September 27 // Houseplants

On the Hunt for Unusual Tropicals

Our tropical plant buyer, Jasmine Osten, is always on the hunt for new and unusual plants to bring into our collection. Tropical houseplants – especially uniquely shaped or boldly patterned ones – are experiencing a resurgence in popularity right now, and Jasmine is constantly searching for new plants she knows fellow plant enthusiasts will love and won’t easily find anywhere else.

Her search often starts with a popular “standard” plant, like a green pothos or a fern – classics with an outstanding reputation for being beautiful and reliable houseplants. Then Jasmine seeks out unusual varieties we may have never seen before, like the satiny pothos cultivar ‘Picta.’ Or the Pteris fern cultivar ‘Evergemiensis’ with its delicately dissected fronds and silver variegation. Alocasia ‘Polly’ is another plant that’s found a real following. So, after doing some more digging, Jasmine has found other interesting Alocasia cultivars, including ‘Black Stem,’ ‘Sarian,’ and the leather-like ‘Maharani.’ In the same way, Jasmine has brought in specialty philodendrons like Philodendron ‘Burle Marx,’ P. davidsonii, and P. gloriosum. If a popular plant is usually very large – like a bird-of-paradise, for example – Jasmine will hunt down growers who offer younger plants in smaller pots, often at great prices. Then even apartment dwellers and those with smaller container gardens can enjoy some of these amazing plants too.

Other times, it’s the world-wide community of plant enthusiasts that sends Jasmine on a mission. She spends time every week engaging with plant growers and collectors online and discussing what’s new and exciting in the plant world. It doesn’t end there though. Like a good investigator, part of Jasmine’s job is chasing down leads. Buying tropical plants to supply a garden center isn’t as simple as calling up a warehouse and ordering exactly what we want and how many. It takes building relationships with brokers, growers, and even shipping companies to find the right people and get the highest-quality plants to our store. Most growers carry just a limited number of plant species and cultivars. So, if Jasmine discovers an unusual plant that she wants to bring into our collection, it might take several phone calls to locate someone who grows it in any meaningful volume. Jasmine has also discovered that growers are creatures of habit. They have their specialties, and they aren’t always eager to start growing a new plant just because it’s trending. That’s when Jasmine might use her powers of persuasion along with those investigative talents.

And sometimes, great opportunities pop up in unexpected places. On a recent visit to a bromeliad grower in California, Jasmine discovered a number of Hoya kerrii, or heart-leaf hoya, hanging in one of their greenhouses. As a Hoya collector herself, Jasmine instantly recognized this amazing break. She’d only ever seen this plant offered one other time, so Jasmine bought all the Hoya kerrii she could and had them shipped home. It’s just one example of the kind of plant that collectors have to grab when they can – it might be a while before Jasmine can get more into our store.

But, one of the most rewarding parts of Jasmine’s detective work is locating a hard-to-find plant that a customer has specifically requested. We do take special orders, and Jasmine has a running list of plants that she’s always on the look-out for. She loves to do it, as long as the plant-lover involved understands that it may take a while – sometimes a year – for the long-awaited plant to pop up on Jasmine’s radar. Fortunately, her radar never quits, and with determination and persistence, she always finds the plant.