The Ultimate Guide to Rare Plants for Beginners
From art prints to fine wines, collecting things has been a popular pastime for many people. One of the oldest forms of collecting includes the collection of unique and rare plant species. Entire scientific theories have developed thanks to the fascination with and acquisition of the natural world.
The rare plant market has blossomed into a million-dollar industry. You should know a few basic things if you’re interested in going down this green rabbit hole into the rare plant community.
What Makes a Plant Rare?
Many different factors can determine rarity. However, most of them are based on accessibility, cultivation, and demand. In fact, rarity can change as trends shift and growing techniques advance — the minimal supply and availability of a rare plant often contributes to its higher price point, and the higher price point also in a way contributes to its degree of rarity. Here are some of the most common determining factors.
Variegation is the appearance of different coloring on the foliage or flowers of a plant, more specifically, the lack of coloring in various areas of the leaf. This pattern can even extend into the stem or fruits as well. The plant tissue is white because of a lack, or low amount of the photosynthetic green chlorophyll pigment, due to mutations in the cells’ DNA. During plant development, these white cells multiply to create unique patterns that are very sought after by plant enthusiasts.
Some species of plants, such as the Thai Constellation Monstera, have what is known as stable variegation. This stable variegation is a result of tissue culturing and selective breeding. The plant will maintain its unique coloration as it grows.
However, some plants have unstable variegation, meaning that without proper care or even by chance, the plant has the potential to revert to its original base form and will no longer produce variegated leaves.
The value of a variegated plant often depends on the amount of variegation, and its stability. Alternatively, unstable plants can also be highly-priced as they may be rarer and harder to acquire.
Plants grow and mature over time at different rates. The rate at which they grow, though, can also determine the aesthetics of the plant.
Some plants, such as the Philodendron Joepii, will develop uniquely shaped leaves comparable to their early juvenile form. This is the same with Monstera and Epipremnum, which, as they grow larger and reach adulthood, can develop fenestrations (the fancy word for the holes in the leaves).
Additionally, some collectors revere plants that are large for the sake of the time and care that it took to manage to grow a plant to that state. The larger or more mature a plant is, the higher its value.
With the above notes on size in mind, we can’t forget the art of bonsai, where some of the “miniature” trees can take five to ten years to mature, requiring consistent close grooming and care.
Piggybacking off of variegation and size is the care that goes into maintaining the plant. Some plants, like Golden Pothos, are very robust, require very little care and grow relatively fast. However, rare plants can be difficult not only to acquire but to keep alive and propagate.
With growing difficulties and growth rates, some nurseries struggle to keep up with supply and demand, which can cause fluctuations in the market.
Which Houseplants Are Rare?
What is considered rare now may lose or even gain value as the years go on. As with many types of collections, it’s hard to predict. With that being said, let’s look at the hot exotic plants available (or not so easily obtainable) today.
The Monstera Albo is a cultivar of the Monstera deliciosa and a staple plant in many collector’s homes. The Monstera Albo is a type of variegated Monstera deliciosa, bearing white markings on the leaves.
These markings can range from slight speckling to the whole half moon or pure white leaves. There have been many other forms of variegated Monstera deliciosa, like “Aurea” or “Mint,” but the Albo remains one of the most coveted varieties.
At one point in time, nurseries would throw out these Albos, believing that no one would want to purchase a mutated plant. Today, a mature Monstera Albo can reach upwards of hundreds to even thousands of dollars, depending on the size and variegation.
In terms of care, this plant needs bright light, though filtering that sunlight or ensuring it’s indirect is important for ensuring you don’t dry this plant out. On that note, soil should be kept moist but well-drained (usually averaging to about once-a-week waterings), with slightly acidic soil to neutral soil being best-suited.
Pink Princess Philodendron
The Pink Princess Philodendron, or PPP, is a variety of Philodendron erubescens native to Colombia. Similar to the Monstera Albo, the PPP is a type of unstable variegation, so it has the potential to revert back to its original leaf color. There is some debate on whether a plant that has reverted can return to a variegated form.
Photography by Trinity Shi/Cube House Jungle
Variegated leaves (whether they are white, yellow, or pink) do not contain chlorophyll, which is needed by plants to photosynthesize. To maintain variegation, plant owners must provide adequate lighting, so the plant continues to produce variegated leaves.
At one point, when the PPP was first trending on the market, single leaf cuttings were being auctioned off for thousands of dollars. With the skyrocketing demand and the relative ease of propagation, the price of PPP has since plummeted. It’s now found in local nurseries and even from private collectors as low as $30.
