If you have a Monstera plant, you have doubtless seen that the plant grows aerial roots in every direction, sprouting off from its main stem and trailing through the air. If so, you are probably curious about these, and that’s why we are going to look at Monstera aerial roots, what they are and how to deal with them.
A Monstera’s aerial roots are grown because the plant is a climber. The purpose of these roots is to help the plant grow upward toward the light, and they will cling to any nearby structure in an effort to achieve this. The plants do not have the strength to support themselves properly, so these roots are an important part of their ability to climb.
What Are Aerial Roots?
Your Monstera plant has two kinds of roots:
- Aerial roots – which are visible and branch off the main stem of the plant, usually stretching upward.
- Subterranean roots – which anchor the plant into the soil. These will not be visible unless you dig the plant up.
Both roots play enormously important roles for a Monstera plant. The subterranean roots support the Monstera, anchoring it into the ground and ensuring that it does not simply tip over.
They also draw up water and nutrients from the soil and pass these into the main plant. This keeps the plant alive and healthy, without them, it would quickly die.
Aerial roots are roots that branch off from the main stems of the plant, and their purpose is to offer the plant support as it climbs. Monstera plants cannot support themselves as they grow tall, because their stems are thin and flexible.
However, Monstera plants have evolved to grow near the canopy of the rainforest, and they, therefore, must gain height if they are to survive. Rather than growing a thicker or tougher stem and using it to support themselves, they have developed aerial roots.
One of these roots will attach to any nearby structure and use the strength of the root to pull the plant up. Instead of the plant needing to support its own weight, it simply has to hold on to another plant or a wall or something similar.
This takes far less energy, allowing the plant to shoot up very fast, with its thin stems needing very little time to grow. The plant can then spread its enormous leaves just below the canopy and capture all the light that it needs.
This is the plant’s way of avoiding a problem that many other rainforest plants face. Trees have to spend many years getting big and strong. Most never grow past the sapling stage, and some will never germinate. Until there is a space for them, very few trees successfully grow in a rainforest.
Other rainforest plants simply stay on the forest floor, gathering what light they can. However, the Monstera gets the best of both worlds through its clever climbing strategy.
Without having to invest enormous amounts of energy and time, it reaches the top simply by piggybacking on other plants in a low-energy method that carries it upward. Without its aerial roots, it would be completely unable to do this.
Do All Plants Have Aerial Roots?
You might be wondering why other plants don’t use this strategy. Relatively speaking, few plants have aerial roots, although almost all have subterranean roots.
A large percentage of the plants that have developed aerial roots are rainforest plants because large sections of rainforest are in dense shade. However, some plants have developed aerial roots in other places and for other purposes. Below, you will see a short list of some plants that have aerial roots. You will notice that they are quite a diverse lot!
- Some figs
- Rubber trees
- Some succulents
Not all of these plants use aerial roots to climb up trees, as they can serve a variety of other purposes, including the gathering of food and water for the plant in some situations. In some cases, these roots are used to strangle other plants – as seen in the strangler fig.
Do Aerial Roots Provide Water And Nutrients?
In Monstera plants, this is not the primary purpose of aerial roots, and if you cut off all the subterranean roots, your Monstera probably would not survive on what it gets from its aerial roots.
However, it is thought that aerial roots can gather some nutrients and water from the air. This may help to spread these necessities around the plant, and it helps the plant to gather more of what it needs in the wild.
Many rainforests have a lot of water in the air, and sometimes this water will gather trace minerals as it runs down tree trunks, so it makes sense for plants to use their aerial roots in this way. Still, their primary purpose is to support the plant and help it climb toward the canopy.
What Causes Aerial Roots To Form?
The plant has evolved to use aerial roots as part of its growth strategy, so they should just form as part of its genetic coding as soon as the plant is tall enough to need extra support.
Monsteras only start to form aerial roots when they are beginning to mature. Very young plants will rarely have aerial roots, as they do not need them before they grow to a certain height. Until they start to bend under their own weight, they will not need aerial roots.
What Do Aerial Roots Look Like?
The look of these roots can vary, but they usually start as little white nubs that form on the bare stems of the plant as it climbs. The nubs will lengthen, and may turn brown or green, or remain white. They will grow stronger and usually darker as they age.
Some aerial roots develop a bark-like substance covering them, but not all do. This adds a little more strength and rigidity.
Aerial roots can get very long, and some people have seen them reach over three feet. This is somewhat unusual, but not unheard of, especially for a large Monstera plant.
Do I Need To Encourage Aerial Roots?
Aerial roots are a good sign that your plant is growing well, but you do not need to do anything to encourage them. If your Monstera plant has only a few aerial roots, you may wish to check that it has enough nutrients and light, but as long as it is growing well and it seems healthy, you don’t need to worry.
There is nothing you can do to encourage aerial roots anyway. They are just something that the plant will grow as it gets larger and taller, so you do not need to do anything to try and prompt growth.
Can I Cut Off Aerial Roots?
Some people dislike the way that aerial roots look. They are long, straggly, and stick up at many different angles, and they can look quite messy, spoiling the aesthetic of the Monstera. You might want to remove them.
Taking away the aerial roots will not harm your plant as long as it is not depending upon them for support. However, whenever you cut your Monstera in any way, you damage it and expose it to the risk of infection, because you have made an open wound on it.
