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Chasing unicorns

16 February 2021
If you are after a variegated monstera, Monstera deliciosa ‘Thai Constellation’ is a good place to start.

For the indoor plant collector, the wish list is long. We look at some plants worth the wait.

Words Sue Witteman

When you start collecting, you begin by happily gathering together anything and everything that’s readily available. But, after a while, you seem to have all the common stuff and your thoughts turn to the more elusive or expensive items. The ‘I wants’ start to set in and it starts to get more serious from then on.

Depending on your budget, or how many people you know who have special plants and a willingness to share them, or even how quick your finger is when it comes to online auctions, you may find yourself in a feverish hunt for your wish-list plants. Most are not available in the garden centres or nurseries.

So, which plants are more difficult to obtain because of their rarity or cost? Desirability seems to be spread across many plant groups, including aroids, orchids, succulents, cacti; too many to list, but I will give you a taster.

Coming in many shapes and forms, some philodendrons are easily sourced; others not. Philodendron micans (syn. P. hederaceum var. hederaceum) is now more available and no less worthy for that, but if you want to up-spec then go for one or more of the next-level philodendrons, such as: P. bipennifolium (the fiddle-leaf philodendron), P. elegans (be still my beating heart), P. eximium, P. florida, P. gloriosum, the velvety P. melanochrysum and P. panduriforme.

For a particularly long, skinny leaf, there is P. crassinervium (syn. P. lanceolatum). I also like the lime-yellow-leafed philodendrons, such as P. ‘Rose Gold’ as well as the easier-to-get P. ‘Imperial Gold’, P. hederaceum ‘Lemon Lime’ or P. cordatum ‘Neon’.
If you are after a different leaf colour, then P. ‘Pink Princess’ has fetching pink blotches on the leaves and is now available in shops, though it is still hard to get a decent-sized plant.
Philodendron are a large and interesting group of plants to get into collecting, with some exceedingly rare specimens.

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Philodendron elegans

There are some choice plants in this group making it a feature on many people’s wish lists. Anthurium crystallinum has attractive heart-shaped leaves with the veins highlighted in white, as does A. clarinervium. For a longer, narrower leaf, still with the white vein patterning, there is the interesting-sounding A. warocqueanum. If, rather than leaf interest, you want an anthurium that has a bold flower then look to A. scherzerianum, the flamingo plant, which has tropical red blooms with wow factor.

This is also a group that boasts bold and interesting foliage. One plant with striking leaves is Alocasia micholitziana ‘Green Velvet’. The large leaves have lime detailing, which is set off nicely against dark green leaves.

There is a decent range of this hot ticket item to hunt and gather. The heart-shaped leaves of Hoya kerrii are just gorgeous and can grow quite large when it really gets going. It also comes in a variegated version (H. albomarginata) with a cream edge around the margin.
If you desire a rounded leaf, H. obovata comes in standard green, splash and variegated forms. For a leaf with a difference, try the Hindu rope hoya, H. carnosa ‘Compacta’. The leaves are very tightly curled and twisted, and it also comes in variegated versions.

Variegated indoor plants are desirables. Coming in white or yellow variegations, monsteras are stop-you-in-your-tracks plants. They can be grown from a piece of stem with a node on it, which is a ‘cheaper’ way to get one of these, but they are still expensive. Monstera deliciosa ‘Thai Constellation’ has recently become more available, and while still up there on price it is becoming more affordable.

Another variegated wish-list plant is pothos Epipremnum aureum ‘Njoy’: with its fresh white and green foliage, it looks mighty fine either climbing up or hanging down.

There is a huge range of orchids to get excited about and they are all lovely, but one orchid that seems to be hotly desired is Ludisia discolor, the black jewel orchid, which is grown for its finely striped dark-green leaves. I was going in the door of an orchid show the other day as someone walked out proudly carrying one. Deeming it unseemly to tackle her to the ground and make off with it, this one is still on my wish list.

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The cream-edged leaves of Ceropegia woodii ‘Variegata’ may be small, but they are pretty.

Hanging plants
The impossibly cute string of turtles, Peperomia prostrata, has been desirable for a while and is still being snapped up when it appears for sale. This is a plant that shows how waiting for the prices to (slowly) drop means you can now get a turtle for a reasonable-ish price.

Another hanging plant still going strong is the variegated string of hearts, Ceropegia woodii ‘Variegata’. With its silvery leaves edged in cream, it is a stunner when it bulks up and fills the pot.

Another ‘string of’ is Dischidia nummularia – string of nickels. It produces pleasing circular leaves, as does the silver dollar plant, Xerosicyos danguyi, in silvery-green, fleshy form. Both are still somewhat hard to get.

What is a wish-list plant for me, may not be a wish list-plant for you, and vice versa. It all depends on where you are in the plant-collecting cycle and how quickly you are moving through the various acquiring stages.
New Zealand has recently gone a bit crazy with plant prices and we all know of those plants that have made the news for selling for thousands of dollars. Just bear in mind that while some plants will always be rare and expensive, many that have inflated prices now will eventually come down in price (remember Monstera deliciosa) as more are propagated or traded. If you can wait, you may be able to grow your collection at a more affordable rate. Caladiums are an example; they were as rare as hen’s teeth, and then they dropped dramatically in price and the other day I bought mine for a price I was very happy with. As the saying goes, ‘good things come to those that wait’ – or those who have deep pockets! Happy hunting.

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