What makes a Rare Tropical Plant Rare?
I often hesitate to claim some of the plants in the Exotic Rainforest collection are rare even though they are quite rare to me! Rarity in tropical plants is to some degree a state of mind. If the plant is difficult to obtain, to a collector it can easily be considered rare. If it is hard to find in nature it is rare. If it is endangered in nature it is almost certainly rare. And if one is easy to find it can still be a rare tropical plant if it is hard to grow. As a result, its value, once a specimen is actually acquired, can be enormous.
But there's more to it than those factors. Many plants do not reproduce quickly. Either their method of reproduction, such as Cercestis mirabilis, is slower than with other plants or they are difficult to grow once cuttings have been taken or seeds have been germinated. In the case of Cercestis mirabilis, which has leaves that appear to have been embossed with a fern, the plant is not hard to grow but it takes a long time to get a second plant. C. mirabilis produces a long runner which can easily take more than a year before a single new plant can be removed! And then the new plant has to be grown to a near adult size before it can be sold and that can be another year! Two years to get one new plant! Click the photo to see the plant.
We have anthuriums such as the plant we thought for years to be Anthurium salviniae but is actually Anthurium schtendalii (read the story of that rare plant by clicking on the large anthurium photo on the homepage or click the photo here) that require insects to pollinate them before you get viable seeds. You don't get viable seeds every year. And once you get seeds to begin to grow the new plants produce only 4 or 5 inch seedlings after a full year of growth! In most cases it takes two years to get a descent size plant. But when those plants are grown (years later) they can have gigantic 5 foot plus leaves! To my way of thinking, those plants are certainly rare because they are both slow to grow and spectacular once grown! And are they worth the wait!
But some are "rare" (look for the rare plant icons on the list of species on the plants collection page) simply because specimens are not readily available. Ferns are a great example I know a collector who would almost kill to get a specimen of a rare fern called Adiantum reniforme from southern Africa, Madagascar and the Canary Islands. It is both hard to find and hard to grow. But none are available anywhere. So far we've found one grower who even has the plant and that grower won't sell it! Often fern collectors pay very high prices just to be able to find a prized fern after a long search. And many of them such as the blue fern, Microsorum thailandicum, are very slow to reproduce and grow thus increasing the plant's value. (click on the photo) And of course there are those plants that are downright impossible to find such as Impatiens psittacina, The Rare Thailand Parrot Flower. (Read the story of that one by clicking on the photo). Any rare plant collector would pay an unheard of price for that plant!
There are plants that used to be rare because they weren't commonly available but suddenly are in great abundance due to the tissue culture of the species. For those who may not be aware, tissue culture is simply cloning of plants by taking a piece of tissue from a near perfect plant and culturing it in a lab to produce numerous exact reproductions of the parent. As a result, many philodendrons, anthuriums, orchids and others that once easily brought $50 or more for a small plant now sell for under $20. I have a large number of such plants including very large Philodendron mamei (grown from cuttings) that cause people to raise their eyebrows when I ask $20 for a big one because they believe they can find it on eBay for $10 or less. The difference? Mine are big, most of those are very small! Before you just send the $7 find out how much plant you will get for your money! How large is the plant you can for $7 or $8 on eBay? Often you'll find that some hobbyist has bought a couple of trays of tiny 2 inch P. mamei seedlings and almost immediately put them up for sale for $7. That while more serious growers spend a year or more getting the plant to a large enough size to make it worth $20! There's not much comparison between a $7 tiny 3 or 4 inch plant with just a few leaves and a $20 one filled with fully developed leaves 7 to 8 inches across. My suggestion? Ask the seller how big the plant you will receive will be before committing to a plant! If it is going to take you a year to get it big enough to even recognize the plant species then $20 or $30 may be a bargain for one that is large already! Of course, if you enjoy sitting and watching them grow, the $7 plant may be a bargain.
Another consideration is how is the plant you are about to acquire grown and presented? If it is a fern or aroid that is an epiphyte (ep-a-FIT) and grows on trees and is already attached to a nice plaque or piece of bark someone had to spend quite a bit of time getting it attached! Often years! Even if the grower is not a professional, they have often invested large sums of money and time just to acquire the parent plant before even spending the time and effort to get it to reproduce. Those growers deserve to get something back for their investment, time and labor! A grower's time, materials, space in the greenhouse, water, gas to heat it in the winter, the cost of pots, fertilizer and other materials as well as numerous other factors have value! And those costs add to the value of a rare or semi-rare plant. But another word of caution here! I bought a "mounted" philodendron on eBay a year ago. Or so I thought! I paid a high price for the plant but when it arrived it was drooping and was obviously about to die. I cut all the fishing line the "grower" had used to tie it to the plaque and removed mounds of orchid moss. The plant was not growing on the plaque at all!! It was simply a fresh cutting tied to a piece of wood! Obviously I was ticked. I had been taken and paid 4 times the value of the cutting. And I guarantee that plant seller's web link cannot be found on my links page!