This is very unlikely to cause problems in most cases, but it is important to consider it and try to keep trimming to a minimum wherever possible, especially if your Monstera is weak or sickly anyway.
It is best to prune roots after the growing season ends, when the plant is slowing down for the winter. This happens when the cold months are approaching. Try not to cut off aerial roots in the spring and summer if avoidable.
How Do I Remove Aerial Roots?
Removing aerial roots is quite simple:
- Clean your pruning shears with boiling water to remove any bacteria that might be lingering on the blades;
- Take a firm hold of the root that you wish to remove and cut it close to the stem. Make it a clean cut to avoid complications.
Do not cut it too close to the main stem to prevent damage.
You can compost the separated piece of root, and cut any other roots you may want. But if the roots are not bothering you, it is a good idea to leave them in place to avoid any risk of damaging your plant.
Be aware that if you do remove the aerial roots, the plant will soon grow more to replace them, so this will be an ongoing process. Indeed, pruning the roots off can encourage more root growth as your plant attempts to replace them.
Additionally, it will expend some of your plant’s energy each time, although this is quite minimal, especially for a large Monstera. It is still worth considering, particularly if you want your plant to grow quickly and put energy into its foliage.
What Happens If My Monstera Does Not Grow These Roots?
You might be wondering what happens if your Monstera plant does not grow aerial roots, but this is unlikely if you have a mature plant. Your Monstera may not grow many of these roots, but it is almost guaranteed to have some.
If your Monstera does not seem to be producing aerial roots but it is well supported, don’t worry. If it is falling over and flopping, think about using some canes or moss sticks to proper the plant up. Gently tie the stems onto the supports to keep them upright. Hopefully, your plants will develop some aerial roots at some stage.
Do I Need To Give Aerial Roots Something To Grip Onto?
Since the aerial roots of a Monstera are designed to help the plant stay upright, you might be wondering whether they need some sort of support to cling to. The answer is yes, your Monstera might benefit from some support.
This is not necessary in some cases, but a large Monstera usually needs support from something. You can put in moss sticks or canes, and gently tie the stems of your plant to them. The aerial roots should then take over, reaching out and gripping on.
Nevertheless, there is no need to give every aerial root something to cling onto. Don’t feel that each root must have support. They will keep growing and stretching until they find something suitable, and that’s fine. If you try and support each root, your plant’s pot will end up filled with canes!
Do Aerial Roots Need Water?
We all know that we should not let subterranean roots dry out, but what about aerial roots? Does an aerial root need water?
You can mist your Monstera and the roots will likely absorb some of this water, but overall, there is no need to do this. Your plant should get enough water from its roots beneath the soil to cope, and misting is an optional extra.
It is fine for aerial roots to dry out and remain dry because they are not designed to hold or gather water. The plant will not suffer if its aerial roots get dry.
Can Aerial Roots Become Subterranean Roots?
You may be wondering whether the aerial roots can be turned into subterranean roots if you bury them in soil. After all, plants are very adaptable – so can their different kinds of roots morph into other kinds if you put them in the soil?
Yes, surprisingly, they can. This may not always work, and there is a small risk of rotting if you let the aerial root stay wet for too long, but you can often get aerial roots to sprout subterranean roots from them.
However, the only advantage to doing this is usually when you are aiming to propagate the plant – which we will talk about shortly. If you are not doing so, there is no reason to bury aerial roots in the soil and turn them into subterranean roots, and this will often be hard to do anyway.
Can I Propagate My Monstera Using Aerial Roots?
You may be able to propagate your Monstera using an aerial root, but this is unlikely to work if you only have the root, and no stem or leaves. Usually, a Monstera cutting will need leaves to survive.
You should cut directly under a leaf node, preferably with some aerial root attached low down on the cutting if possible. This will make it easier to get the aerial root into the soil or water for propagation.
You can root Monstera cuttings in water or soil. Once you have a good, healthy cutting from the plant, you can put it into a glass full of clean, distilled water. Change this water frequently so that it does not become stagnant, and wait for four to six weeks for the roots to start forming.
The aerial root should also start growing roots when submerged in water. Keep it beneath the surface, and wait for little root hairs to sprout from it. These will usually be very small, thin, and white to begin with, and they will lengthen and thicken with time.
You can also root cuttings in soil, and indeed you may be able to use this as a slight cheat to get a Monstera plant. Take an aerial root that is still attached to the main plant, guide it down into some soil, and then pin it so that it is held beneath the soil. Lightly mist it every few days.
If you are lucky, the aerial root will start to form new subterranean roots, and these will spread and grow. Hopefully, a stem will then form and the Monstera will start to put out new baby leaves, all while it is still attached to the adult plant.
When it gets a little stronger, you can simply use sterile shears to cut the connection with the main plant and pot your new Monstera into a container. It should now be able to survive independently.
If you would rather remove the aerial root from the plant, cut off a bit of stem with some large, healthy leaves and at least one aerial root, and plant the end of the stem and the aerial roots into the soil.
Keep the soil somewhat damp, misting occasionally, until you see new growth. You have a baby Monstera plant!
Monstera plants grow a lot of aerial roots when they are happy and healthy, so don’t be dismayed if you see them. They may not be the prettiest part of your plant, so if you would rather remove them, do so. However, many people prefer to leave the aerial roots alone and just enjoy their plant as it is!