What are Fenestrations on House Plants?

What are Fenestrations on House Plants?

6 minute read

Nothing serves exotic botanical vibes quite like split-leaf foliage house plants. This unusual growth is called fenestration or perforation. It is this unique trait that makes plants, particularly Monstera Deliciosa, so highly coveted amongst houseplant enthusiasts worldwide. Fenestrations can be found in many other plants as well, such as Monstera Adansonii, Rhaphidophora Tetrasperma, and even Golden Pothos! Today we’d like to discuss this leaf progression as well as provide some helpful tips to help encourage fenestrations!


a mature pothos with fenestrations
Yes, that is a Golden Pothos with split leaves!


Before we dive into leaf progression and fenestration development, let’s talk a bit about why certain plants produce split and or fenestrated foliage. There are a number of ideas and theories as to why this leaf growth occurs.

  1. Wind: One theory suggests that large, trailing or climbing plants such as monsteras and pothos, have evolved to develop splits and fenestrations to evade being knocked off their hosts by high winds. The fenestrations allow for strong winds to pass through their foliage causing little to no damage.

  2. Water: This theory suggests that certain high climbing plants have evolved to develop splits and fenestrations to allow rainwater to pass through down towards roots and aerial roots. The higher these plants climb, the larger their leaves grow which can shield their roots from receiving water needed for survival.

  3. Sunlight: Similar to the water theory, as plants climb higher and leaves grow larger, they can block sunlight from being received to the lower parts of the plants. This theory suggests that certain plants have evolved to grow splits and fenestrations to allow the necessary sunlight to pass through to the rest of the plant below.


Fenestrated leaf progression


a photo of a young Monstera with no splits or fenestrations

No Fenestrations:
Using Monstera Deliciosa as an example, a seedling or young, immature plant will start out with no splits or fenestrations.

a photo of a Monstera with split leaves

As the plant grows, it will start to produce leaves with splits around the edges. It may start with one or two and then increase the several splits on one leaf as the plant matures,


a photo of a Monstera with primary fenestrations

Primary Fenestrations:
This is the stage most houseplant enthusiasts strive for. Primary fenestrations are the first set of perforations that appear next to the splits towards the midrib of the leaf. It can take a couple of years for a young plant to reach this stage.


a photo of a Monstera with secondary fenestrations

Secondary Fenestrations:
If the conditions remain stable and your plant continues to live a happy life, it will start to produce secondary fenestrations, which is the second set of holes formed along the midrib of the leaf.


a photo of a Monstera with tertiary fenestrations

Tertiary Fenestrations:
And finally, when the plant has reached maximum maturity and size, it can form a third set of fenestrations along the midrib. Leaf goals, for sure!


a photo of  Monstera Adansonii styling in a white ceramic pot

How to promote fenestrations on your house plants

One thing you cannot control is age. Simply put, age and maturity will play a very large role in fenestration progression. Depending on the age that your plant is from when you first brought it home, it may take several years before you start to see secondary and tertiary fenestrations.

With that being said, age and maturity alone will not produce fenestrations. Proper care in an optimal growing environment plays an important role here as well. As always, you want to mimic your house plants' natural growing environment to help encourage their natural growing habits. Below are some tips to help encourage strong growth and fenestrated leaf progression:

  1. Sunlight: Provide your climbing tropical plant with plenty of bright light. Indirect and dappled sunlight is optimal, short periods of direct sunlight are fine, too.

  2. Water: Determine a watering schedule. Generally, you want to water your plant whenever the top third to half of the soil is dry. Inconsistent or overwatering is not only harmful to the health of the plant but will greatly affect new leaf growth. If a new leaf unfurls yellow or brown, then it is a good tell-tale sign that the plant is being overwatered.

  3. Humidity: Provide your tropical house plants with moderate humidity (50-60% relative humidity). This will help keep your plants happy and keep them from drying or crisping up around their leaf edges.

  4. Fertilizer: Give your plant fertilizer in the growing months of spring and summer. Repotting every other year will help to replenish the nutrients in your plants' soil as well so you won’t have to fertilize frequently.

  5. Stake or Trellis: One thing all these plants that grow fenestrations have in common is that they are climbing tropical plants. In the wild, they are considered invasive, growing up trees, buildings, or other man-made structures. The higher they climb, the bigger their leaves grow. Help mimic this growing habit by staking your plant with a moss pole or provide a trellis to give them something to climb.

a photo of an etiolated Monstera

Signs that your plant is not getting the care requires for fenestrated growth

If you’ve had your plant for a few years and are noticing that the new growth is not progressing much, it is a sign that your plant is not receiving the required care to promote optimal growth.

Long leggy growth: If your plant is growing long stems but the new leaves remain small in size, it is a sign that your plant is not receiving enough sunlight. This is called etiolation.

Unusual new leaf growth: If a new leaf unfurls deformed or discoloured (yellow or brown) it is a sign there is a moisture issue. Only water when the top third or half of the soil is dry. Develop and stick to a watering routine.

Dried leaves: If your leaves are turning brown and drying up, it may be a sign that the plant is either underwatered or is lacking the required humidity. Try not to ever let the soil go completely dry and keep the relative humidity in your space at 50-60%. Keep your house plants away from heaters and air condition vents.

Stunted growth: If your plant seems to have suddenly stopped growing or is growing slower than usual, it may be a sign that the plant is lacking nutrients. When was the last time you re-pot your plant with fresh, nutrient-rich soil? It may be time for you to replenish your plants' nutrients by changing the soil or adding a little bit of fertilizer.


a photo of a Rhaphidophora Tetrasperma styled in a cement pot


There is nothing quite as satisfying as watching a young plant mature and develop splits and fenestrations. However, if you are an impatient person, you can always buy an already mature specimen. Regardless of the stage of growth in which your plant is in, there is nothing more exciting than watching a new leaf slowly unfurling to display a leaf formation completely unique to itself. We hope you enjoy growing fenestrated house plants! Happy growing! 

a photo os an unfurling Monstera Deliciosa leaf

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