On a plant collecting trip in the 1980s, Joy Logee acquired an unusual plant with pancake-shaped leaves that she brought back to Logee’s Greenhouses in Danielson, Connecticut. It took years to identify the untagged specimen as Pilea peperomioides, a funky tropical variety commonly known as the Chinese money plant.
It eventually faded out of Logee’s collection — until recently, when Pilea suddenly surged back into popularity, taking every plant nerd’s social media feed by storm. Pictures began popping up on Pinterest and Instagram, as design icons abroad shared updates about their precious Pilea — fueling a frenzied demand that outpaced grower supply in the United States.
Pilea gained its reputation as “The Sharing Plant,” because you had to know someone to snag a hard-to-find start. People sold Pilea pups on eBay and Etsy for shocking prices, and desperate collectors ponied up hundreds without hesitation.
Meanwhile, plant retailers like The Sill struggled to find sufficient inventory as a new generation of consumers fell in love with tropical houseplants. Although The Sill’s founder and CEO, Eliza Blank, communicates with growers regularly to anticipate demand, she says she consistently sells out of varieties like Monstera deliciosa because growers can’t keep up with trends.
“Growers don’t have a huge appetite for risk, which makes our job more difficult, because we have to wait until enough retailers ask for the same plant,” Blank says. “It’s ultimately worse for the grower, too, because as soon as growers finally caught onto the popularity of Pilea, then they weren’t making as much money as they could have if they would have been willing to be the first to grow it.”
Growers are understandably loathe to take greenhouse space away from reliable crops to grow every “wacky new plant,” that Blank and other retailers request. As a result, the whole industry is feeling the pressure of a surging houseplant market, driven by trends that are redefining consumer’s relationships with plants.
Like Pilea, other houseplants from past decades are making a strong comeback.
When Austin Bryant browses Pinterest today, he sees houseplants that were hip in the ’70s; the same types of interior tropical foliage that his parents started growing when they opened Heart of Florida Greenhouses Inc. in 1977.
“It’s a minimalist retro look,” says Bryant, head of sales at his family’s greenhouse in Zolfo Springs, Florida, “like Ficus lyrata (fiddle-leaf fig) and Monstera deliciosa (split-leaf philodendron). Those are both oldie goldies, and those are the two hottest plants you could have right now. Is this generation searching to find a connection with their grandparents? I don’t know, but I can look on Pinterest and see plants I haven’t seen in years.”
Ty Strode, vice president and director of marketing at Agri-Starts in Apopka, Florida, agrees that throwback plants are back in vogue. He says tropical foliage is an obvious choice for a new generation of plant owners, because of its low-light, easy care requirements and exotic-looking leaves.
“We’re seeing more opportunity in these funky retro plants like Pilea and Monstera, but the core crops — like Spathiphyllum, Syngonium, Dieffenbachia and Aglaonema — continue to be in demand, too,” Strode says. “The mainstays will always be there, but now there’s a new opportunity to reinvent these re-emerging plants.”
So, what’s different about indoor foliage this time around?
The speed of social media
Classics are still in style, but the way consumers are choosing and using houseplants has changed drastically. The biggest difference with this generation, and their most influential trendsetter, is social media.
“It wasn’t until interior designers and lifestyle influencers gained traction on visual media channels, like Instagram and Pinterest, that plants became as popular as they are,” says Blank, who founded The Sill as an online plant retailer in 2012 and later opened two stores in New York City. “It used to be that the fiddle-leaf fig tree was only known to the audience reading Architectural Digest magazines, but now that Instagram exists, it democratizes access to high design.”
Now, photos of highly styled interiors accented with plants are making consumers green with “apartment envy,” says Mason Day, co-founder of GrowIt, a mobile app where people can share plant pictures and growing tips. As a result, young consumers see houseplants as must-have décor that makes a bold fashion statement. This nature-infused design aesthetic is pushing houseplant popularity to new heights.
“Houseplants are becoming more prevalent in all kinds of advertisements,” says Strode, who’s noticed clothing retailers adding plants to their merchandising displays for an earthy vibe. “That organic look is popular, so people are paying more attention to incorporating plants into their lives.”
