Don’t let the name fool you. The only thing common to this plant and Swiss cheese is the holes. Growing leaves full of holes is one way this plant has adapted to survive in the tropics.
Scientists have several ideas about why these holey leaves may be an advantage to the plant. Animals are less likely to eat a plant that looks like another animal’s leftovers, so the holes may reduce herbivory. It helps that the plant also contains chemicals that keep herbivores away! The holes in the Swiss cheese plant’s leaves also allow light to pass through to leaves lower down on stem, which may increase photosynthesis and thus energy production in the plant.
The plant begins life as a vine, growing from the forest floor up onto surrounding trees. The climbing stem develops two types of roots – those that keep it attached to its host and those growing down into the soil to absorb nutrients. Can you see these roots on our Swiss cheese plant?