Leaves full of holes help the Swiss cheese plant capture intermittent light


Plants that live in the understory of tropical rainforests have to compensate for lower light levels in order to carry out . Some plants compensate by climbing up tree trunks as vines, some use special s to increase efficiency, and mature plants in the genus Monstera (also called the Swiss cheese plant) have multiple holes in their leaves.

The Strategy

At first glance, this strategy doesn’t make sense—how can a leaf full of holes help a plant capture more sunlight? However, if we think about the conditions in which the plant grows—in low light beneath the forest canopy, often dependent on moving vegetation overhead to capture sunflecks—it makes a lot of sense. One scientist has hypothesized that holes allow Monstera’s leaves to grow larger and spread out over a greater area to capture diffuse sunlight without having to put energy into growing extra leaf area.

Lush green tropical foliage with Monstera Deliciosa and ferns
Image: Casther / Shutterstock / Copyright © - All rights reserved

Monstera species grow in the understory of tropical forests where they are often in deep shade. Their large leaves enable them to take advantage of sunflecks that make it through the canopy overhead.

Last Updated September 15, 2022