The challenge is that modern plant preferences can shift at the speed of social media, and consumers might not appreciate how long it takes growers to produce those pretty plants they see online.
“It’s difficult for growers to keep up with these trends because we’re growing plants that are slow to produce, and this generation is flip-flopping faster than we can get liners in the soil,” Bryant says. “We put in orders six months prior to receiving anthurium plugs, for example, and then it takes 10 to 12 months to finish a 1-gallon pot. That trend could change before the plant we ordered becomes a finished product.”
Greening up the indoors
This generation’s obsession with social media propels the houseplant market in other ways.
“It’s no secret that we’re the indoor generation and we stare at our screens all day,” says Katie Dubow, creative director at Garden Media Group.
“Whether we’re doing it consciously or subconsciously,” Dubow says, “we’re putting more greenery in our homes because we’re spending more time inside.”
Last year, 30 percent of all households bought at least one houseplant, according to research from the National Gardening Association. Millennials were responsible for 31 percent of recent houseplant sales.
While design aesthetics definitely play a role, Dubow thinks our houseplant fascination stems from a deeper underlying focus on wellness and self-care.
“People understand that our surroundings where we work, live and play can affect our health and well-being,” Dubow says. “That’s one of the biggest trends causing people to turn toward houseplants, because they want to incorporate more wellness in their space.”
Earlier this year, the National Initiative for Consumer Horticulture (NICH) developed a series of infographics to promote the proven health and wellness benefits of houseplants. The #PlantsDoThat campaign illustrated how indoor plants can improve test scores in classrooms, lower blood pressure in hospitals and increase productivity in the workplace.
“We started the #PlantsDoThat campaign to show people what houseplants actually do in their everyday lives,” says Day, who is also the chair of the commercial council for NICH. “These benefits resonate with millennials, because they want something that does more than just look pretty.”
According to global research firm Mintel, 52 percent of U.S. consumers buy houseplants because of their air-purifying power
Bryant still sees plenty of opportunity for the green industry to leverage this type of messaging. “These benefits are brandable tools that nurseries should be using to drive the popularity of these plants,” he says. “All growers have access to this information through the NHF or NICH; it’s essentially free data to help tell the story of why we should have more plants around us.”
Tapping into growth
Houseplants are back, and the growth outlook for this market is hot.
“Exploding is the only word to describe it,” Day says.
Growers can respond to these opportunities one of two ways: “You’ve got growers that have always grown what they grow and that’s all they’re going to grow,” Bryant says. “And then you have businesses that are willing to look outside the box.”
That doesn’t mean growers should abandon core crops and switch to Pilea production. But pay attention to see where you can shift, even slightly, toward the trends.
“What can nurseries do today to do prepare for tomorrow?” Bryant says. “Well, if you’re stuck in the rut of only growing five things, try to break out of the mold and expand. You can’t look at all the shiny things flying by, but you can make small changes. Look for plant material that has similar watering and light requirements and try it.”In this market, diversity is key. Heart of Florida grows about 30 to 40 varieties in several pot sizes, which each require different watering schedules. “It’s a grower’s nightmare,” Bryant says. “It’s like a zoo with 40 animals and every one of them has a different diet. We could do things a lot cheaper and easier if we only specialized in five plants, but this generation wants variety. Everyone wants something different, so it’s easier to create consistent orders when you have a wider variety of material.”
Even growers that specialize in orchids or bromeliads are driven by diversity, Bryant says, because retailers are more likely to order one case of 20 assorted colors than 20 cases of the exact same variety.
“There’s more openness and acceptance for trialing different things than I’ve seen before,” Strode says. “People are more willing to say, ‘Sure, send me a few hundred of those to try.’ The collection mentality is coming back.”
That’s good news, if you were late to the Pilea fad, which Bryant calls “the Tickle-Me-Elmo of last year.” If you look beyond specific varieties, these short-lived fads can signal future houseplant trends. For example, Day predicts that 2019 will be the year of Peperomia, as Pilea lovers look to add different varieties to their collection. Strode also sees growth potential in other “bizarre aroids” that will follow the popularity of Monstera, but with different variegation, coloration and texture.
