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How Coronavirus Has Affected the Plant Economy

It’s no surprise that the coronavirus pandemic has impacted almost every aspect of our daily lives. I thought it would be interesting to highlight how Covid-19 has specifically impacted the plant economy.

We are spending more time at home. We may have lost our jobs due to the pandemic; we may work remotely now for the first time; we may have to watch our kids full time at home; we are self-isolating and social distancing. This increased time in our homes has caused a reevaluation of our living spaces.

Many people are finally finding the time to update their kitchen or bathroom. Or even take up gardening for the first time. Research has shown that an uptick in Google searches regarding gardening and home renovation happened right around the start of the quarantine. So what does this mean for houseplants?

To put it simply, a lot of people want plants right now. And supply isn’t big enough, especially when it comes to rare or uncommon houseplants. Naturally, many are just getting into the hobby with this new living situation. It’s no secret that plants bring about many emotional and physical benefits to our mind, body, and spirit.

An individual put together a Google Trends dataset to explore the recent uptick in houseplant searches (I’m not sure of the specific individual, so please DM for credit).

As you can see from the graph, there was a HUGE increase in houseplant searches right around February, which only continues to grow. And of course, the most growth is shown in the monstera category, one of the most popular houseplants.

So from this information, you can guess that prices were affected accordingly. Let’s say you wanted to buy a variegated monstera albo borsigiana back in January of 2020. A full-sized mature plant may have set you back about $500-600, and that’s on the expensive side of well established, multiple leaved, specimen plant.

Let’s say you wanted to buy that same plant in September 2020. It could now cost you upwards of $1,500. Yup, for the same size plant.

Here is an auction that ended recently on eBay from Logees Plants. The listing features a variegated monstera albo borsigiana in a 5-inch pot. The final bid went for $1,500. Back in March, similar-sized albos (as well as even larger ones) were purchased in auction for about $700 from NSE Tropicals. That is an enormous price increase in 6 months.

In fact, in May, similar 4-inch potted variegated monsteras were listed for $349 as ready stock. These same plants could now sell for so much more, and it’s only because the supply is low. Especially if buyers don’t know where to look.

Amature buyers could be taken advantage of. Plants in the wild are being poached (not albos, but those that are grown in the wild). Botanical gardens and private nurseries are being victims of theft. And plant influencers are being harassed online and accused of price gouging (see Kaylee Ellen’s latest video “My Piece” for more information).

None of this is to say that plants should not cost a lot of money. I’m not sure if I have much of an opinion on what plants SHOULD cost. I mainly just think the price fluctuating is interesting, and I’m genuinely curious about how the pandemic has created new opportunities as well as destroyed old ones. At the end of the day, you pay what you think the plant is worth. Sometimes there is just a plant that you have to have, and I am certainly guilty of that purchase as well.

But now, more than ever, I would advise buyers to check what they are paying for. Is the seller verified, do they have good reviews, is the plant established, ask to see the roots, ask to see the mother plant, etc. Any reputable buyer would be happy to answer any of these questions! Good luck out there plant friends.

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Why Monsteras Are All The Rage

Why has the monstera family of plants taken the internet by storm? For most of us, a houseplant is a houseplant. Perhaps we need something to jazz up our space, add a bit of design, or give us something to care for. But for some of us, a houseplant isn’t just a houseplant.

Houseplant collectors have taken the internet by storm. Whatever the reason, millennials and old-timers alike are collecting and flaunting their leaves. Collecting plants is no ordinary hobby. With it comes a slew of responsibilities and learning curves. Nonetheless, the experience is exciting, rewarding, and competitive.

There is no plant family quite as famous as the monstera. Also known as the “swiss cheese plant,” the monstera deliciosa is a species of flowering plants in the Araceae family. Most commonly found in the tropical Americas, the name Monstera is Latin for “monstrous” or “abnormal,” while deliciosa is a nod to its edible fruit. From one look at its strange foliage, you can see why this plant has gotten its name.

Monstera Deliciosa Specimen from Longwood Gardens

In the wild, these plants are enormous. They grow up trees, shoot out aerial roots, and become massive

specimens. The monstera deliciosa produces fenestrations (the holes or splits) as the plant ages. So why are we bringing this giant plant into our home? And what is it about these split leaves that drive us so crazy?

