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Anyone remember the #itsneverobliqua hashtag?
For those unaware it was a hashtag that was widely used in the comment section under the many thousands of people posting pictures of common or garden Monstera adansonii and claiming they found a unicorn.
Monstera obliqua were incredibly rare and not straightforward to care for.
You would NEVER accidentally get an obliqua, because they’re a different species of plant to Monstera adansonii.
Where would it have come from?
They’re rare in the wild and very few people were growing them. The hashtag was accurate: unless you knew someone who knew someone who could get you an actual obliqua (and you had a spare few grand to spend on one, it was never obliqua.
Fast forward to now, and it’s #sometimesobliqua.
Whilst it’s pretty much impossible that adansonii and obliqua would get mixed up, obliquas are showing up in garden centres for a decent price. We’re still talking high double figures, like this one I saw in my local garden centre:
What is very interesting is that the price of Monstera obliqua has tanked. We see similar things with Alocasia such as A. dragonscale, and Philodendrons like P. Pink Princess.
So, how are such rare plants becoming so cheap?
It’s basic supply and demand.
If demand is high, but supply is low, prices are high. If prices AND demand are high, houseplant suppliers invest in ways to sell as many plants as they can before demand inevitably waves as the hype and buzz die down.
The way to create a lot of plants very quickly and cheaply is to tissue culture them. When companies start tissue culturing plants, they need to invest time and money into researching the best protocol for that plant, so they tend to wait until demand has been consistent for a while.
Then the market floods with the tissue cultured products, prices fall, and eventually so does demand.
What’s interesting about the houseplant market is that trends have a long life, and companies can study planty social media for trends, hoping that we’ll all spend top dollar on, for example, Pilea Peperomioides, and then they’ll have got the plant to the tissue culture stage *just* before the plant reaches mainstream media and captures the attention of the general public.
So, if you want to make your millions in the plant biz, simply stumble upon a plant that’s about to enter the Zeitgeist, learn how to do tissue culture at home and tissue culture it first.
Why does tissue culturing drop the price of house plants so much?
When we tissue culture plants, we do it using a tiny piece of the plant called an explant. It can be a bit of leaf, node, flower, whatever – different explants yield different results depending on the species of plant. For example, most aroids are tissue cultured using a section of node as an explant.
The explant is then supposed in sterile goo and nutrients and kept in certain conditions (again, the conditions vary depending on the plant species). After some time, usually a few weeks, tiny plantlets will start growing out of the explant. In there HUNDREDS. So one mature, e.g. P. Pink Princess could be divided into explants and produce thousands of new plants.
Aaaand that’s why tissue culturing ends up dropping the price so much. Supply shoots up. There’s usually a period of time when the price remains high so that those of us that are willing to spend £100 on a plant are separated from our money (and the company can make a tidy profit), and then they drop to rock bottom prices for the home decor market.
I’m happy to wait for prices to drop. Many of my peers aren’t and with plants, it doesn’t really matter, because it’s so easy to chop, prop, and sell your cuttings to make your money back.
My boyfriend spent £100 on a Monstera dubia and is gutted every time we see them selling for £35 now. It happens! I love it anyway (both the plant and the boyfriend).
Also, with tissue culture, you can sell the plants when they’re very small, reducing the amount of time and space needed to raise them. They’re cheaper to transport, and you fit a lot of them into a smaller space without risking damaging the leaves. And since prices are low, it’s basically a win-win.
I see an increasing number of Facebook groups selling TEENY tissue cultures that still need to be hardened off. It’s a way to get rare plants that are still expensive (the most common I see are variegated Monstera and Philodendron Caramel Marble) BUT they need very specific care so it’s not necessarily the easiest way to get a rare plant for a low price.
So why are variegated Monstera still so expensive?
There are various rumours that growers are purposefully limiting the number of variegated Monstera on the market to keep demand high.
It doesn’t really matter whether this is true or not – the fact remains that demand is still incredibly high for variegated Monstera, so if you add clever marketing to that, why lower the price?
People will HAPPILY pay £200 for a variegated Monstera – they’re easy to look after and look cool AND (and this is the clever marketing) they’re ALWAYS referred to as rare. I mean, regular Monstera are still incredibly popular, so it makes sense that variegated ones are as well.
Prices do go up and down and they’re not that expensive any more, but one of the things which has kept prices high is the number of scams going on.
So many people get scammed into buying pothos nodes or low-variegation cuttings for £100 that it constantly reinforces that these plants are expensive. Even though if you look at the big picture, they’re just as easy for labs to produce as green Monstera.
Actually, variegated plants are slightly less hardy and take longer to grow than green ones, but there shouldn't be as much price disparity between green and variegated plants as there is.
Remember that prices can rise too
It doesn’t happen that often, but occasionally a plant can be trundling along being cheap as chips for YEARS and then all of a sudden people are fighting over £75 wet sticks on Etsy.
The most famous example of this is the Philodendron Pink Princess.
PPP isn’t found in the wild. It was developed in a lab. It can ONLY be made by tissue culture, and it used to be cheap. Like, a tenner for a plant.
This isn't a case of low supply - it was an unashamed cash grab. You can't tell me that they lost the protocol and had to go back to chopping and propping.
It’s currently cheap again, but during the pandemic demand for pink princess SOARED. People were paying several hundreds of pounds for medium-sized plants. It was a dark time.
Remember that person in New Zealand that spent five grand on a variegated Rhaphidophora Tetrasperma? Those are now available for sale in my local garden centre.
They’re priced differently depending on size and the level of variegation, but none were over £200. Again, don’t feel bad for 5 grand guy – he can chop and prop his way to clawing his money back. Just…don’t spend your rent money on expensive plants because in a couple of years it may have gone down in price by a factor of a hundred.
(Unless it’s a variegated Monstera of course).
Oh, I also saw a variegated adansonii for £12.99 the other day. Twelve. Pounds. Ninety. Nine.
What’s interesting is how short the timeline’s getting. Philodendron Spiritus Sancti was the rarest plant in world a couple of years ago, and now I see people showing them on Facebook daily.
That was a deft move by a tissue culture company, who saw an opportunity and took it, knowing it wouldn’t last long.
The craze for them is flash in the pan (it’s never made the leap outside of the plant community, unlike PPPs, Pilea Pepromioides and variegated Monstera).
Oh, and if you’re wondering why I keep mentioning Pilea Peperromioides, they were INCREDIBLY expensive around 2017. People paid hundreds. But then due to the nature of the plant, people kept giving babies away as gifts until we basically all have one.