Monstera deliciosa var. sierrana, Burle Marx Flame (dilacerata) and var Brazil History, visual differences & care

In Houseplants & Tropicals
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In this article we’re going to cover a group of really-neat looking Monsteras that have a complex history and confusing taxonomy; this includes “Monstera dilacerata” (the wrong name), “Monstera Sierrana” (also a wrong name) and another common Brazilian variant of M. deliciosa that gets bucketed in with var. sierrana. We’ll clear up the confusion, cover examples of each, and touch briefly on care at the very end. What makes this topic more challenging is that to the untrained eye, all three plants look pretty similar and that’s probably why the names have often been used interchangeably and photos shared on Instagram, Google and Facebook are frequently misclassified.

Credit is due: This article has been somewhat coauthored by Mick Mittermeier (@mickmitty on Instagram), Mario Blanco, Eduardo Goulart, Tom Piergrossi and Siddharth Nc whose taxonomic expertise exceed my own. Mario has offered a great deal of insight on the topic, as has Mick who has also been posting about these three plants for a while now. If you scour Facebook you can find fragments of the history through discussion threads, but that information hasn’t been consolidated or “Google-able”, which is why I’ve compiled it here in this post and filled in as many blanks as I could.

 

It’s Monstera ‘Burle Marx Flame’, not Monstera dilacerata

Many people have been calling this plant Monstera dilacerata. However, the “real” Monstera dilacerata was actually an Epipremnum pinnatum which had been given to a botanical garden and classified as a new species (even though that it had already been classified) [Aroideana]. You see, the name ‘Monstera dilacerata’ is actually a synonym for Epipremnum pinnatum, and that means “this other plant” (which that isn’t E. pinnatum) can’t be called Monstera dilacerata!

As of the publication of this article “not-dilacerata” is formally unclassified, and for the short-term its been given the informal cultivar name, Monstera ‘Burle Marx Flame’—named after Roberto Burle Marx, the renowned plant collector and landscape architect who owned the original specimen. Burle Marx didn’t keep spectacular notes on the origin of that plant (or others in his collection), so no one definitively knows where it was collected from.

It is possible that the name, M. ‘Burle Marx Flame’ may change in the future—in the event a wild specimen is found, formally classified and registered by whoever finds it.

Image of the plant from Burle Marx’s collection
– photo from Aroideana (1981) –
Monstera ‘Burle Marx Flame’ (which has been written incorrectly as M. dilacerata and Monstera sp. brazil)

Monstera sp. brazil or M. ‘Burle Marx Flame’

Some have been calling M. ‘Burle Marx Flame’, “Monstera sp. brazil” under the misconception that is native to Brazil. However, Monstera species from the section Tornelia (like deliciosa and the variants within) are known to be native only to Central America. They have been introduced to South America, are now invasive in areas like Brazil, and can now be found growing wild there. People have collected plants from these areas and assumed they are native, but they are not. So this “sp. brazil” shouldn’t be applied. You can dive into details about the section Tornelia of the Monstera genus, here in Aroideana Vol. 43.

 

Monstera Sierrana

This may be a bit pedantic, but the name “Monstera Sierrana”, isn’t technically accurate at the moment, because it implies a hybrid, cultivar or species (depending on how you capitalize or ‘quote’ Sierrana). The correct way of writing it is, “Monstera deliciosa var. sierrana”, as it is currently believed to be a variant of Monstera deliciosa. That’s a mouthful though and people have a tendency to incorrectly shorthand it to Monstera Sierrana. It’s important to note, there is a possibility this is actually a distinct species, in which case the variant would be broken out and given a species name (similar to what happened to Monstera tacanaensis); however, at this point that topic is still under review by taxonomists.

Monstera deliciosa var. sierrana was first found in 1961 [jstor.org] from the Sierra de Juárez mountain range in Oaxaca, Mexico. Mario Blanco told me that George Bunting had distributed least 7 individual sheets (pressings from the same plant called ‘duplicates’) to 5 herbaria in 3 countries, from the specimen he collected. Of those it’s unclear if any entered cultivation.

Images of the original Herbarium Specimens prepared by George Bunting
– Monstera deliciosa var. sierrana –

It’s worth noting that some entertain the possibility that M. deliciosa var. sierrana is a mature form of Monstera ‘Burle Marx Flame’ or that Monstera ‘Burle Marx Flame’ is a unique form of var. sierrana—what is known as a “sport”. Looking at key differences between the plants, like fenestration and leaf shape (including comparing juvenile forms of both), it seems they are distinctly different. Eduardo Goulart comments, “[M. Burle Marx Flame] has different shape, different texture, different growing pattern overall. I simply can’t wrap my mind around as to why people would confuse it with deliciosa sierrana or a deliciosa variation. It’s clearly not.” The bottom line for you though is that this is an ongoing point of discussion and discourse, and ultimately one that requires more data, like genetic analysis and insight into the natural origin of each specimen. Mario Blanco explained, while they look different, M. deliciosa is a highly variable species and the difference we see with these two, may not be distinct enough; therefore, we need to compare mature foliage and especially the inflorescences to be sure.

Hawaiian clone: It seems that many of the M. deliciosa var. sierrana plants distributed in North America came from Tom Piergrossi in Hawaii. Piergrossi’s plant was originally from Balboa Park in San Diego and is believed to have originated from Mexico, but verifiable information on the collection site also doesn’t exist. Piergrossi told me that when he acquired the plant it was small and labelled as “Monstera obliqua”, but in 2009 once he grew the plant out at his place in Hawaii, it was clearly not M. obliqua (another case of #itsneverobliqua); he also comments, “the plant is slow to grow…[but] patience is a virtue. They can take over a year to grow and [they] sell out fast”, so while he’s working hard to produce and make this plant available to others, it just takes time for them to grow.

