An Inside Look At The Tropical Plant Trend

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Aglaonema ‘Pink Sapphire’

With the Tropical Plant Industry Expo (TPIE) just around the corner, several breeders shared their insights concerning the latest and greatest on the market. While some have focused on creating marketing programs to stop consumers in their tracks at retail, others have taken a step back to entice customers with unique varieties. As growers continue to improve as marketers, the focus has also shifted to educating the consumer on the beyond-beauty benefits of indoor plants like bromeliads, ferns and more. Take a look at what’s popular and what’s in the pipeline for this plant category.

Tropicals Consumers Love

Green industry experts explain which plants have become highly popular choices, as well as reveal the up-and-comers they are most excited about.

“One thing that has been working really well for us right now is Spathiphyllum ‘Crystal.’ It’s a large-pot spathiphyllum without pollen. It is a distinct improvement when you can get a good spathiphyllum that doesn’t dust the floor with pollen.

“Another one that has been extremely popular, especially at trade shows, is the curcuma. It has striking color and is something different in the market. The curcuma begins blooming late May, early June and straight through to October when the daylengths get shorter. It can be out on the patio and bloom constantly through the summer into fall.”
– Joseph Roberts and Randy Nataliano, ForemostCo

“Some of the more popular houseplants are spathiphyllum, palms, Boston fern, bromeliads, pothos and Lucky bamboo, to name a few. Landscaping plants’ popularity list differs slightly, with croton, hibiscus, ixora, cordyline and trinette as some of our best sellers.”
– Natalie DiSciascio, Delray Plants

“We’ve got this tremendous range of new and different-colored aglaonemas, which I think is going to be a completely new foundational category in ornamentals. They come in a wide range of colors, and the amazing thing is that because they are aglaonemas, they take a terribly long time to grow, but when the consumer gets them, they just don’t die. They look better two years later in people’s homes than when they first went in. They tend to get more color over time. They are the best new foliage plants to come around that I have seen in my 40 years.”
– Kerry Herndon, Kerry’s Nursery

“We are excited about the two Tropi-cools selections we are listing this season from Plants Nouveau: Colocasia ‘Tropi-cools Madeira’ and Musa ‘Tropi-cools Mekong Giant.’ These are great, new selections that revolutionize how consumers in Northern climates think about tropicals. Both are hardy to USDA Zone 6 and overwinter even if the soil freezes.

Musa ‘Mekong Giant’ is unique in that it reaches heights of up to 15 feet, even in Zone 6. This hardy banana has a reddish-purple trunk that perfectly accentuates the bright-green foliage. Colocasia ‘Madeira’ is a spectacular compact black form that reaches 2 to 3 feet.  ‘Madeira’ is the perfect accent in mixed containers with bright colors. “
– Jennifer Hatalski, Hort Couture

“What’s Old Is New Again”

If you ask Kerry Herndon of Kerry’s Nursery, Inc., one trend involves tapping into the market for plants of the past, such as rare fern varieties.

“One of the things we are doing is going back in time a little bit,” Herndon says. “We’re growing bird’s nest fern, Asplenium nidus, now. When’s the last time you saw a specimen bird’s nest fern? It’s been decades since anyone has grown that really cool stuff. And there has been a demand for it. People love wonderful, beautiful things like that.”

Herndon, who got into the market by growing bromeliads and rare ferns for collectors, has begun growing A. nidus ‘Victorian’ in 5-inch, 6-inch and 8-inch pots. He anticipates selling more smaller-sized plants and has found that many people have embraced the fern program.

“Although we are continuing to expand, they pretty much all sold,” Herndon says. “It’s been surprising how well-received it has been.”
Herndon also has a theory about why these old favorites are coming into fashion again.

“What’s old is new again,” he says. “My opinion is that there is a sense of nostalgia attached to these older plant varieties. They remind people of a simpler time, and it gives them comfort. They remember them at grandma’s house. Besides, these are really good plants.”

Houseplants As Home Décor

While tropicals have long been centerpiece staples and colorful additions to bland workspaces, young plant producer ForemostCo has collaborated with KP Holland, a breeder specializing in anthurium, curcuma, kalanchoe and spathiphyllum, to offer a kalanchoe program called Taranta Pretty Wild. The Taranta mixes K. blossfeldiana with africanas genetics with “wild” results.

