One benefit of traveling around the world on business is the chance to write these articles while flying. For the last four years, I have been learning intensely about a huge part of ornamental horticulture: the annual or bedding plant business.
It’s been an intense learning curve thanks mostly to traveling with LJ Contillo, who heads up our annual business at Costa Farms. LJ has spent his entire professional career on the color side, so I have been fortunate to learn that part of the business from him, and he has learned the indoor houseplant portion from me.
The color side is a huge and diverse industry. The difference between indoor houseplants and color items boils down to this: annuals are developed faster and the demand is much greater.
But the indoor breeding side has upside too. Development of the criteria was refined as we have advanced in the indoor plant industry, thus we have had time to learn what is needed by the breeders to make better houseplants.
The downside of indoor plants is that most breeders in this area only breed one or two genera at the max. That is now changing as breeders on the color side start to see indoor houseplants as a place to focus, especially because royalties are longer term. I believe the royalties are longer term because the world of indoor houseplants does not change as rapidly.
It is amazing the drastic difference in genera that exists in the color business, which makes it more exciting to watch as new items come out yearly. To date, there are about 100 different genera with thousands of varieties that make up the core annual side. On the indoor side, there are about 20 different genera with hundreds of varieties that encompass the core of the business. I would say that both sides complement one another because they blend the outside world with the patio and the indoors.
Indoor vs. Outdoor Worldwide
You can see the vast differences in industry makeup when you travel to Europe, where the climate is diverse. You also can see in Europe that the various divisions work together closely. I believe this is because the color and indoor sides are more equals there than here. I’m not saying they are equal in numbers, but Europe seems to be more balanced because everyone there has houseplants. I’m sure it is because the weather causes people to be indoors more often in Europe than here. You can see differences based on climatic conditions in other parts of the world.
In tropical Southeast Asia, you see more plants that northerners use as indoor houseplants being used outdoors. Many of them are very colorful. In Australia, you can even see a different makeup of where plants end up because they have had years of bad droughts. Australians have adjusted from annuals to more vegetables and herbs. It is interesting to see the differences, and I think that also shows how we move some plants from outdoor to indoor.
If you’re wondering why I wrote about both annuals and indoor houseplants, it is because our industry can learn a lot from other parts of the world. How many people do you associate with from other countries? Our industry is fantastic, but imagine how many smiles plants create every day from their beauty worldwide.
Once you put down this issue, learn about the other parts of our industry. Or better yet, make friends in other parts. You will be amazed how different they are.