Written by Ingrid Hoff
Would you pay $15,000 for a houseplant? No, that was not a typo, and also, it’s not a giant containerized tropical tree that took years of effort and time to grow, it’s a small (less than 30cm high) plant growing in a 4-inch pot. The plant in question is a cutting of a Philodendron spiritus sancti and a true plant collector might consider it a price worth paying. What makes a plant valuable to a collector are natural anomalies like variegation or rarity (which is a nice way of saying almost extinct in the wild or hard to grow). This is why our friend Philodendron spiritus sancti can fetch such a high price, it’s almost extinct in the wild.
Plant collecting as a hobby has exploded in the last few years and things have changed from what you might be tempted to think. The stereotypical plant collector is often seen as a retiree (with time on their hands) who grows orchids, but that is far from the truth. Most of the plant collectors today are millennials and while orchids are lovely, they are coveted for their exotic and delicate flowers but the new “hot” is all about the foliage. Flowers are fleeting but a beautiful, colourful, velvety leaf can be admired 365 days of the year. What collectors are chasing these days fall largely into a grouping of plants called aroids (philodendron, monstera, pothos, alocasia, etc).
I have an enormous amount of respect for plant collectors, they have incredible commitment to the crafts of cultivation and propagation, but could you imagine how you would feel if you forgot to water it, or your cat ate it? I personally couldn’t handle the stress of being a true plant collector, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want something a bit well… special. Luckily there are some more reasonably priced but still quite unique and collectable plants out there. Here are a few that are on my radar to add to my own collection.
Satin pothos (Scindapsus pictus ‘Argyraeus’) is a well named climbing vine with heart shaped leaves. The leaves look like they are made of dark green velvet decorated with silver satin speckles. Although not technically a pothos it’s just as easy to grow. Give it bright but indirect light (direct sunlight will burn the leaves and darkness will cause it lose the lovely silver colouring), and keep the soil moist but never waterlogged. Try to keep it in a nice humid spot and never expose it to the cold. The trailing stems can grow 90cm (3ft) long so don’t be afraid to trim it back to make it lush and compact.
Philodendron goeldii or finger leaf philodendron, is a unique looking specimen that will instantly add a tropical feel to your space. The leaves are clusters of long (finger-like) leaves that hang orderly off the stem. An easy plant to grow as long as you give it what it needs, which is moderate indirect sunlight, high humidity, moist soil, and no temperature extremes.
Calathea are sometimes referred to as payer plants, and they boast attractive patterned leaves putting them among the most decorative and unique tropical plants out there. They grow best in medium to bright indirect light but will happily tolerate low light conditions. Keep them moist but well drained, and in high humidity. Calatheas can be a bit more particular about their growing conditions but will show you if they are unhappy with yellowing, wilting or curling leaves. This will give you a hint you need to adjust your watering, humidity or temperature. Get the conditions right and you will be rewarded. Some standouts included: C. mediallion with feathery green markings that are beautifully offset by the maroon coloured undersides of the leaves; C roseopicta the rose-painted calathea has pinkish coloured stripes that fade into cream as the leaf matures with striking maroon undersides; C orbifolia has large round, boldly green and cream striped leaves; C lancifolia is also called the rattlesnake plant due to its long narrow highly patterned leaves.
Nepenthes are an oddity to make anyone stop in their tracks. These tropical carnivorous plants boast dainty often red-colour pendulous cups that are designed to trap unsuspecting insects. They can be a bit challenging to grow so if you not up for it move on but if you are looking for something truly unique and have the right conditions this is an amazing plant. They need bright indirect light (a south or west facing window) and need to be kept moist at all times but never waterlogged (like a rung-out sponge). Protect them from temperature fluctuations and keep the humidity high. Their hanging cups look spectacular when displayed in a hanging container.
Hoya are a group of succulent-looking vines that are easy to grow and extremely long lasting. My mother has one that I remember as a child (that is old!). When they bloom their flowers are extraordinary, a cluster of tiny pinkish velvety stars. Put your hoya where it can enjoy medium to bright indirect light but also some warmth and high humidity would be appreciated. One thing to never do is overwater them, in fact they do well drying out from time to time. Some species to look for include H. pubicalyx, H. retusa, and H. macrophylla.
Sanseveria ‘Moonlight’, everyone loves a snakeplant due to how adaptable and easy they are to grow, but also, they just look so good. Well, how about one with silvery leaves? To keep the leaves looking silvery give it bright indirect light, low-light conditions will keep the silvery sheen but be a darker green less striking colour.
Alocasia are the perfect plants if you are looking to create a jungle vibe with their bold shield shaped leaves. They can be a bit more challenge to grow but they are worth it. Give them medium indirect light, a warm humid spot and make sure it’s moist but never waterlogged. Look for the velvety dark green with contrasting white ribs of A. frydek for a real showstopper.
Aglaonema pictum ‘Tricolor’ if you have a penchant for patterns then this is the plant for you. The leaves are boldly decorated with a camouflage pattern that makes most people take a double look. They appreciate medium indirect light with some humidity and well-draining soil. Watering is important as you should never let it sit in water or dry out.
So, head down to your local GARDENWORKS and either add to or start your own collection with an unusual selection. You might not be in the same circles as a true plant collector but you also won’t have to take out a loan to feed your habit. I guarantee something special and unique is waiting for you.