes and holes. When the plant is young, its leaves stay entire and are smaller in size.
In the wild, young monster fruit plants grow away from the light into the darkest areas. When they reach the trunk of a tree, they start growing up on it, eventually reaching the light.
The monster fruit is rather large in size and can reach up to 25 cm in length, with a diameter of 3 or 4 cm. It looks like an oversized green cone, or like a maize with green scales on its surface. These scales are similar to the one found on the fruits of related plants from the Arum family. They are built from networks of calcium oxalate, forming structures known as Raphides or Trichosclereids. When the scales start to lift up, the fruit emanates a strong smell. This is actually a sign that the monster fruit is ready to be cut in order to become ripe faster.
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The scales are not edible and have to be removed, although they will fall off anyway as the fruit becomes fully ripe. The flesh looks very similar to the one of pineapple and can be eaten after removing it from the core in the middle. The taste is also very similar to a pineapple or a jackfruit.
Unripe monster fruits are not edible and will actually cause a throat irritation if ingested, because of their potassium oxalate content. For the same reason, the sap of the plant also irritates the skin, causing rashes. The same toxic compound is also found in the scales that cover the fruit.
Fruits, roots, leaves.
The monster fruit can only be eaten when fully ripe, since the younger ones are toxic. Similar to guavas or passion fruits, the taste can be variable. Depending on the ripeness of the fruit, flavours might not be the same. Monster fruit is very rich in vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that is known to boost the activity of the immune system.
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Several parts of the monster fruit have been used for medicinal purposes around the world. Inhabitants of the Caribbean island of Martinique prepare a cure for venomous snakebites from the roots of the monster fruit. The roots of monster fruit (or sometimes the leaves) are used in Mexico to make an infused beverage used to treat arthritis. In Brazil, wounds are cauterized with a paste made from the mashed leaves of monster fruit. Finally the Chinese believe that various parts of the plant are an effective cure for a number of diseases, like bruises, cough, fever or some types of infection.
Like many other healthy fruits, Monstera deliciosa provides a high dose of potassium and vitamin C, while being low in calories. For this reason, a smoothie prepared from monster fruits is quite popular among sportsmen who want to have more stamina and raise their energy levels. This smoothie is best consumed before periods of intensive effort like running, swimming, climbing or biking. It also provides a useful mix of nutrients to cancer patients who recover after a period of radiotherapy.
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The plant doesn't have many industrial uses but locals in Peru and Mexico gather the roots in order to manufacture baskets or ropes. It is also a popular ornamental garden plant in Colombia, because of its attractive large leaves and flowers.
The ripe monster fruit is absolutely delicious and its inner pulp tastes like an exotic mix between a banana and a pineapple. It can be eaten raw, sometimes with added cream. Pieces of the raw fruit can serve as ingredients in any type of salad, ice cream or fruit mix. An easy way to separate the pulp is by slicing cross-sections of the fruit. The hard core of monster fruit can then be easily removed with the thumb. It is also possible to make a preserve from the monster fruit. The usual way to do this is to boil the pulp for 10 minutes, then add some sugar or honey, as well as lime juice. The mixture must be boiled again for about 20 minutes, until it's ready for transfer in clean jars.
The monster fruit can only grow in tropical areas and the slightest frost kills the plant. It needs a lot of water and grows best in locations with moderate shade, resembling its wild habitat.
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Even if it can only be found as an epiphyte in nature, the monster fruit can be planted in soil and almost every type is suitable, except for the saline ones. It tolerates limestone but loam with good drainage is the best choice. It has a very strong growth.
In Europe, seeds imported from tropical areas are used to grow the plant. However, a much better propagation option is the usage of cuts from the stem. These are very easy to grow and only have to be placed in pots on the desired location. Monstera deliciosa often produces offshoots, these are separated with ease from their parent and used to start new plants. For best results, watering and mulching is advised until the roots are fully developed.
While in its growth phase, regular addition of fertilizer can greatly help the plant. The best fertilizers are those designed for other tropical plants, although soluble ones are also effective when put on top of the soil. However, once the plant is well-established, no more fertilizer is needed and maintenance work becomes minimal. Adding some extra organic layer will help the plant stay healthy.
Since it is a tropical plant, monster fruit requires plenty of water, but only during the summer season. In the jungle, the winter tends to be dry, so the plant should be given less water in order to mimic the natural environment.
Monster fruit contains:
As mentioned, all parts of the plant except the fully ripe fruit are toxic and irritate the mouth and skin. This includes the unripe fruit, the scales and any flower remains on it. This is caused by oxalic acid, its compounds like potassium oxalate and possibly other chemicals not yet identified. Even the ripe fruit can cause irritation to certain people, so it's a good idea not to eat a large quantity until you are certain it doesn't cause any problem. In other cases, urticaria, anaphylaxis and allergic reactions have been reported. Like all fruits, it can also cause minor digestive issues like diarrhea and flatulence.
Unlike other fruits, it's difficult to judge when the fruit is ripe by the color of the rind. The rind is always green but its color can become less intense as the fruit grows. It is ready for harvest when the scales on it start to become separated and should be cut at least 2.5 from the stem. It is still toxic and not yet ready for eating but it can be packed and sent to its desired destination. Unless refrigerated, it will progressively ripe towards the top over 5 or 6 days on average. Since unripe parts are inedible, this pattern makes it difficult to consume the entire fruit at the same time. A way around this problem is to wrap the entire monster fruit in plastic, paper or aluminium and store it for several days at room temperature, in order to achieve a uniform ripeness. Do not eat the flesh unless the scales fall off the fruit by themselves, the core must be discarded as well. The flesh can be stored in the fridge for about one week.