Different Forms of the Monstera

Deliciosa vs Borsigiana

The monstera deliciosa has a smaller form that has made its way into most of our collections, the monstera borsigiana. The borsigiana is almost indistinguishable from the deliciosa, but the leaves don’t grow nearly as large. These smaller sized leaves make the monstera a much more feasible houseplant.

 A true “deliciosa” will also exhibit these adorable ruffles on the top of there leaves where the leaf meets the stem. While the borsigiana grows more like a vine, it grows faster and has a smooth stem. These may seem like irrelevant differences, but for collectors, it is characteristics like this that make all the difference.

Variegated Monsteras

A variegated monstera. Credit: @craigmilran

Variegated monsteras are where these differences shine. A variegated monstera deliciosa is much rarer than a variegated monstera borsigiana (aka albo borsigiana). The deliciosa tends to lose its variegation during propagating, making it harder to reproduce the plant. The borsigiana is much easier to multiply, and therefore there are more of them on the market. If you have a variegated monstera, you most likely have a borsigiana.

In case you are not sure what variegation is, it is a genetic mutation in the plant that causes white, yellow, or cream colorations to form on the leaf and stem. The variegation is often dramatic and creates a stunning specimen. For some plants, the variegation is not stable, and the plant either reverts to green or becomes so white that there is no more chlorophyll left in the plant for it to survive.

A variegated monstera. Credit: @monsteraking

For collectors in the houseplant community, this means that your special variegated monstera may lose all of its beautiful variegation. Or may become so variegated that it can’t survive. Perhaps this is an exciting challenge for some collectors. Through pruning and propagating, you can pretty much manipulate how variegated your plant is. It certainly is not a beginner’s plant to care for, and that certainly adds to the rarity.

Adansonii

A monstera adansonii. Credit: The Spruce

The monstera adansonii features even more holes than its borsigiana and deliciosa relatives. It grows more like a hanging or trailing bush, but it can also grow vertically. The adansonii has lacy and almost delicate leaves, making it a perfect specimen for social media. It is anything but your average houseplant, and pretty much every collector has one.  

A variegated monstera adansonii. Credit: @Michelle_50plants

The adansonii also comes in a variegated form and is the current “unicorn” plant of the houseplant world. Finding a good specimen is hard, and paying for one is even harder!

Obliqua

A monstera obliqua. Credit: @keepyourplantson_la

The rarest and coveted of the monstera family, the elusive monstera obliqua, is pretty much a mystery. It is still up for debate what an obliqua is, and there is currently respecification and research going on to figure that out. Until then, we have what is commonly known as the “Peruvian form.” The monstera obliqua Peruvian form features extremely delicate and lacy leaves, and probably the most fenestrations or holes out of all the monstera types.

This plant is an advanced houseplant. It requires a constant 90% humidity to thrive and is not easy to propagate. These are primarily in the collections of serious collectors only. Finding a verified obliqua isn’t the most straightforward task since it can be mistaken for the adansonii. If you think you have one but you didn’t pay a small fortune for it, you probably don’t have one.

But wait. There’s more.

The above info doesn’t even begin to cover all the types of monstera, but these are the ones I deemed as most popular right now. This doesn’t even include the variegated monstera aurea (a yellow form of the variegated monstera), the monstera dubia, monstera pinnatipartite, monstera siltepecana, or the mini monstera/rhaphidophora tetrasperma. It’s safe to say that there is A LOT of monsteras. And pretty much all of them hold a high rank in the collector’s trophy of plants.

What’s the big deal?

So what is it about this plant that makes it so popular? I’m honestly not sure anymore! Maybe it is the fenestrations. The way that each plant is so different than any other because their holes are so specific. Making each plant a perfect specimen. No two plants look the same, and no two propagations turn out the same; it’s pretty much a gamble each time.

Especially when you get variegated monsteras in the mix, each one is a gamble. The next leaf could be perfect, or the next leaf could be entirely one color or the other. The entire thing may revert to green, or the whole thing may turn brown and die. Who knows! It could be part of this plant lottery that adds to the appeal.

Or perhaps it is their relatively simple care regimen for the more common varieties. When compared to plants like anthuriums or begonias, monsteras are relatively easy to care for. Once you find the right spot for them, they pretty much survive and thrive on their own.