“You have a nice, compact kalanchoe with very funky leaves,” says ForemostCo’s Vice President Randy Natalino. “The thing that consumers like is the long shelf-life and home life of the kalanchoe, and now we’ve added some funky leaves. We’ve found it to be very popular.”

The leaves, however, aren’t the only wild thing about the Taranta. The Pretty Wild program also features animal print packaging to complement a consumer’s home décor or spice up a dull corner. ForemostCo is working on presenting a complete marketing package with the pot, sleeve, tag and plant to make it easier for growers to market the tropicals line. Now in the mid- to late-trialing stages, the program is set to roll out in spring 2013.

“At the IPM Essen show in Germany, a lot of breeders and young plant producers will create a complete marketing package all the way to the consumer end,” says ForemostCo’s Joseph Roberts. “The wild marketing concept comes from the breeder initially. This is something you see a lot in Europe, not so much in the U.S., and we thought it was a great idea. Instead of supplying the plant and saying, ‘Go figure it out,’ we are offering you a complete package.”

When it comes to packaging, Herndon, whose company has traditionally offered stylish ceramic pots, has picked up on another trend he calls “de-materialization.”

“We have been famous for these containers that we bring in. We’ve seen people say, ‘Enough.’ There are two different things happening at the same time. One is that people are de-materializing. This is a fundamental trend in our world,” says Herndon, who admits to packing up books to donate to the library and returning leftover plant containers to the nursery in his own life. “People don’t want to throw away containers, but they tend to build up over time.

“The same time this is going on, companies like Chemkin and Deco Wrap continue to improve the style and design of their simple, inexpensive wraps. The fact is that people don’t mind throwing away a piece of plastic — they do it all day, every day — but they do mind throwing away a ceramic pot. [With wraps] you get the visual bang for the buck without the guilt of possession,” he says.
Although Herndon’s customer base has grown used to the ceramics Kerry’s Nursery offers, he is working to get more people onboard.

“Change is always hard, but I think it is the right direction,” he says.

Tropicals Provide Benefits And Solutions

Delray Plants has also made marketing and selling tropicals easier for growers by offering two houseplant-specific programs, Breath of Fresh Air and Green Greetings. Breath of Fresh Air, a program developed on the premise of educating consumers on the benefits of indoor plants as air purifiers, focuses on creating a need for plants that won’t come from aesthetics alone. Green Greetings works to encourage sales by providing a solution to the never-ending consumer challenge: what to get someone for [insert holiday/special occasion here].

“Green Greetings is a novelty program we are excited to further develop,” says Delray Marketing Coordinator Natalie DiSciascio. “It’s a greeting card and a plant all in one. We currently offer designs for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Christmas, but if the program continues to grow, we hope to expand designs into other themed holidays or life events.”

The new marketing programs work to get consumers thinking about tropicals in new ways, but this group of plants retains its traditional appeal in and around the home. For those who want to continue using tropicals as “wow” plants, butdon’t know where to use them, Delray Plants has stepped in to help.

“Tropicals are used in landscaping, home décor and interior designs, and it is up to us to remind consumers of the many uses, as well as the best tropicals for these uses,” DiSciascio says. “We will be launching a new website and one of our goals is to offer consumers suggestions and ideas on the uses of houseplants. Within the new site, we will be launching a section called Right Plant, Right Place. We will soon be dealing with a generation of consumers that want and like plants, but don’t necessarily know what to do with them. It is our responsibility to educate them.”

Hort Couture also strives to educate consumers by offering two collections that indicate where to make the most of their tropicals right in the name. The Patio & Garden orchid line and Centerpiece cordyline collection make it easy for consumers to know how to use each variety in an appropriate way, even if, in the case of orchids, the use is unconventional.

“Patio & Garden orchids revolutionize the mixed container by bringing the orchid off the living room table and outside on to the patio,” says Hort Couture’s Jennifer Hatalski. “One of the latest trends has also been to purchase tropicals you can use not only outside during the summer, but varieties you can pull inside during the winter months. Our Centerpiece cordylines are great for this use and provide added value for the consumer.”

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