There are an estimated 400,000 species of plants on earth. While this includes species such as giant marine kelp, leafless parasitic plants, and a slough of other ones not ultimately suitable for indoor cultivation, there are a significant number which will do quite well in an interior setting provided a few basic conditions are met, and certainly more species than are typically seen indoors.
It seems then a disservice to our clients, our own industry and plants in general that most companies seem to prefer to play it safe with the tried-and-true varieties that we’ve all become so accustomed to seeing. They’re about as common as dirt, as the saying goes, and, besides the fact that they (hopefully) have been grown as premium interior specimens and not hastened out the greenhouse door in the fashion of so many of the houseplants sold to the consumer market (the subject of another forthcoming post, I’m sure), there’s not really much to differentiate them from the plants that people are growing on their own at home, or at least that they’re so used to seeing everywhere that they don’t even notice them anymore.
It’s a disservice to clients because, while presumably done with good intentions in order to spare clients the sight of an ailing plant should anything go awry (most of these are very tough to kill [or at least they die slowly and relatively gracefully], and perform fairly predictably), it doesn’t really deliver a tremendous amount of value to the client: certainly they will get the physical benefits of having plants indoors (these benefits were touched on in this post), but the aesthetic and biophilic benefits of plants seem to me somewhat dependent on the plants being engaging and actually noticed, instead of looking like furniture as they so often do. And why have something commonplace when something extraordinary is just as much cost (on their part) and effort (on our part)?
It’s a disservice to our industry for several reasons. As I noted above, to the untrained eye these species, even if they’ve been better grown, look nearly indistinguishable from the ones that can be bought for a pittance at a big box store or wherever; it is challenging to justify the price point for them when someone thinks that they’re the same as the ones they saw for a quarter of the price up the road, even if they get the whole spiel about quality, etc. The other side to this is that many people grow these plants in their home themselves; why, then, would they pay us to do it? Yes, we can do a much better job (hopefully!), but it’s just another aspect we need to justify to the customer. Granted, there are some situations (extreme low light, for example) where only the bulletproof plants will do, but in most situations there is likely something more unique that could be used.
Lastly, it’s a disservice to plants (not that they care): what better way to share a passion for all things green than to try and show the public as much of that world as we can? There’s just so much out there that it seems strange to restrict ourselves to the commonplace when we’re in the business of bringing life into our clients’ spaces; certainly showcasing the extraordinary biodiversity that the plant kingdom has to offer is an effective way of doing just this.
Plants are able to do so much for us, and technology now makes it easier to keep species with particular requirements happy without any additional work (the Calathea above would certainly be trickier without the sub-irrigated planters it’s in; it’s relatively easy to grow so long as it doesn’t go dry). Vertical gardens allow the perfect growing environment for plants so uncommon in cultivation that they don’t even have a common name; the combination of ample water and high humidity makes a huge variety of plants available to the vertical gardener. What a shame then to see so many large, high-profile projects populated by pothos and other common plants when the whole of the tropics could have been the designer’s oyster.
In Situ challenges all in our industry (growers, local wholesalers and interior landscaping firms) to venture off the well-trodden path of Dracaena and Schefflera and step into a world rich in plant species which can grow our industry and the public’s love and appreciation for plants indoors.