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How the Monstera Leaf Took Over Design

The plant is easy to find and hard to kill, and makes any moment Instagrammable.

Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.

Rachel Berger, a 29-year-old Philadelphia native and bride-to-be, recently told her wedding florist that for the event’s table arrangements, she’d like leaves of the Monstera deliciosa: a plant with big, waxy, hole-riddled leaves that’s also known as the Swiss cheese plant.

Initially, her florist balked at the request. Why would an East Coast wedding feature a leaf that hails from Central American rainforests and is typically associated with a tropical vibe? But Berger had seen the leaf on social media and was a fan, and so she asked him to research ways to incorporate it into arrangements.

By their next meeting, the florist’s attitude toward the leaf had changed. He’d learned that the Monstera wasn’t just a now-popular leaf for floral arrangements: It was everywhere.

The current Monstera leaf craze might have started off niche, but it’s now been watered, pruned, and fed lots and lots of Miracle-Gro: The Monstera has become ubiquitous across fashion, retail, and branding.

Photo: The Jungalow

Small startup brands like Outdoor Voices and Reformation display the leaf in glass vases in their stores; same with huge companies like Aritzia and COS. This season, Madewell framed a few above clothing racks, and Victoria’s Secret used Monstera sticker decals on store windows this spring to promote its Bombshell Summer perfume.

The leaf is also a constant in product advertising: The smart luggage company Away puts the plant behind its suitcases in promotional photos, as does Silicon Valley sneaker favorite Allbirds. You can find it in the wallpaper of Manhattan’s Leo’s Oyster Bar and on clothes at Old Navy, Forever 21, Lulus, Boohoo, and Alice + Olivia. The leaf has gotten so popular on social media that it even has its own Instagram hashtag and day of the week: #MonsteraMonday.

“The Monstera is everywhere you turn, and everyone wants one in their space,” says Charlotte Parker, the social manager of Apartment Therapy’s Instagram, who estimates that Monstera leaves are featured in more than 25 percent of interior design content she sees on Instagram. Recently, the interior design site launched an Instagram account just for plant content, IPlantEven, and its logo features, of course, the Monstera leaf.

So why is this leaf everywhere?

The Monstera didn’t become a staple of design vocabulary overnight. In fact, home decor bloggers have been singing its praises for years. Maria Failla, a self-professed “crazy plant lady” with an indoor plants podcast called Bloom and Grow Radio, notes that the Monstera was a popular household item in the ’70s, complete with lava lamps and shaggy brown rugs. The NBC show Golden Girls even featured a giant Monstera plant in the set’s living room. But Failla has noticed something different about the recent Monstera craze.

Photo: Allbirds

“They’ve really jumped out of the background,” she says. “Monsteras used to be ornamental, but now they are the star. They’ve moved from the back of the bouquet to being the only thing in the bouquet.”

Like most modern trends — luxury pool floats, scammy teatoxes, color-coded bookshelves — the Monstera has social media to thank for its current A-list status.

Justina Blakeney, the designer and author behind the interior design lifestyle blog the Jungalow, doesn’t exactly claim the current Monstera trend as her own, but she recalls a blog post from February 2015 about the Monstera leaf that went viral. When Blakeney wrote the post, she had 1 million followers on Pinterest. (She now has 6.6 million.) Within a few days of publishing, photos from the post spread all across Pinterest, Instagram, and were “reposted by a gajillion blogs.”

Ever since, she says, the Monstera leaf has “slowly taken over.” Now on Instagram, the Monstera is generally potted in handmade ceramics or woven baskets and placed next to velvet sofas and rustic woven rugs. On Pinterest, the leaves are commonly spotted as placemats and on wallpaper.

Eventually, the brand takeover began. The Monstera first crept into the home goods space, to the point where it’s now practically a requisite prop for decor companies, interior design bloggers, and your friend who thinks she’s an interior design blogger. Single Monstera leaves are now prominently featured in the catalogs of Pottery Barn and Serena & Lily. The Citizenry places the leaf on a bedside table to promote its best-selling lumbar pillow.

From there, the Monstera became the leaf for brands everywhere. IRL, you’ll frequently see bundles of Monsteras (Monsteri?) inside shops both small (Aesop) and large (Century 21), and in boutiques like TicTail Market on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and Need Supply in Richmond, Virginia.

Online, Away and Allbirds aren’t the only ones using the leaf in Insta shots in their marketing. The cool-girl shoe brand Marais uses it, as does the California candle purveyor P.F. Candle Co., the vitamin brand Care/of, and the luxury yoga apparel brand K.Deer. Even the website-building service Squarespace, certainly not a lifestyle brand, recently placed the leaf next to a laptop and brass accessories in ads all over Facebook. Urban Outfitters, never one to sit out on a trend, is selling fake ones.

