Monstera plants are one of the most popular and expensive house plants across the world. They’re known for their large leaves that instantly bring a sense of the tropical jungles to most cramped apartments. Monstera plants are also hard to care for since they are large climbing vines with specific environmental requirements.
The aerial roots on a Monstera plant are used by the plant to anchor itself as it grows and “breathes” air. These roots are necessary for plants growing in the wild, but indoors, they can be left alone or pruned as desired since they don’t serve any particular function but don’t harm either.
In this article, I’ll explain what aerial roots are and why your Monstera plant grows them. Then I’ll go into detail about the care of aerial roots on a Monstera plant, so read on for everything you need to know about the aerial roots on your Monstera.
All About Aerial Roots
Aerial roots are a type of root that grows from the plant’s main stem above the ground. Different types of plants grow aerial roots, not just climbing plants like the Monstera.
Other plants grow aerial roots, such as:
- Mangrove trees
- Pohutukawa trees of New Zealand
- Banyan fig trees
- Vines like the ivy
- Philodendron varieties
Because of the diversity among plants that grow aerial roots and their habitats, there are several different kinds of aerial roots, and each of these types performs specific functions.
Parasitic plants may use their aerial roots to suck moisture and sugars from the host plant. In contrast, the Banyan fig uses its aerial roots as props, eventually forming a secondary trunk. When it comes to vines like the Monstera, the aerial roots are used for the dual purposes of support and “breathing” air.
Among these, the primary purpose is to allow the plant to grow up so that the vine can get to the upper canopy to reach the bright sunlight it needs for growth. For this reason, the Monstera’s aerial roots are known as epiphytic roots.
This function is the same as the aerial roots on orchid plants.
Tropical jungles that are the natural habitat of the Monstera plants are hot, humid, and rainy. Heavy rains can take a while to evaporate from the soil, saturating the roots, causing the plant to suffocate.
Aerial roots mitigate the waterlogging of the underground roots by absorbing air from the environment for the plant’s use. Even if you overwater your Monstera, there’s a chance that it might still survive due to the aerial roots.
Why the Monstera Grows So Many Aerial Roots
The growth of aerial roots decides how high the Monstera plant can reach in the forest canopy, and therefore, how much light it can get. The roots anchor the vine as it grows, so the growth is natural even in houseplants.
But excessive growth may be an indication that the plant needs more sunlight.
Even if the plant is in a space where it doesn’t have to compete for sunlight with trees canopies, the Monstera plant will still grow some aerial roots as supports to grow. These roots anchor themselves to the moss pole or other poles added as supports in the pots.
While the Monstera plant’s aerial roots grow thick and woody in its natural habitat, they’re significantly smaller when grown in pots. They’re typically an indication of the plant’s good health.
However, sometimes, excessive growth can indicate that the plant needs more sunlight. Since the roots are grown to allow the plant to access more sunlight, too many aerial roots may result from the plant trying to reach for more sun.
Alternately, you might be overwatering your Monstera, causing the underground roots to get waterlogged, which leads to the plant trying to get more air through aerial roots. This can also be caused by a lack of sunlight since sunlight usually helps dry the soil by encouraging the evaporation of excess water.
If you think that the extra growth may indicate the plant’s need for sunlight, follow these steps:
- Move the plant to a brighter area or get a grow lamp and allow the plant to settle for a few weeks.
- You can prune away the extra aerial roots and neaten up the way the plant looks.
Can You Grow Monstera From Aerial Roots?
While aerial roots might happen on accident, and grow from the nodes of a plant, not all aerial roots are propagative.
Monstera plants can’t be grown from aerial roots. They can be grown from plant cuttings with nodes. Selecting plant nodes with aerial roots is a good idea as these indicate a higher chance of the cutting taking root. But the aerial roots should not be used as a substitute for regular roots.
Strawberry runners and spider plants have propagative aerial roots, which means that buried roots will grow a new plant. But unlike these plants, the aerial roots of the Monstera are not capable of absorbing any nutrients.
While the Monstera plant’s aerial roots may absorb moisture, they are primarily used to absorb air and support the plant’s upwards growth.