The best way to stay on top of these houseplant trends is by staying in touch with your customers — whether that means following consumer fads on Instagram or communicating openly with retailers. Don’t lose touch with the market because you’re too busy growing what you’ve always grown.
“If you keep your ears open, your customers will ask you for the plants they want,” Bryant says. “They’ll lead you in the right direction, because your customers are only going to want things that are selling, and if it’s selling, that’s something you want to be growing.”
Brooke is a freelance writer based in Cleveland. This article originally appeared in the December issue of Greenhouse Management, a sister publication.
The ELD rule required most FMCSA-regulated motor carriers to convert their records from paper to an electronic format. That rule brought to focus HOS regulations, especially certain regulations that affect ag and horticulture.
In the fall of 2018, FMCSA sought public comment on revising four specific areas of current HOS regulations, which limit the operating hours of commercial truck drivers. The Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM), which was published in the Federal Register, asked for feedback from the public “to determine if HOS revisions may alleviate unnecessary burdens placed on drivers while maintaining safety on our nation’s highways and roads.” The comment period for the proposed changes has closed.
FMCSA is considering four areas for revision:
- Expanding the current 100 air-mile “short-haul” exemption from 12 hours on-duty to 14 hours on-duty, to be consistent with the rules for long-haul truck drivers;
- Extending the current 14-hour on-duty limitation by up to two hours when a truck driver encounters adverse driving conditions;
- Revising the current mandatory 30-minute break for truck drivers after 8-hours of continuous driving;
- Reinstating the option for splitting up the required 10-hour off-duty rest break for drivers operating trucks that are equipped with a sleeper-berth.
AmericanHort submitted comments to the ANPRM and emphasized the need for additional regulatory guidance and clarification around the agricultural exemption, noting that horticulture should explicitly be included within the agricultural exemption based on extensive precedent in federal law and regulation.
“We noted that the specialty crop definition in Section 101 of the Specialty Crop Competitiveness Act of 2004 is ideal for inclusion in the FMCSA’s ‘agricultural commodity’ definition,” explains Tal Coley, AmericanHort's Director of Government Affairs. “That law defines specialty crops as ‘fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops (including floriculture).’ We are aware that discussions are ongoing between the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Transportation on this issue. A clear solution is urgently needed to address the opaqueness in the trucking exemption’s agricultural commodity definition. It remains unclear as to when FMCSA will decide on next steps and potentially finalize these proposed changes. Leadership at the agency has stated previously that they will continue to look for additional flexibility measures going forward.”
AmericanHort’s comments explained the short window of time our industry works to grow and ship product.
“The unique nature of nursery and greenhouse crops, as well as other specialty crops, really creates the rationale underlying the agricultural exemption. Specialty crops are typically highly seasonal, perishable, affected by the elements, and the availability of inputs such as water and labor. Because of their perishability and narrow market windows, nursery, greenhouse, and other specialty crops require timely access to markets. In our industry, 60 percent or more of annual business occurs in a six- to eight-week window in the spring. A delay of a day or two can often be make-or-break in terms of marketability or hitting the viable market window. This contrasts with many food and fiber crops, which can be stored for long periods of time as producers and handlers await favorable market conditions.”
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) also called for flexibility in the comments. “The current HOS regulations that dictate a truck driver’s work schedule are overly complex, provide virtually no flexibility and in no way reflect the physical capabilities or limitations of individual drivers. They effectively force drivers to be on the road when they are tired or fatigued, during busy travel times such as morning and afternoon rush hour. The unyielding 14-hour clock pressures truckers to drive faster when they’re running short [on time].”
This advance notice does not guarantee changes will be made, only that FMCSA is exploring the idea, Coley explains. If these measures are eventually adopted, they would be the first major changes to HOS rules in more than a decade, he adds.
