Houston’s rare plant trade flourishes because of pandemic

Beginning in March, an inordinate number of us were looking for a new hobby to keep busy, lavish our sudden abundance of free time and attention – and keep our minds clear of the strange illness that plagues people everywhere. in the world.

Local Houston nurserymen began noticing the effects of this interest in early 2020 as they struggled to meet demand for newer and rarer plants.

Wayne Dupont, owner Zone 9 Tropical in Houston, has noticed an intense new boost in the hobby over the past six months.

“Since April, things have improved a lot with houseplants, but especially with rare plants,” he said. “There is always an interest in things like pothos and hoyas, but since the pandemic there seems to be a new interest in plants in general.”

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The Monstera albo, with its delicate fenestrations, its stalk that seeks to climb, and its striking variegation – diverse and beautiful with each new leaf that unfurls – has recently become a top choice among hobbyists. Or the Hoya carnosa compacta, which most people call the “Hindu rope plant,” which features twisted spirals of thick, waxy leaves and small pink flower stars.

An anthurium, sold by Dupont in his shop.

Wayne Dupont

Anthuriums come in all shapes and sizes – from the familiar foliage of the peace lily to the dark, heavy leaves of the Anthurium warocqueanum, which can eventually grow to almost six feet in length.

Dupont took all of this and more to his bright boutique in Independence Heights, but said interest was now so high that getting and keeping some of the rarest plants on the shelves, especially those that it ships from other countries, may be difficult.

“You’re against a few things,” he said. “Not only are there fewer plants to buy because interest in the hobby has increased, but you also face higher prices because the demand is greater and the supply is lower. Even our wholesalers are struggling to keep up.

On top of that, Dupont said, having the plants go through the US Department of Agriculture can present another set of issues.

“You have to hope that you can get your plants from them within a reasonable period of time, and some of them are very special. In some cases, you must be prepared to lose your entire order. This is only part of it, ”he said.

An Alocasia cuprea.

a Alocasia cuprea.

Wayne Dupont

But in these cases, losing an entire order can mean a loss of thousands of dollars for homeowners like Dupont, whose plants are imported from countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Japan.

“Prices have increased, in some cases quite dramatically, to meet demand,” he said. “I remember plants that used to cost around $ 100 are now $ 400 for a fully rooted plant.”

In some groups online, unrooted cuttings can sell for up to $ 500, and rooted cuttings quite regularly sell for up to $ 1000 when the plant in question is something as sought after as a Monstera albo or one Anthurium warocqueanum.

The best scenario for nursery owners, said Dupont, is to propagate your own, which takes time and space. While Dupont cannot control the timing aspect of the spread, he is currently building a larger area that he can use to grow plants for himself.

The white variegation of plants like these has sparked the interest of people looking to expand their collections of rare plants.

The white variegation of plants like these has sparked the interest of people looking to expand their collections of rare plants.

Vanessa Hammond

“I did a lot of things in my garden on the weekends,” he said. “Sure, I have people to help out in the store, but I don’t have the space to spread like I need anymore, so I stretch out. This will allow me to safely propagate some of the rarest plants. A lot can happen in shipping. It’s just better for customers if we start them here.

It is an accelerated and endless cycle of plant entry and exit to meet the demand for self-identified and born-again “plant parents”.

“It’s giving people something to do,” he said. “There is a camaraderie and a unity in this hobby that I really love. I love meeting new people – and there are a lot more young people coming to the store – and helping guide them. There is a family vibe to this hobby that you might not find in other hobbies, and now more and more people are experiencing it.

For people like Vanessa Hammonds, taking care of plants was already a small hobby before things started to stop, but since the start of the pandemic, she’s been into it full-time.

Hammonds plunged headlong into her vegetable hobby after losing her job as a flight attendant.

Hammonds plunged headlong into her vegetable hobby after losing her job as a flight attendant.

Vanessa Hammond

Traveling to faraway destinations, exploring diverse cultures and meeting new people were all part of her job as a flight attendant. But from the end of March, one by one, the global pandemic brought flights to a standstill across the globe and Hammonds found herself unemployed.

“I got involved with plants about two years ago, but my personal collection has probably tripled since April. I started collecting and propagating rarer plants, and as your collection grows like that, you kind of have to purge every now and then, to make room for new plants.

By the time the Hammonds company told her that it would have no more jobs to find every time the travel restrictions were lifted, it had forged strong relationships with people interested in its purge cycles of factory and its rarer collection. She decided to start selling plants full time.

“I collected and propagated plants like Raven ZZ, Monstera albos, Monstera adonsonii, Cebu blues, things like that, ”she said.

The hobby and her fledgling business have become so important to her that she soon travels to Thailand so that she can return with some exotic plants from there.

“I don’t know exactly what I’ll get, but I’m excited,” she said. “I don’t want to risk shipping expensive plants, so I’ll bring them back myself. “

Philodendron hastatum is another popular variety of philodendron that is not easy to find except in specialty stores like Dupont's or from online vendors.

Philodendron hastatum are another popular variety of philodendron that are not easily found except in specialty stores like Dupont or from online vendors.

Wayne Dupont

Hammonds said his renewed interest in plants and gardening is rooted in the same impulse many others are likely to feel during the pandemic: the therapeutic properties provided by the hobby.

“When I’m overwhelmed, something as simple as sitting for three hours and taking care of the plants helps me take my mind off things,” she said. “It’s a coping mechanism. You give to something other than yourself. There is something about taking care of another living being and watching it grow that we might all need right now.

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