They cannot be used to propagate the plant.
The best way to propagate Monstera plants is through cuttings. While some varieties like the Monstera deliciosa can be grown from seed, the process is time-consuming and difficult. Apart from the wild, only experienced gardeners can grow Monstera from seed, and it’s simpler and quicker to propagate the Monstera through leaf cuttings that include a node.
Common Problems With Aerial Roots and Solutions
Much like the rest of the plant, the aerial roots of the Monstera plant are sensitive to environmental changes. Here are a few common problems that you might encounter with the aerial roots on your Monstera plant.
Monstera plants are typically susceptible to root rot. This is because the plant likes to be root bound, and when this combines with overwatering or inadequate sunlight, the roots start to drown.
The drowning roots then develop rot and start decaying, and this rot spreads rapidly through the entire plant, including the aerial root.
Can Aerial Roots Get Root Rot?
Aerial roots can get root rot. Root rot pathogens are soil-borne, but these pathogens can spread, especially to parts like aerial roots, which have open pores to allow easier air absorption. Root rot can spread even faster if aerial roots are close to the soil, like young Monstera plants.
Aerial roots may also develop root rot if they come into contact with water. For instance, if you try to propagate your Monstera plant by taking a cutting with a node growing an aerial root and putting the aerial root underwater, the aerial root will drown quickly.
In such a situation, decay and pathogens in the air cause the root rot and prevent the cutting from thriving.
Aerial roots placed underwater decay because they have the highly absorbent and sensitive qualities of roots but are not designed for absorbing water or nutrients. They are fragile and easily saturated and start to rot if they are not exposed to the air.
Solving Root Rot
The simplest way to get rid of root rot is to remove the afflicted roots with a clean, sharp pruning blade. It is essential to ensure that the blade is sanitized so that no pathogens are introduced into the cut area.
Aerial roots can be pruned easily without any damage to the plant, but if the aerial roots are affected, you must check the roots underground and remove the afflicted ones. The soil should be changed entirely, and the Monstera plant should be placed in a space with warm, bright sunlight as it recovers and grows new roots.
To prevent root rot, Monstera plants should be placed in well-draining soil, and about 1”-2” (2.5 to 5 cm) of the top of the potting mix should be allowed to dry between waterings. To ensure that the plant has the humidity to survive, you can mist the leaves and the moss pole support.
Unruly and Unsightly Growth
Sometimes aerial roots on a Monstera can grow wildly and out of control and look ugly.
On their own, aerial roots don’t harm Monstera plants. The growth of aerial roots is an indication that the plant is healthy and growing well, and they don’t need to be removed.
They help support the plant climb taller on the moss pole or other support placed in the pot.
The aerial roots may grow wildly when the plant reaches adulthood, especially when it starts developing larger leaves with the characteristic splits or fenestrations. These increase the plant’s need for sunlight, as the amount of energy required to grow increases exponentially once the plant reaches adulthood.
Monstera plants also grow at an accelerated rate when compared to other plants.
If the aerial roots seem to be growing out of control, it might be because the plant is growing too rapidly and is too big for its pot. These factors might result in the aerial roots growing wildly and poking out in an unsightly manner.
Resolving Unsightly and Unruly Aerial Roots
Unsightly and unruly aerial roots can be cut away from the Monstera plant if you prefer to keep your plant looking trimmed and neat.
Thankfully, pruning away the aerial roots will not harm the plant, so this can be done easily. While you could trim away all the aerial roots, they will grow back. Pruning aerial roots need to be done as regularly as any other kind of pruning.
Alternatively, you could trim away only the parts of the roots pushing away and out of the moss pole support and neaten the roots up so they sit close to the support. This will encourage the plant to grow taller and prevent unnecessary over-pruning.
Pruning also leads to small open wounds on the plant that serve as entryways for pathogens, which is best avoided or controlled on plants as sensitive to environmental changes as the Monstera plants are.
This is especially important when it comes to Monstera plants, where the overgrowth of aerial roots is caused due to the plant growing too quickly.