Additional help for clarifications came from the House with the introduction of the Agricultural Trucking Relief Act of 2018, H.R. 7004. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA) and introduced the end of September last year. It calls for clarity to the definition of “agricultural commodity,” as it relates to transportation policy, by amending The Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999.
“Unlike other legislation on the issue that is more messaging-oriented and touches on aspects of the Electronic Logging Device mandate, H.R.7004 is surgical and addresses the immediate problem at hand – the opaqueness of the agricultural commodity definition currently being used,” Coley says.The bill defines “agricultural commodity” to include agricultural, aquacultural, horticultural, and floricultural commodities; fruits; vegetables; any non-human living animal and the products thereof; and other agriculture products that are—sensitive to temperature or climate; and at risk of perishing in transit.
At press time, the bill had been referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. However, Rep. Scott’s office has said it will reintroduce the bill this year if necessary, according to Coley.
Late last year, the FMCSA announced in the Dec. 7 Federal Register that it rejected 10 petitions from groups seeking exemptions from the ELD rule, including the OOIDA which requested a five-year exemption from ELD regulations for certain motor carriers considered to be a small transportation trucking business under 13 CFR 121.201. View all the petitions and the FMCSA responses here: http://bit.ly/HOS_petitions.
During an FMCSA listening session last October, the agency conceded that drivers are looking for flexibility, not necessarily the ability to work longer hours.
For some kids, their first pet is a fish, a turtle or a furry four-legged friend. For Angela Treadwell Palmer it was a pet moss. Yes, you are reading that correctly. When she was 4 years old, she had a pet moss that she carried around all summer, and to this day is still teased by family about it. Although she grew up in a family of non-gardeners, she always felt at home in the forest because of the big trees and, of course, all the moss. During her freshman year at college she fell in love with a Norfolk Island pine that doubled as her Christmas tree. She named him George.
Angela gained her Bachelor of Science in Plant Science from the University of Delaware with concentrations in Ornamental Horticulture and Landscape Design. Her first job in horticulture was not a glamourous one. She pruned Christmas trees, a job that she described as “wretched.” And between classes at the university, she worked at a nursery doing everything from unloading trucks to watering nursery stock and pruning. When she graduated from college, her first job was at The Conard-Pyle Company working in research and development. And it was there where she named and got to introduce a game changer for the horticulture world, the Knock Out Rose.
The Knock Out roses were in trials for two growing seasons in two locations, and Angela and the rest of the team at Conard-Pyle knew it was something special in terms of disease resistance after the end of the second year, she recalls.
“It had no black spot. At that point, we entered it as a shrub rose into the AARS trials. It was one of the first shrubs to win an award,” she says. “In the 90s consumers didn't really buy single petaled roses, and they certainly did not want to spray them, so it took some clever marketing to get even the growers to trial it.
“I remember walking around the AARS meeting in California with a bundle of super thorny Knock Out flower stems in my arms, showing them to every grower and telling them that this was truly the first rose ever in the Conard-Pyle trials to get no black spot in Pennsylvania. I remember my arms being all scratched up and bloody at the end of the night. It took a whole lot of PR and samples being sent out to get that rose the attention it deserved.”
Later, Angela wanted to go back to landscape designing, yet after two years she found that there weren’t many people who really wanted a garden. Disappointed but undaunted, she moved to Chicago and worked at the Chicago Botanic Garden managing their plant introduction program, Chicagoland Grows. Three years later, her husband’s job brought them back to the East Coast and she took a job at Homestead Gardens as a perennial buyer/grower before landing at job at the U.S. National Arboretum for three years where she managed half of its collections. Because of these wildly diverse experiences she says that nomenclature “makes her crazy.”
“I want it to be correct, and it is so messed up in our industry and abroad,” she says.
A new venture
While working at the USNA, she started Plants Nouveau and it took her two years to make it a full-time job.
Angela started Plants Nouveau, a plant breeder’s agent, in late autumn of 2004. She was frustrated that there were some large plant introduction companies who were notorious for not paying the breeders their share of the royalties.