Or, in contrast, maybe it is the more difficult care regimen for the more rare species such as the obliqua that makes the monstera so appealing. It certainly takes a specific skill set to get that plant thriving and to propagate it. Some of the keenest collectors are just here for the challenge of hunting down the rarest of species and fine-tuning the perfect conditions for them.

Or maybe it has to do with interior design. Monsteras certainly add a unique style to any space, making them significantly different from their usual houseplant counterparts. I mean, let’s face it, a large monstera climbing up a moss pole is undoubtedly a different effect than a fiddle leaf fig.

It doesn’t seem like there is one definitive reason why monsteras are so popular in the houseplant community. There is a myriad of reasons why the monstera plant family is so appealing. But one thing is for sure, the interest and social media sensationalization of this plant isn’t going away anytime soon.

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So What is a Rare Houseplant?

Whether you’re new or old to the house plant community, one thing is unmistakable; It. Is. BOOMING. Whether you are into all things variegated, the velvety goodness of anthuriums, or the strange world of philodendrons, there’s no doubt that the houseplant craze on Instagram is exploding. It’s almost impossible these days to browse plants on the popular social media platform without seeing tags like #monsteramonday or #philodendronfriday. Plants are trending. And not just any plants, rare houseplants.

So what is a rare houseplant? Let’s start with the word itself. Merriam Webster defines “rare” as

  1. seldom occuring or found: UNCOMMON.
  2.  a. marked by unusual quality, merit or appeal: DISTINCTIVE.
    • b.superlative or extreme of its kind

In a world of limited editions and special releases, the house plant craze is in the midst of its “gotta catch em all” phase. Let’s face it, as millennials; we love exclusive things. In a world of student debt, global warming, and political calamity, having something special can make all the difference in an otherwise bleak world.

Image from Bloomscape

Especially amid the global pandemic that is Coronavirus, houseplants offer an escape. Plants are a way to beautify your space, get in touch with nature, and best of all, they give you something to do. We have an inner need to care for something, and house plants offer that outlet. Whether you see it as a new hobby or a lifestyle, the houseplant trend is here to stay.

So back to the rarity of these green babies. Let’s use a plant unicorn as an example; the variegated monstera. You have probably seen or heard of the “split-leaf philodendron” or even the “swiss cheese plant.” Visually appealing and easy to care for, the Monstera Deliciosa is a tropical species of the Araceae family. A staple in any houseplant collection.

So sometimes, these plants can have a DNA mutation in its chlorophyll that results in variegation. What does that mean? Well, it means that beautiful marbled patterns of white, cream or yellow present themselves throughout the leaf and stem of the plant. It is creating the most beautiful and stunning showpiece that is sure to be the highlight of any collection. Plant lovers are searching far and wide for these plants or even just pieces of these plants.

Cuttings of variegated monsteras can be found on popular sites like eBay and Etsy, ranging from $100 – $300 per cutting. To be clear, that is an unrooted, leaf-cutting that can then be rooted into a full-blown plant specimen. All you need is a node in a little bit of hope, and you too can have your very own variegated monstera (in about six months to a year).

Image from Variegata777 on Etsy

Fully rooted variegated monsteras range in prices from $400 to $1500, depending on the size, variegation, and maturity of the plant. That is if you can even find one. These specimens are being chopped up and sold far and wide across the internet. Not to mention, it’s not necessarily easy propagating a plant to full maturity. So having a fully rooted gorgeous mature plant is very rare indeed.

This is a very brief overview of some of the trends in the house plant world. It does not even begin to cover the different types of variegated monsteras, from albo borsigianas to aureas, nor does it even begin to explain the differing rarities of large form and small form versions of the plant. From “half-moon” leaves to the controversial “mint” variegation, there is just a lot going on in the world of variegated monsteras. And of course, the ultimate unicorn of the variegated monstera adansonii. The current must-have plant for the most serious of collectors.

So what is a rare house plant? A house plant that everyone wants and isn’t readily available. A plant that is limited, special, and often, one of a kind. A plant that you probably spent an embarrassingly amount of money on, but you just had to have.

In the plant world, supply is low, and demand is high. This demand is only rising with changing trends in greener lifestyles, home décor, and the effects of the Coronavirus quarantine. More people are interested in house plants than ever. And the social media presence of houseplants on Instagram is exploding. Rare houseplants are trending.