Caring for Aerial Roots on a Monstera
The aerial roots on a Monstera plant can be left alone for the most part. They’re a natural growth that anchors the growing plant to its support and should be left to grow. But they can be pruned away without damaging the plant if you don’t like how they look.
If you do decide to keep them, there is no particular care that the aerial roots need that is different from what you would do with the rest of the plant. Nevertheless, here is some information about the health and care of aerial roots on a Monstera plant to help your plant grow well and stay healthy.
What Color Should Monstera Aerial Roots Be?
Monstera aerial roots start as white, cream, or green nodes that develop a brown woody color similar to the color of the stem as they grow longer. If the roots turn black and mushy, it is a sign of rot.
Healthy aerial roots on a Monstera plant match the natural growth coloration of the plant, starting as a green nub on the stem. The nub will turn into the whitish color of the underground roots and eventually grow a hard woody outer layer that is similar to the brown of the main stem.
Should You Bury Aerial Roots?
Aerial roots are different from underground roots, and in fact, they’re a different kind of root entirely. In plants where aerial roots do absorb nutrients, the nutrients are absorbed directly from the air.
Aerial roots should not be buried because they are a type of root meant to exist above ground. In epiphytes like the Monstera plant, the aerial roots are hook-shaped to anchor onto supports and help the plant grow and should be left alone to perform that function.
Burying aerial roots will only kill the roots by suffocating them under the soil.
More importantly. The fragile aerial roots might absorb pathogens from the soil, which will affect the aerial roots and the entire plant.
Aerial roots on a Monstera plant also perform the important function of breathing air, especially if the underground roots are waterlogged. If they end up underground, the plant will become starved of air and become more susceptible to rot and disease.
Repotting Monstera With Aerial Roots
Repotting a Monstera plant with aerial roots usually requires extra hands since aerial roots typically grow in larger adult plants.
The process of repotting a Monstera plant isn’t any more or less complicated than repotting any other house plant. The size requires some care, but an extra set of hands will take care of that.
If your aerial roots are attached to a moss pole, have a drop cloth around to rest the pole, and the plant on.
Typically Monstera plants need to be repotted very infrequently. These plants like to be root bound, so you don’t need to repot them until the roots start poking out of the drainage holes in the pot.
Additionally, when you repot the plant, take care to choose a pot only slightly larger than the previous one. Too much space and the Monstera plant can become susceptible to root rot due to lingering moisture in the soil.
For a large Monstera plant with aerial roots, gently tip the plant over with an extra person to support the plant. Shake the root ball out a little to dislodge it from the soil and set it aside. This is a great time to check for signs of disease and rot and prune away any roots if necessary.
A well-draining potting mix will ensure that the plant grows well without risking waterlogging.
Replace the moss pole with the larger one if you’d like for your Monstera plant to climb up higher. To do this, you’ll have to either dislodge or prune away the aerial roots attached to the old moss pole and tie the plant to the new moss pole while it regrows new aerial roots.
How Do You Prune Monstera Aerial Roots?
Monstera aerial roots must be pruned close to the stem with a sharp sanitized blade. The cut should be small to prevent openings for pathogens. Pruning should be done judiciously since the aerial roots don’t harm the plant and are useful for anchoring the Monstera plant and helping it climb.
Aerial roots on a Monstera plant are perfectly natural growths. In the wild, these roots help the plant climb higher into the forest’s upper canopy to let the Monstera plant access much-needed bright sunlight.
Aerial roots also help the Monstera plant breathe, particularly if the underground roots are waterlogged. The roots can be pruned away without causing harm to Monstera plants kept in homes if necessary, but it is better to keep them contained with a moss pole rather than being removed entirely.
- Biology LibreTexts: 10.4: Root Modifications
- BioOne: Biotropica: Do Growth and Survival of Aerial Roots Limit the Vertical Distribution of Hemiepiphytic Aroids?
- Elite Tree Care: Tree Disease Library: Root Rot
- Canola Encyclopedia: Root rot
- Internet Archive: UCLA Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden: General Botany: Types of Roots
- Biology Online: Adventitious root