Recently, the market for rare plants has seen a flurry of trading activity and sky-high valuations not unlike that of the Dutch tulip craze. Thanks to a potent combination of boredom, savvy Instagram marketing, and the desire of many to add exotic, living pieces to their homes, this year has been a period for unprecedented growth within this little-known sector.
Rare plant sellers such as Enid Offolter, the head of NSE Tropicals in Plantation, Florida, told the Wall Street Journal that she sold out of 300 plants in a matter of minutes online, with some fetching four figures. Currently handling more orders than ever in her two decades in the business, she’s working 84-hour weeks and seven days a week to keep up with demand.
Professional plant sellers aren’t the only ones seeing green. A whole new crop of amateurs who got their hands on coveted flora are also cashing in, the WSJ article makes clear. Part of the appeal is that there’s no need to ship an entire plant, as careful cuttings of valuable plants can be transported and grown elsewhere. For home growers, transactions in the thousands of dollars are hardly uncommon, making it something of a lower-stakes alternative to house flipping.
So what sells best? At the moment, the most coveted plants are often marked by genetic mutations responsible for unorthodox colorations (think green leaves marked by white streaks), and even holes in the leaves. Case in point: the ultra-valuable Variegated Monstera adansonii, with its Swiss cheese–like holes and significant white splotches, which sold for just under $5,000 in one sale by Portland, Oregon–based plant flippers. It’s hardly surprising, then, that some who spoke to the Journal reported greenhouse robberies.
However, the same qualities that drive up a plant’s price can make them difficult to care for properly. These mutated plants are often more sensitive to fluctuations in light, heat, and humidity, with some needing a boost from specialized grow lights and humidifiers to stay alive. There’s a chance the fussiness of these pricey plants will eventually pop the market’s bubble if enough inexperienced buyers watch their investments wither away and die.
“I would rather pay my mortgage than throw money away like that,” Stella Barnum of Urban Sprouts in Renton, Washington, told the Journal. “It’s going to burst at some point. It’s too crazy.” That may be so. But the buying, clipping, and flipping will likely continue so long as plants are still worth thousands. The secret is to make sure you’re not the one with a greenhouse full of Variegated Monstera adansonii if, or perhaps when, demand drops.