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Identifying house plants is not an easy task. There are A LOT of them. And not only that, but a lot of them look verrry similar.
You’d think it’d be as easy as 1. buy a plant, 2. look at the label of said plant. But that’s absolutely not the case. And whilst I’ve bought my fair share of mislabelled plants, I’ve bought even more that are called ‘mixed foliage’, ‘green tropical plant’, or simply ‘house plant’.
So what to do?
Google articles like ’50 best house plants’
Or alternatively check out my plant index.
You may not find your exact plant, but you might find one that looks a bit similar.
We don’t need a perfect match here, but it’ll get you started. Look for similarities in leaf shape, succulence (how thick and succulent the leaves are), and growth pattern (vining, clumping, each new leaf growing from the one before).
Search for the plant in Pinterest/Instagram
I prefer Pinterest for this in the beginning, because the search function is far superior to Instagram’s.
If you think you might have found the exact type of plant but want to double check, then search for the entire plant name, for example Phildendron birkin. If you think you’ve found a similar plant, then search by genus.
This is especially the case when it comes to Philodendron (and Hoya, actually), because there are a tonne that look super similar.
Pinterest is great for the initial search, but once you’ve ascertained that you got less than common plant, you’re better off searching specific hashtags on Instagram.
Do bear in mind that people are fallible though, so you might need to check your specimen against a few different posts.
Tag someone on Instagram/Twitter
Feel free to tag me and ask me to help identify a plant, but I must admit I’m not the most skilled at it. Hopefully I’ll be able to either point you in the right direction or towards someone that can, though.
Plant sellers are great people to ask, because they’ll have most likely seen a tonne of different types of plants.
The more specific the shops interest, the more likely they’ll be able to help you, especially when you get into plants like orchids, which are one of the biggest species of flowering plants out there.
When I say that there are lot of different types of orchid out there, I mean it. A lot. Like 25,000 species.
Wow, imagine if each of the 25,000 orchids also have a variegated version (and a narrow/wide form). If you want to start collecting orchids, be prepared to buy a big ass house.
Ask at your local garden centre
Now, you can’t just ask anyone. That kid that works four hours on a Saturday can’t be expected to know if you have a Hoya Krimson Queen or Princess. But they may be able to point you in the direction of someone that does.
How to not waste your money buying the wrong plant
This is an issue a lot of new plant owners can run into.
One of the first plants that goes onto a new house plant parent’s wish list is a variegated Monstera. They’re beautiful and fairly easy to care for.
So they look for somewhere to buy one.
At best, they spend a few quid on some variegated monstera seeds that they’ll be lucky are even regular green Monstera, since you can’t grow variegated Monstera from seed (at least, you can’t be guaranteed it’ll be variegated).
Nine times out of ten, the seeds will be grass. Basil if you’re lucky.
A note on variegated monstera…
I’m probs repeating myself, but it’s important.
- Variegated Monsteras aren’t rare. They are, however, in high demand. They will go down in price. Eventually.
- Variegated Monstera albo is an example of unstable variegation. If you can’t provide yours with enough light, it may revert to all green. Bye, £500 plant, hey £50 plant.
- Thai constellations are much cheaper and the variegation is manmade, so it won’t revert. Here in the UK, you can get one for under £100, and they’re fairly hardly (like a regular Monstera). The price hasn’t decreased in the US YET, but it will. Hopefully summer of 2021.
Only buy from trusted sellers
Check the reviews. There’s not a lot you can do to prove that a seller isn’t a scammer until you’ve bought from them, so if you’re looking to buy an expensive plant, perhaps buy a cheap one first so you can see.
Don’t buy wet sticks unless you know what you’re doing
When a plant is advertised as being a ‘wet stick’ it basically means you’re just buying a node. They’re usually cheaper because the seller hasn’t had to bother rooting the plant.
(Sometimes you can buy rooted wet stick though)
Wet sticks aren’t exactly difficult to grow, but they can take their sweet time and different plant take different amounts of time to grow.
For example, Philodendron Golden dragon develops roots beautifully, but you may be waiting months for an actual leaf. Oh, but that might only be in my house – you may have the opposite experience.
But wet sticks can rot easily. Don’t spend a lot of money on one. Be patient. As interest in house plants grows, more and more plants are being tissue cultured (basically they’ve been cloned) plants that cost three figures can plummet to double digits overnight.
Don’t buy it if it’s too good to be true
The classic example here is the obliqua/adansonii debacle. If you’re out of the loop, here’s the Cliff’s notes:
- Monstera adansonii is the plant that has leaves that look like swiss cheese (hence its AKA as Swiss Cheese Vine. Prices do vary, but you can usually pick one up for around £25. To give you an idea of how common they are, here in the UK they’re often found in supermarkets. They’re easy to grow (though watch out for Thrips and be sure to fertilise regularly)
- Monstera Obliqua looks similar to Adansonii, but the holes in the leaves are smaller (they’re often described as being more hole than leaf). Obliqua has much thinner, more delicate leaves, and requires super high humidity (like 80%) but not too much (81%) or it’ll rot.
Ok, jokes, the 1% difference in humidity isn’t game over, but you get the point. Adansonii is easy and cheap, Obliqua is pain in the butt and…not cheap. We’re talking four figures. Between £1,500 and £3,000. FOR A CUTTING.
The take away here is that obliqua is either extremely expensive OR (more likely) an overpriced adansonii.
Obliqua on ‘sale’ for £500 are unlikely to be the real deal. You have been warned.
Don’t get one for the clout. If you think it looks cool, get one. But only drop £1000+ if you KNOW what it is.
Should you tell staff if a plant is mislabelled?
Before I answer this, let me first tell you that I’m a pretty honest person. I would never take a fallen cutting without asking, and people that actually take cuttings (with scissors) in garden centres are deplorable.
A few weeks ago I pointed out a pot to garden centre staff that was labelled Philodendron Squamiferum, but was actually two plants – there was a Florida green in there too. But I already had each of those two plants. Would I have done it had I wanted to buy the plant? I dunno. I hope so.
I bought this Florida green as a Syngonium red arrow. £14.99. Bargain.
But in general, if you see a mislabelled plant, it’s fair game. If garden centres are anything like tropical fish shops, they’re well aware that they have a slightly rarer philodendron, but if they price the plant properly, they may not sell it.
I mention tropical fish because quite often you’ll see a tank of bronze corydoras that are actually gold lasers, and the staff know, but they don’t care. Their job is to get those fish sold for the price they’re labelled at.
My rule of thumb is that mislabelled plants in big chain stores are fair game, but in more independent shops I let them know, and hope they honour the original price (though they absolutely aren’t obligated to).
Ok, this post didn’t go in entirely the direction I expected to, but in all honesty, it’s nigh on impossible to get a definitive ID on a plant without being a botanist or similar plant professional.
When I was first starting out with my plant collection, I kept an extensive wish list BUT I made sure that rarer/more expensive specimens were kept to a minimum.
In general, those just starting out with their collections are looking for plants that are easier to identify – watermelon peperomias, Monstera deliciosa, and ZZ plants are fairly easy to identify.
Always feel free to email or tag me on Instagram if you want help with identifying plants. As I said, I’m not the best at this, but I should be able to point you in the right direction.