One note about " plants", especially orchids, d at discount chains. Sure, you may find an orchid for $12 at a discount store. But will it live? Will it ever bloom again? Many discount sellers are selling plants that have been forced to grow and bloom using hormones. The hormones can cut years off the bloom time and as a result make it er for the discounter to and sell! An orchid takes at least 7 years from seed to first bloom if grown naturally! Those 7 years add to the value of the plant! But all too often the discounter's grower, interested only in turning a profit quickly for both themselves and the retailer, use methods that cause the plant to grow quicker but also to die prematurely! Is a $12 orchid that will never bloom again worth the price? Is it more valuable than a $25 orchid that blooms year after year, gets larger and larger while reproducing new plants and gives you pleasure for 10 to 20 years? I really don't think so. Think about it, have you ever bought plants that should cost more but die not long after you get them home? I sell orchids at local craft shows and often hear from folks "You can't grow orchids! Every one I at (name of some discount retailer) dies in just a few months". As a result of the bad experience created by retailers hungry for quick cash by selling a hormone grown plant another potential plant lover has been turned off to exotic plants that actually are easy to grow!
And one more thing to consider. Are you actually ing the plant you think you are ing? That will depend on the knowledge and honesty of the seller. I know some honest growers make mistakes, but some love to try to fool you into ing something that is not what the plant is advertised to be! I recently saw a plant for sale on eBay that had a name I had never heard before, "Philodendron barryii". I thought it might be a rare plant. I looked in a ton of books and on all the professional botany websites such as TROPICOS and the INTERNATIONAL PLANT NAMES INDEX and the name simply did not exist. The seller told me that was because the plant was "extremely rare". So rare its name could not be found on botany sites and no reputable botanist had even heard of it? I doubted that, and I communicate regularly with some of the best known botanists in the country and South America! But the seller also told me it was only $9! Somehow $9 for an extremely rare plant that botanists don't know exists just does not fit! If the botanists don't know about it I'd be willing to pay closer to $100, perhaps more if it is truly a rare species instead of a hybrid! In this case the seller (knowingly or not) was using a "made-up" name for a common plant with multiple growth forms in to sell it as rare! I sent photos of the plant to several noted botanists and they helped to identify it as a fairly common philodendron that has at least 10 known growth forms. When I told the seller what I had learned I was told "those botanists do not know what they are talking about!" This seller continued to insist the plant was so rare they had never heard of it. Even though noted scientists said otherwise! Why? Because the seller would loose the ability to misrepresent, purposely or innocently, the plant as rare. My point? Do your research! If you can't find the name on TROPICOS or the INTERNATIONAL PLANT NAMES INDEX the name is probably bogus! But, just because the name is bogus does not mean the plant is not rare. The seller may simply not know what they possess. And in very rare cases it may truly be an unidentified species. Dr. Tom Croat of the Missouri Botanical Garden brought back more than 4000 unidentified aroid species from Ecuador in the summer of 2006!
I hope this website will prove valuable to you when doing some of that research. I always try to give the most accurate scientific names available and consult with a variety of PhD botanical experts in to do just that. I'm sure there are errors on this site, but we correct them as quickly as they are discovered! Don't just get sucked in by the word "rare"! "Rare" is unfortunately the most common word used on eBay when it comes to plants. And the majority of "rare" plants on eBay are not rare!
In most cases, I consider a plant rare if it is either hard to obtain or requires a lot of care and attention to grow and reproduce. You'll find an icon with the word "Rare" alongside a variety of plants on this site. Normally those plants took some effort to find, propagate and grow. Serious plant collectors understand why a plant has value. So do yourself and the grower a favor. Don't sneer at the price of a plant if you don't understand what the grower has gone through to acquire the plant and make it thrive. Time has value. And so do plants that truly knowledgeable growers consider Rare tropical plants! You can find trusted and honest rare plant sellers on the links page of our website which can be located at the bottom of our home page. If you don't find a seller listed there it is likely that I or someone I know has had a less than great experience with that seller! If I don't trust them, I don't list them.