As consumers, we rarely think about our beloved houseplants' tropical origins and the journey they took to arrive in our homes. Plant collecting has been around for centuries. Collectors are scientists, researchers, and conservationists that scour the Earth looking for unusual and new plant species. It's not a job for the faint of heart. Collecting these plants takes a substantial amount of physical work, and it is often done in remote areas with physically challenging conditions.
Fortunately, we have plant hunters like Mike Rimland to do all the hard work for houseplant lovers. Rimland is the vice president of research and development for houseplants at Costa Farms, one of the largest horticultural growers in the world, and has spent more than 40 years exploring the globe to bring back unique plants for us to enjoy in the comfort of our homes. Many of Rimland's discoveries are part of Costa Farms' popular Trending Tropicals Collection. Here's how Rimland and Costa Farms find and ethically collect plants for their ever-growing collections.
To know what will land with your customer, you have to invest time into market research. Thankfully, social media makes it easy. "Social media is currently driving the tropicals market," says Rimland. The marketing team spends a lot of time engaging with plant parents on all social media platforms. The team is interested in everything that plant lovers are going nuts over. Rimland and the Costa Farms team look for trends that create a lot of buzz and use that information to plan their next expedition.
2. The Expedition and Discovery
Rimland doesn't don a fedora and strap a whip to his waist to find the next "it" plant in the middle of the jungle. However, he does board a plane to remote locations in Asia, central Africa, and more to hunt.
It's not an easy or glamorous job. "You're not just getting on a plane and landing in a country and looking at a lot of plants," explains Rimland. "There are a lot of people involved. I’m looking at garden centers, plant shops, officially sanctioned plant expeditions, meetings with breeders and collectors—just about any place you can imagine.”
Rimland says the key to his success is building relationships. Some of his most successful finds are not from professionals, just people who share his passion for plants. "Many of these plants come from a backyard breeder growing in a tiny shade house," says Rimland, "They're not breeding to make a lot of money—they just love those plants."
3. Determining Commercial Viability
Not every plant Rimland finds will make it to Costa Farms' collection. In addition to being visually attractive, the plant must meet several requirements. First, the plant must be able to grow in conditions like its natural habitat. "Our number one priority is the home gardener has to be successful with a plant before we add it to our Trending Tropicals Collection," says Rimland.
The first thing Rimland does when he finds a contender is subject it to his "box" test. "I stick it in a box, put it in an air-conditioned room or closet with no light for two weeks," he says. "It has to come out clean. It can't have any bad leaves. And weeks later, it can't have any lingering effects, either."
After the plant passes Rimland's box test, the Costa Farms team determines the plant's production capabilities. "Our goal is to take the commercially rare plants that we believe are easier for the customer and produce the volume that will bring the prices down," explains Rimland, "As well as bring them to the local stores where they shop." It can take up to two years to determine if the plant is commercially viable.
4. Stocking Up
Once the plant has proven it can be part of the collection, it's sent to Costa Farm's production nursery in the Dominican Republic. The company propagates to build up a population of mother plants from which future crops are grown to produce the volume needed to be introduced as a part of their line. This step is crucial to meet market demand. Since more than 40,000 stores across the US and Canada buy from Costa, hundreds of thousands of plants are needed for a variety to become widely available.
5. Introduction to the Plant Parents
And finally, the part you've been waiting for—buying a new plant at your local retailer. You can find Costa Farms' unique plant varieties at garden centers, home-improvement centers, club stores, or grocery stores. The Trending Tropical collection is the company's latest endeavor to bring customers exotic, rare, and noteworthy plants.
Best of all, there are plenty of plants in research and development. Costa Farms is planning to continue to add to the Trending Tropicals collection in the coming years. "Our pipeline is full of plants. Some you haven't seen yet, but we're certain these will be on-trend because they fit into home décor so perfectly," says Rimland.