Home Valuable stamps San Antonio gardeners enter the crazy world of high-priced houseplants, where large, showy leaves can make big money

San Antonio gardeners enter the crazy world of high-priced houseplants, where large, showy leaves can make big money


At first glance, Kristin Bell’s two rare houseplants could easily be mistaken for the much more common Anthurium andreanum, also known as the flamingo lily, which sells for around $ 10.

The difference, she said, is that a flamingo lily, with its bright red or pink leaf-shaped spathe and small spiky flower, will only grow to about 15 inches tall. It is sold in most nurseries and big box stores. The pendulifolium, on the other hand, can grow to 6 feet or more and is only available through specialist growers and collectors.

“I love collecting these plants,” said Bell, who tends these and other high-priced houseplants in a shed in his backyard. “These are my babies.

While most people keep houseplants for greenery, to help purify the air, or just because they love to garden, very expensive specimens like pendulifolium exist in a rarefied world where they are collected, traded. and sold as coins, stamps or baseball cards. .

On ExpressNews.com: Tips for Getting Longer Bloom Times with Winter Flowers in Your San Antonio Garden

Sometimes referred to as trophy plants, most love shade and are native to tropical regions of the world. Many do not bloom or, if they do, the flowers are inconspicuous. Collectors appreciate them for their leaves, which can be larger than a turkey dish. They come in greens from dark and shiny to pale and mottled and every shade in between. The leaves can be variegated as if painted by a botanical Jackson Pollock, windowed like a poorly made paper snowflake of a child, or have so many holes that they appear to have been attacked by an army of hungry and hungry caterpillars. .

“These plants look so interesting, so different, I never tire of them,” said Liz O’Toole, owner of ED Huntington Orchids and Tropicals in Northern Hills.

The large greenhouse where O’Toole propagated, tended and sold plants for 16 years is hot, humid, and so overrun with hundreds of leafy specimens that it is nearly impossible to walk around without rubbing shoulders with leaves, fronds and other parts of the Jurassic Park plant. .

Lots of green

But these collectible plants don’t come cheap.

Search the Etsy ecommerce site Philodendron melanochrysum, a coveted plant with ugly pointed, dark green, and gold-speckled leaves, and you’ll find prices ranging from $ 60 to $ 330, depending on the size.

A simple cut of a variegated Monstera albo, which has windowed and comically large leaves, recently had an asking price of $ 590.

And then there is what is sometimes called the holy grail of trophy plants, the Philodendron spiritus sancti. When fully grown, the leaves of this Brazilian native can grow up to 30 inches long. But even a small specimen with just four leaves, each about 5 inches long, will cost $ 27,500.

The greenhouse at ED Huntington Orchids and Tropicals is so filled with leafy specimens that it’s hard to walk around without rubbing against huge leaves, fronds and other plants the size of Jurassic Park.

Richard A. Marini / Staff

But the law of supply and demand works both ways. Not so long ago, Monstera obliquas, native to Central and South America with leaves more holed than leaves, sold for up to $ 1,300, said Juan Zavala, who works in the department. of the McNay Art Museum’s Education and bought and sold trophy plants for about six years.

“The plant is easy to propagate, so people were able to do more,” he said. “These days you can find them for as little as $ 300. “

Collectors cite several reasons why these plants, which to the untrained eye may appear to be nothing more than a common houseplant, can fetch such prices.

Some are genetically rare, which means that they are a common type of plant that has a rare mutation. It can be an unusual color or variegation, which makes it unique and more interesting to look at.

Others are numerically rare. In other words, they are too few to meet demand, often because they grow slowly or are difficult to propagate.

“Some plants can take years to grow big enough to sell,” said Bryan Markley, owner of Wild Roots Nursery in New Braunfels.

Others are rare because they are endangered, either through habitat loss or climate change.

Finally, like many things, the trophy plant market is often driven by social networks. An approval post from Instagram influencers such as @mickmitty, @nsetropicals, or @urlocalplantboy can trigger an execution on a previously ignored type of plant.

Price wars

When it comes to prizes, the world of trophy plants is the Wild West, said Lizzy Aranibar, who started the San Antonio Plant & Garden Lovers Facebook group just before the pandemic. Today it has nearly 5,000 members.

Philodendron melanochrysum at the Wild Roots Nursery.  It is known for its deep green pointed leaves speckled with gold.

Philodendron melanochrysum at the Wild Roots Nursery. It is known for its deep green pointed leaves speckled with gold.

Richard A. Marini / Staff

The page sometimes features trophy plants that sell for four figures or more, although most are cheaper. Recently, a member offered for sale an Anthurium regale. The native of Peru grows massive leaves up to 3 feet long with veins that appear to glow.

But this plant was a baby, just a single velvety leaf, for which the seller was asking $ 140.

When someone disputed this price (“That’s a lot of money for a single leaf plant!”), The seller posted an image of a similar plant on Etsy offered for $ 355.

“The factory was worth what he asked for,” Aranibar said. “If people are willing to pay for this, who will question him?” “

And more people are apparently willing to pay.

Liz O’Toole said that over the past two years she has seen many paying “ridiculous” prices for trophy plants. She blames (or credits) pandemic stay-at-home orders.

On ExpressNews.com: What to do when a neighbor’s trumpet vine invades your garden

“They weren’t working, but they were getting checks,” she said. “So they were looking for something to do and had money to spend.”

However, not everything in the world of trophy plants is for sale, even at plant retailers.

Markley, the owner of the New Braunfels Nursery, has several plants in his personal collection that he refuses to part with, including a Monstera mint he recently traded at a plant show in Florida. It’s a striking plant, with large, windowed leaves that range from all green to half green, half white, and almost every iteration in between.

This is a Philodendron Melanochrysum is also known as the Black Golden Philodendron.

This is a Philodendron Melanochrysum is also known as the Black Golden Philodendron.

Robin Jerstad / Contributor

“The plants we traded were pretty comparable,” he said. “But the gentleman I traded with, he just collects plants, and he had a bunch of them and I had something he wanted.” Then you just have to trade.

A win-win for collectors and the plants themselves.

rmarini@express-news.net | Twitter: @RichardMarini