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Being an irresponsible plant parent is bad vibes for you, me, and the planet

So, I'm in a bunch of local plant groups on Facebook for my area (which I highly recommend doing btw, if you haven't already) and recently a post was shared to one of these groups from the page Plants.n.things and I think its worth a read, especially if you are new to the plant game. (Below is the full text that I read from a shared post to the group I belong to, House Plant Hoarders, Buy, Sell, Trade, NOVA & DC. This is not my writing or my research, though I have done some of my own since reading this a few weeks ago!) Just be aware, respectful, and care for your plants. Research before making a purchase, especially of a rare or hard to care for plant, and read below!

This is a photo from Elite Orchids, it is not my photo
Phragmipedium kovachii

SHARED IN ANOTHER GROUP BY ANOTHER INDIVIDUAL, BROUGHT TO MY ATTENTION BY Plants.n.things

Dear the entire plant community,

This is a call for accountability for those who own rare or endangered plants.

I need to address a disturbing trend that has been surfacing recently with “rare plants” becoming extremely popular over the past few years. This isn’t to cause drama and I have no intention of calling out specific names, but I would like to send this as a PSA for all of you in this group and call out questionable behavior

Specifically, I’m addressing the plant hoarders here. The people who jump onto purges without even knowing what is being sold. The people who don’t even do the very bare minimum research into caring for a plant before purchasing it.

Exhibit A: A Philo. squamiferum purge a few weeks ago. People didn’t even know what the plant looked like and they jumped onto the purge waiting to snag one.

Exhibit B: Person was asking for Lepanthes orchids and I offered her some alternatives. After speaking with her, she said she was new to orchids but had “rare plants”. Lepanthes are among some of the most undocumented orchids out there and are not beginner friendly. They are known to be finicky orchids in general and crisp up maidenhair style if not given enough humidity or water and take months to recover. Their care is incomparable to that of most rare aroids (which is what I’m assuming she said as “rare plants”) which can be grown under household conditions.

Exhibit C: The person stated that they were “just getting into orchids”. Dendrophylax lindenii is the Florida Ghost Orchid, a plant so overpoached and rare that an entire book and movie, The Orchid Thief and “Adaptation”, were written about it. It is notoriously difficult to care for, requiring specific conditions and even specific mounting placement requirements for it to grow well. As an orchid grower for over sixteen years, even I don’t have the best luck with it and has barely grown for me over the past three years. Note though, these species are ethically reproduced but these actions still have an impact on the total supply as to be discussed later.

All three share a common theme: not researching the plant before jumping to buy one.

Why is this a problem?

Meet Phragmipedium kovachii, the purple slipper orchid that took the orchid world by storm. It was originally smuggled in unknowingly by a famous grower. Plants were fetching upwards of $25000 for divisions and the original discoverers were fined for their actions. Within a few years of its discovery, four out of five of the populations were completely stripped by poachers (Cribb 2005) and prices continued to remain until nurseries like Ecuagenera were given permission to legally propagate it. A similar case happened to P. besseae, the red slipper orchid, some twenty years before this, but it was fortunate enough to have more wild populations discovered afterward and was seed propagated to ensure its survival. (American Orchid Society Bulletin 1981)

What if this was the case for aroids? We are already starting to see trends for the destruction of Anthurium populations. A. clarinervium is already threatened in some of its populations due to overcollection and A. willifordii and A. reflexinervium are both threatened in all of their known localities due to poaching (Exotica Esoterica 2019). Many species are already endangered in their natural habitats such as A. cutucuense and a recent study done in 2019 has determined that in parts of Mexico, 80% of the aroid species within the area are threatened and many are endangered, including A. podophyllum, Monstera siltepecana, and Philodendron mexicanum. (Kromer et al 2019).

I am not saying to stop all wild collection as in some cases it manages to save specific populations of plants (as in the case of the original population of Phrag. besseae) but because these plants are already endangered in the wild, think about the supply available for the market. For the case of Phrags, the plants grow much slower than any of the aroids and can take years to be able to sell onto the market. With the orchid hobby being so much smaller than the current aroid boom and having four out of all five known populations of P. kovachii completely decimated after its discovery, think about the impact the death of a single plant could have on the supply, whether that’s an orchid or an aroid. Decreasing the supply of a product will drive up its demand, which in turn drives up its price and can decrease the chances of more experienced growers getting their hands on certain plants thus leading to increased poaching or outright robbery. We are already seeing this effect take place with Philo. spiritus-sancti due to skyrocketing demand and ultra restricted supply. Enid from NSE stated recently on her instagram that she had trouble finding a replacement for her old plant due to the exorbitant price hike for the species and one was outright stolen from San Diego botanical garden recently, along with another in the EU according to sources.

What can you do to help?

DO YOUR RESEARCH, and for those growing especially rare varieties, don’t just do a google search and use a singular non-anecdotal source as your guide for care (trust me there are a LOT of those). Reach out to experienced growers! Gain more experience using more common or easier plants before going for the hard ones! Read up on the original habitat description for certain species! You might just glean some things that you may never have known from information from other growers.

I can recommend two sources for aroid growers. Exotica Esoterica is a website and well known eBay seller (heloderma5) run by Jay Vannini. One of my works cited links goes to his detailed description for velvet leaf Anthuriums and is a must read if you are even considering growing one of these plants. Exoticrainforest.com also has extensive listings and anecdotal cultural recommendations for almost every single aroid you could think of, despite some information being slightly outdated. Please thoroughly read these if you are growing aroids to make sure your plants thrive under your conditions. I can also provide advice for a few of the Anthurium species from my experience growing them and my conversations with Enid and Jay, primarily on A. warocqueanum and regale. I am also a longtime (16+ years) orchid grower who grows without a greenhouse so let me know if you have questions regarding them.

So tldr, you are part of the problem if you impulse buy rare plants without any idea for their care. We need to hold people accountable for their actions as this behavior can threaten not only native habitats but also the rare plant industry itself.

And if you continue to ignore these reminders, I WILL call you out. That is all.

Works cited:

http://phragweb.slipperiana.info/phragmipedium/species/display_species_phrag.asp?phrag_id=29

https://www.exoticaesoterica.com/exotic-plant-blog/2019/3/17/the-ultimate-guide-to-velvet-leaf-anthuriums

Cribb PJ. 2005. Phragmipedium kovachii. Curtis’s Botanical Magazine22: 8–11.

Krömer, Thorsten & Acebey, Amparo & Armenta-Montero, Samaria & Croat, Thomas. (2019). Diversity, Distribution, and Conservation Status of Araceae in the State of Veracruz, Mexico. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden. 104. 10–32. 10.3417/2018214. #rareplants #houseplant #albo #endangeredplants #rarehouseplant #rareorchids

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