Photo: The Sill

It helps that the leaf lends itself to a minimalist brand aesthetic. Eliza Blank, the founder of the online and IRL plant shop The Sill, points out that stores like COS, Reformation, and Away — all of which use the leaf in stores — have an extremely similar retail aesthetic: white walls, bright lighting, neat and carefully curated product (what New York magazine recently called retail’s “Minimalist Art Gallery”). And while the Monstera leaf is associated with bohemian Jungalow branding, it can also steer a minimalist aesthetic away from feeling cold and sterile.

“The Monstera is a safe, modern add for a store like Away or Reformation,” Blank says. “A bouquet of flowers probably couldn’t work inside there because it might feel feminine or romantic, and isn’t the muted minimalist look they want. But the Monstera is cool and chic. It has a unique graphic and architectural element to it, with that whimsical wabi-sabi type of Japanese imperfection, where its design is tied to nature and the earth. I think this really resonates in fashion.”

A post shared by Away (@away) on

The Monstera these days isn’t just for fashion brands, though. Shoppers can now easily incorporate the leaf into their lives: Head on over to Etsy, where an entire Monstera ecosystem has popped up. A search for the leaf yields more than 713,000 results — Monstera jewelry, artwork, dishes, cookie cutters, pins, phone covers, coasters, and tattoos. Etsy in-house trend expert Dayna Isom Johnson tells Racked that while the marketplace began seeing volume for the Monstera in 2015, itsaw a 170 percent increase in search in 2018.

If a kitschy Monstera rolling pin isn’t your thing, you might just as easily be able to find a Monstera these days at your local flower store, even if you don’t live in the tropics. It’s become the purchase of choice at many of the New York City’s bodegas, which once only carried simple arrangements containing carnations, lilies, and roses but now sell Monstera leaves. Sales have also spiked at places like Caribbean Cuts in New York City’s flower district. Blank says her company’s potted Monstera plant constantly sells out — she “literally cannot keep it in stock,” and the plant currently has a waitlist of about 100 people. (If you are in the market, though, be careful, as potted Monsteras can be toxic to pets; that’s why so many people tend to opt for its cuttings instead.)

The Monstera’s celeb status is, of course, in part thanks to the trend of millennials loving houseplants, since they can’t afford real estate or children. Succulents, once strictly a desert plant, are now a household staple for many 20- and 30-somethings; so is the ubiquitous fiddle-leaf fig tree, which the New York Times dubbed the “It plant of the design world.” But where the fiddle-leaf fig tree is expensive and temperamental, the Monstera, especially one that’s bought cut at your local bodega and placed in a vase, is a welcome alternative.

“You have to build a relationship with the fiddle leaf, but I think people like the Monstera because of the ratio of beautiful to easiness,” says Blakeney.

Photo: The Sill

The leaf also just so happens to be the perfect plant for our time — that is, the age of Instagram, says Parker of Apartment Therapy. She says the Monstera is a sly prop for those who want the look of an apartment that’s teeming with green, without having to do the work.

“Today, everyone wants a space that’s overgrown and lush, and the leaf tricks people into thinking your place is plant-packed because it looks wild and full,” says Parker. “For the people that don’t want to take care of plants or spend money on expensive planters, they can just use the beautiful cut leaf and it’s the perfect illusion.”

Plant evangelists fully understand why people are so crazy about the Monstera.

“These leaves remind you of how badass Mother Nature is,” Blank, of The Sill, says.

A post shared by P.F. Candle Co. (@pfcandleco) on

Blakeney believes people are drawn to the leaf for its graphic shape, adding that many associate the shape with the iconic cutouts of Henri Matisse. Bloom, the plant podcaster, believes the Monsera has sex appeal: “It’s a quintessential jungle plant, and is just a very attractive thing. The minute you look at the leaf, you are transported and feel the humidity on your skin.” The leaf makes you feel some type of way.

The risk with any trend like this is that everything, from our stores to our homes to our Instagram feeds, could start to look exactly the same. But then again, that’s already happened. So will the Monstera have eternal celebrity status as an “it” plant? It’s quite possible, considering fiddle-leaf fig trees are still alive and kicking (that is, if you haven’t killed yours yet), as are succulents.

Then again, all trends — and leaves — must die. The Monstera can certainly get dethroned, especially if sustainability continues to catch on.

“I’ve been seeing a lot of people mourning the cut leaves on my Instagram comments, because it does take years for them to grow big,” Blakeney laughs. “I think it’s a bit extra. I’m a total hippie granola, and I don’t think there’s a point in complaining about cutting leaves. But I’ve definitely gotten flak from my followers who are plant geeks, so I could see it eventually having backlash.”

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