Photo of Tom Piergrossi‘s M. deliciosa var. sierrana

 

Mario Blanco added more color to this topic and he believes it’s possible that the ‘Hawaiian clone’ in Balboa Park could have been introduced there from Horace Anderson of La Costa Nursery in Leucadia, CA (located a few miles North of San Diego). Anderson was reportedly the first person who recommended to San Diego County that the newly donated park be developed as a botanical garden. And more importantly, from 1945 until his death in 1980, Anderson travelled frequently to Mexico and imported tons of Monstera deliciosa seeds for selling, and introduced several distinctive forms to cultivation. You can read more about this in William Drysdale’s article about M. deliciosa in Aroideana 14: pages 5-6 (1991).”

If this ‘Hawaiian clone’ of Monstera deliciosa var. sierrana did not originate from the Sierra de Juárez mountain range in Mexico, then it may not actually be “var. sierrana.” That said, if the Hawaiian clone isn’t “var. sierrana”, the question remains…who has a “true” var. sierrana, collected from Sierra de Jaurez in Mexico? Because that original plant from Burle Marx’s collection was a Monstera ‘Burle Marx Flame’, right? Regardless, the Hawaiian clone does visually appear to be very similar to the collected herbarium specimens of Monstera deliciosa var. sierrana and its history may in fact lead back to Mexico.

 

How to tell them apart

What is the visual difference between Monstera ‘Burle Marx Flame’, deliciosa var. sierrana, and the common Brazil variant?

Now that we all understand there’s a cluster of three plants (possibly four if you believe that the Hawaiian/Balboa Park clone is not from Sierrana), and that they all look similar AND get confused with each other…how can we tell them apart?

A picture says a thousand words, so let’s show rather than tell.
The following photos show the three types:

Monstera ‘Burle Marx Flame’ (incorrectly, M. dilacerata)

Monstera ‘Burle Marx Flame’, is the easiest to identify of the three—the leaves distinctly look like a ribcage and lack any significant fenestration (though it can have some holes as the leaves mature). The leaves are also more robust and may feel thicker like cardboard, and the veins are wider when compared to the other two types.

Photos of Monstera ‘Burl Marx Flame’

 

Appearance of Monstera ‘Burle Marx Flame’

  • Has minimal lobes and sinus, with no “ears” at top of leaf
  • Gaps between leaf-cuts exceed the leaf tissue ratio giving it a very distinct thorax-or-rib-cage-like appearance
  • Has the smallest leave size compared to the other two forms
  • Thicker leaves “like cardboard”

 

Monstera deliciosa var. sierrana

Leaves of this plant are smaller than a classic Monstera deliciosa, have deeper cuts into the center of the leaf and some fenestration; however, the leaves are not as small or as slender as those of M. Burle Marx Flame.

Photos of Monstera deliciosa var. sierrana

Appearance of Monstera deliciosa var. sierrana

  • Has minimal lobes or no “ears” at top of leaf
  • Gaps between the leaf match green leaf tissue
  • Overall this plant has larger leaves than Burle Marx Flame, but smaller than the below-mentioned Brazil form

 

Monstera deliciosa var. brazil or “Brazilian Common Form”

The Brazil variety of deliciosa (not to be confused with “Monstera sp brazil”), has chunkier leaf sections compared to var. sierrana, but it is often sold as “var sierrana.” The primary way of telling the Brazilian common form apart from var. sierrana, is by looking at the sinus and lobes at the top of the leaf; this Common Brazil form of deliciosa, has a deep sinus and high lobes, whereas var sierrana has a shallower sinus and lower lobes. Basically, side by side, the leaves of var Brazil have “bigger ears”, and the rib-like section of the leaves are the most broad.

Photos of Monstera deliciosa var Brazil

Appearance of Monstera deliciosa var Brazil

  • Deep sinus and high lobes (has “ears” at top of leaf)
  • Leaf sections are more broad
  • Has the largest leaf of the three plants in question

 

Price “ish”

If you’re thinking you have one of these…you likely don’t, unless you paid a hefty price or made a very special trade with a very kind collector. At the moment (with Aroid prices sky high in 2021) the Sierrana variant will likely run you over $2,000, Burle Marx Flame has ranged from $3,000-12,000 (depending on the size), and the common Brazilian variant…well, I haven’t seen listed for sale in North America to gauge it’s price—in theory it should be less than var. sierrana because it’s more common in South America, but it really depends more on demand availability where you live.

Note: collector-plant prices tend to be quite volatile so I may remove this section on price at a later date. My goal isn’t to influence the value of the plants, but bring information about them to others.

 

Care & Culture

I have only recently gotten Monstera deliciosa var. sierrana ‘Hawaiian clone’ and so far it’s as easy as my other Monsteras. For care, I give it moderately-bright light (an east window with direct sun in the morning and LED light in the afternoon), wet/dry irrigation cycles (with a 4-7 day period of drying between watering), a nitrogen-rich and micro-nutrient focused fertilizer (bloodmeal & rockdust), a chunky but water-retentive potting media (30/30/30 bark, pumice, peat) and…that’s it. I follow the same care for this plant as I care for my other aroids. Others have reported similar perspectives for the ease of care of Monstera Burle Marx Flame and the common Brazillian form—the only notable difference between all of these plants and your standard Monstera deliciosa is that they grow more slowly.

 

Last word – my goal is to bring clarity to a confusing topic. If you have more accurate information on this topic, please feel free to contact me on Instagram and let me know where I’m going astray.