Additionally, even with royalty in its name, it’s also fairly easy for even beginners to care for, requiring only light pruning, monthly fertilizing, and less frequent watering (though misting its leaves are important since it’s native to a humid environment). One thing to watch for with this plant is making sure not to overwater, as it is susceptible to root rot. Otherwise, just ensuring it has bright indirect sunlight can help encourage the growth of variegated leaves.
Coveted by plant lovers for its large and fragile fenestrations, the Monstera Obliqua boasts beautiful eye-catching leaves. However, the intricate foliage is a completely naturally-occurring process. There are many different sub-varieties of Obliqua, which are found all over Central and South America.
Monstera Obliqua is not a beginner plant by any means. Given the delicate leaves, these plants require higher than usual humidity levels, upwards of 80%. Most casual growers cannot maintain these conditions in a house and must supplement using a greenhouse or terrarium setup.
Also, these plants are slower growing and difficult to propagate when compared to their cousins. The Obliqua is not typically a plant you will find in a local nursery.
Unlike the plants before it on this list, this plant is notoriously difficult when it comes to care. It requires a very humid environment — think roughly 80-85% humidity at all times, with warm temperatures that should hover between 75-85 degrees Fahrenheit. Its leaves are delicate and should be kept out of direct sunlight, with varying watering needs of about twice per week during hot summers but only every other week during colder winters.
Moving away briefly from the Aroid family, the Twisted Cactus, or Cereus forbesii cv. Spiralis, is thought to be a mutated version of the Cereus forbesii. Hailing from Argentina, the Twisted Cactus is accustomed to arid and dry climates, relying on its large succulent stems to hold moisture.
When young, these plants start growing straight and will begin to spiral as it matures, growing taller and eventually forming branches. They are considered relatively fast growing for a cactus if given the proper care, so it will not take as long to enjoy its large mature shape compared to others in the cacti family.
Given its current popularity, the Twisted Cactus has become more readily available, although it still hasn’t quite hit “common” status yet.
As a cactus, this plant is extremely drought tolerant, though it’s important to provide plenty of water when you do so. The soil should be fully saturated, and left to dry between waterings, especially in the spring and summer when you’ll water more often. This plant loves sunlight, and typically needs a lot of root space, so be conscientious of when you may need to repot (typically every other year or so).
One of the most prized Anthuriums out there, the Queen Anthurium, or Anthurium warocqueanum, lives up to its name as a major drama queen. Producing long pendant velvety leaves, the Queen lives in the rainforests of Colombia.
picture via @bb_aroid on Instagram
Given its epiphytic and tropical nature, the Queen requires much higher humidity and care than other types of anthuriums. Without the right conditions, the leaves can become crisp and turn brown.
Queen Anthuriums are tricky to maintain, though readily available from plant collectors. Hybrid crosses are a popular pastime for many Anthurium collectors. You can expect to get a healthy Queen in the triple-digit price range.
This plant requires a bit milder set of conditions compared to the plants above: a humid environment of about 70%, medium to bright indirect sunlight, and well-drained soil are needed for this plant. Slow-release fertilizer works best to keep it looking nourished and bright, but more importantly, it needs plenty of water — without moist soil, its leaves can lose their hue very quickly and shrivel.
How Do You Care for Rare Houseplants?
This is not an easy question. Each plant’s care can vary not only between families but even in the same genus or species. Some require more aeration, and some want more swampy conditions. Some want airflow; others despise it.
When caring for rare houseplants, it’s important to research what they need.
Take into account where the plant originates, whether the plant is an over or under-waterer, and the type of humidity the plant prefers. The care will depend mainly on you. Are you able to provide the space and care for a plant you want?
Some awesome accounts that feature rare plant care on Instagram are:
- Craig Miller-Randle @craigmilran
- Mick Mitty @mickmitty
- Plants by Melissa @plantsbymelissa
What Are the Benefits of Choosing Rare Houseplants?
Collecting and raising rare houseplants can be rewarding if you enjoy raising plants in general. As you grow your rare plants, you can learn more about the biology of the species, which can give you a greater appreciation for nature in general.
With so many different types of plants out there, there is something for every type of plant enthusiast.
There are always exciting new developments in the rare houseplants industry. But one unique option is in the works now. These specially engineered plants, or Neoplants, are the first of their kind and are bioengineered to help fight air pollution.
The Bottom Line
If you’re already an avid plant parent and you want to dip your toes into something a little more challenging, entering the community of rare houseplants can be exciting.
Of course, in terms of rareness, nothing quite compares to Neoplants, the first commercially available bioengineered houseplant built to purify the air.
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