The Impact of Pursuing the Desirable on Rare Plants

I bought a rare plant this week. It was not one of those specimens that you will see on Instagram with #unicornplant, like a Philodendron ‘Spiritus Sancti’ or a colorful fan palm: my Budget will not reach a four-figure houseplant bill.

No, my rare plant cost me. It is a variety of strawberry saxifrage, Saxifraga stolonifera, collected in Japan by Cedric Basset from the French nursery Aoba, specialist in Asian plants. ‘Nezu Jinja’ is named

after a shrine in Tokyo, And has unusually large leaves for the species, drawn in silver, as well as the habit of reproducing with stolons stocked with baby plants. It is only sold by a British nursery that I know, Growild, and they had few plants to sell.

So why can I buy this rare houseplant for a few pounds when similar rare aroids are listed for hundreds of pounds?

Like all companies, the indoor plant industry is governed by supply and demand. Although my “Nezu Jinja” is rare – you won’t see one in B&Q or IKEA anytime soon – the demand for this type is not high, so the price remains modest.

Instagram Instagram Followers: When Jamie Song (@jamies_jungle on Instagram) or Kaylee shows Ellen a rare Philodendron or Monstera, each of their Fans scours the Internet to find where to get their hands on this must-have plant. But such a thirst cannot be quenched immediately: it can take months or even years for enough plants to multiply to meet an increase in demand for a particular species or variety, especially for slower-growing variegated plants. Some can be grown from seeds, but this can be difficult to obtain: Others can only be propagated from plant material, either in the traditional way or by tissue culture, but again, the raw material can be scarce and expensive.

Take the Chinese silver plant Pilea peperomioides: this plant has been cultivated and transmitted for decades among indoor plant lovers, especially in Scandinavia, but it was more or less not-known to the indoor plant industry.

Three years ago, while I was filming an episode of my podcast On the Ledge about the phenomenon of the Chinese money factory, I spoke to listeners who were looking for one so desperately that they were willing to shell out for a small copy. Pilea peperomioides had exploded on social media and everyone wanted some of these coin-like leaves on their shelf. The producers have been striving to get enough plant material to start mass propagation, and now, in 2020, this once rare plant is selling millions of copies and costs no more than a few pounds.

So, my message to everyone who is longing for a desirable Aroid is: wait. The gold rush for certain crops can have a positive impact on those who are patient: prices will fall over time as growers respond to plant trends. We are certainly seeing a decrease in the cost of some of the coveted aroids, such as the Swiss cheese variety “Thai Constellation”.

For some, however, owning a rare and coveted plant is a great value, showing it on social networks knowing that you are a member of an elite club of #unicornplant owners. It may seem harmless enough: if you have to spend a few hundred pounds on a single plant, this is your prerogative. However, the trade in rare plants has a darker darker side: the illegal collection of certain plants from their wild habitats, rather than taking time, effort and money to propagate them, is a real problem. Even the very common plants in cultivation are dying out in the wild: there are a number of causes, but the poaching of plants such as Euphorbia obesa, the baseball-shaped succulent native to South Africa (see below), and Dionea muscipula, the Venus flytrap, browbeat these emblematic species with extinction in the wild. It is therefore important to ask sellers questions about the purchase of rare plants and to buy them only from reputable sources. Any worthy indoor plant company will be happy to tell you exactly where and how your plants were obtained.

I don’t have a crystal ball when it comes to choosing the next extremely rare houseplant, but I know it’s tempting to love a plant just because it’s presented as special. If you forget all the hype and look – really look- at the plant itself, find out how it grows in nature and think about how it fits into your environment, your expertise and the time you take care of it, you will find that some things make your heart sing. Whether

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