Updated: May 6
Most people would think you were crazy if you told them you spent $10k on a houseplant, but what if it's a rare exotic houseplant? Does that make it any more reasonable?
Collecting rare plants is a passion and a thrill that can't be rationalized or explained. Some have compared it to collecting the hottest new sneakers. Sellers have traded up from sneakerheads to hoyaheads because they say it's more lucrative. Now you have people selling plants that know nothing about growing them commercially.
At this year's International Aroid Society Show at Fairchild Tropical Garden located in Miami, which I attended, several one-leaf cuttings sold for $200 - $1,000 depending on the species. A Philodendron Caramel Marble was selling for $13,000! I’ve been in the industry for years and have attended tradeshows all over the country and in Europe. This is the highest I have seen prices in 10 years! Some industry insiders believe prices will continue to rise, while many plantfluencers are talking about prices falling.
Rare plant collecting shouldn't be like fast fashion or the latest trend, though. It's a hobby that connects you with nature, brings a biophilic design into your home, and has many other benefits (mindfulness and air purification.) We need to consider that some rare plants are endangered; make sure you aren't purchasing a plant on the endangered list and that your plant is responsibly sourced or grown.
Some rare plants like the Monstera Albo Variegata (pictured above from our collection), native to Colombia and parts of Mexico, bring an exotic and lush look and feel into your surroundings that can't be matched. The Philodendron Florida Beauty with variegated lobed leaves are captivating. Both of these plants are pretty exclusive and expensive right now. The Aglaonema Pictum Tri-Color or Camouflage Plant (pictured above from @greenhousegirl94 collections) is breathtaking and helps you acknowledge how unique and adaptive nature truly is. And, the Philodendron Spiritus Santi is the crown jewel for collectors because of its elongated lobes and distinct features. You can shop these varieties here.
Rare plant collecting, particularly Aroids, have become a big trend, though. For some new collectors (don't dare compare it to old vs. new money), it is all about Instagram and having the latest and rarest species that aren't in mass production or come from TC (tissue culture.) Once the plant is mass-produced, they move on to something else. This is what happened with the Raven® ZZ. Ravens were in high demand when they were scarce; now, they are available at ever big-box retailers and aren't as exclusive or in demand.
I developed the Trending Tropicals® brand to bring rare plants to mass retailers but didn't realize it would create such a frenzy in the plant community. The recent Thai Constellation market test caused complete chaos in the pacific northwest. According to a PDS Scientist and Microbiome, store workers were harassed by hundreds of people trying to get this limited edition variety.
I've done extensive research during new plant introductions, from in-home studies to in-store shop along, market surveys, test-and-learns, to determine price elasticity based on demand.
Many people ask why rare plant prices are so high yet so affordable at big-box retailers. Established growers have economies of scale and access to faster propagations methods such as tissue culture.
Retailers play the most significant role when it comes to pricing. They want to price match their competitors across the street and keep prices low. Retailers also have sales and consumer insights that inform the ceiling price for a houseplant. A collector may walk into an independent shop and pay upwards of $500 for a truly rare plant. Big box retailers know their average consumer will not pay that, and once plants are massed produced, they aren't rare any longer. Keep in mind the grower does not set the price (they make recommendations based on margins); the retailer does. Retailers have a lot of leverage! You will find if you purchase directly from a large grower, pricing is set higher than big box store prices.
Plants also became available via e-commerce over the last few years. This gave wholesalers direct access to consumers. They disrupted the supply chain and retail process and started selling direct. With greater access to plants, many novices, enthusiasts, and seasoned plant people started selling plants as well.
During the lockdown, people wanted to bring nature in and became obsessed with plants. They had an insatiable demand for houseplants. Growers couldn’t keep up.
Many of those increased prices resulted from “plant flippers” buying up the inventory and reselling. These prices weren’t reflective of the actual product cost, and now that supply has increased, flippers have less opportunity because consumers have greater access to plants.
Also, you may have purchased a rare plant, not in mass production and the small grower's pricing is very different when purchasing buying small quantities of a rare plant. Once that plant becomes readily available and mass-produced, material cost also decreases (while labor may not.) Contract growers or small sellers don’t have economies of scale or retail contracts, so not everyone is price gouging; they don’t have the same cost structure.
I interviewed Gretchen Mason, who runs @greenhousegirl94 on Instagram, and worked at a greenhouse for years. During the pandemic, Gretchen was working at Merrifield Garden Center, a family-owned and operated, full-service garden center and nursery.