“I knew how to introduce plants and I loved that side of the business, so I started a small, family oriented, relationship-driven new plant introduction company that would always tell the breeder or plant's story and always make sure breeders got their royalties. Even if that meant I didn't get paid the first few years and I worked for free, putting all the money back into marketing the plants and paying the breeders,” she says.
Linda Guy joined Plants Nouveau in 2011 after the nursery she operated with her husband J Guy had closed. Linda and J had been working on a lot of woody plant introductions from breeders all over the world for their Plants that Work brand.
“They needed somewhere to put them and Plants Nouveau was the perfect place,” Angela says.
Besides making sure breeders are paid and plants are sold, Plants Nouveau also licenses growers and conducts trialing all over the world to ensure the plants are truly great introductions. And although Plants Nouveau does not have a marketing budget like many other plant companies, Angela and her team do their best “to get the word out honestly about how great the plants are and to entice both growers and consumers to grow our products because they are truly novel or improved selections. We pride ourselves on it.”
Her sincerity and industriousness are appreciated in the industry.
“Angie is one of those leaders who finds a way to get great things done. She has that modest understated competence that gives others more confidence, she's smart, organized and makes room for others to shine,” says C. Dale Hendricks, president at Green Light Plants.
Angela has worked diligently to gain her plant and marketing knowledge. But it wasn’t always easy to share that with others in the industry.
“I have been in this industry since 1992, so it has been almost 30 years. In the beginning, when I was considered the staff horticulturist for Conard-Pyle, the salesforce respected my knowledge, but their customers would always rather talk to a man than me. I used to say they would go up to a cardboard cutout of a man and ask a question about a plant in our tradeshow booth more easily than they would talk to me. That was super frustrating to me. It was that way when I started Plants Nouveau alone — any man talking to me in my booth would get asked questions, but not me. It was if I could not possibly know anything about plants.”
Breeders and growers respect Angela and Linda’s vast knowledge now, even though it took a while to earn their trust, and now there is no hesitation about approaching them for their expertise. It also helps that Angela knows a thing or two about a lot of sports because that's always an icebreaker, she says. Angela is a diehard Baltimore Ravens fan living in New England.
Rolling with the changes
Angela doesn’t simply observe changes in the industry, she studies them and reacts.
“The industry evolves each year. What we are seeing now is a lot of consolidation, making enormous companies with a lot of power. We also sadly see the perennial industry headed away from selecting and promoting garden plants, but promoting a more disposable product that may or may not be good for the garden it is eventually planted in,” she says.
She also sees trends of compact plants all around which leaves her to wonder if any woody plant will ever be taller than 3 feet in the years to come.
“What will gardens look like in 20 years? Will we all be looking down? Will there be anything to put between you and the neighbors? Who knows? The trends say shorter is better, but for who? The companies shipping the plants are dictating these heights — most consumers are not.”
Denise is a professional horticulturist and garden writer based in Pittsburgh.
With the increasing popularity in perennial garden plants, producers are growing more perennials, whether in number of containers or varieties. Perennials are also one of the newest categories of greenhouse crops, when compared to cut flowers, potted flowering plants and annuals, when it comes to programming and forcing. This article will focus on the fundamental requirements for forcing perennials into flower.
The first factor controlling perennial flowering is juvenility. Just like animals, plants cannot reproduce (i.e. flower in order to produce seeds) until they are physiologically mature. For some plant species with long juvenile periods, like numerous tree species, the juvenile period can be measured in years. However, for plants like herbaceous perennials, the juvenile period is much shorter. It is so much shorter that years are not used (or needed) to measure the length of the juvenile period; rather, it is measured by the number of leaves or nodes on the plant. The duration of the juvenile period varies by species; some species can flower after forming six or seven leaves, while other species require more than 12 to 15 leaves to flower.
The plant material you use to grow your perennials can influence whether or not your crop is juvenile. For example, a seedling grown in a 50-cell plug tray may be mature and able to respond to flowering cues, whereas a seedling of the same species grown in a 288-cell plug tray may not be. The reason is not that the 50-cell plug has a larger soil volume per se. Rather, it is still due to the leaf number. A plug is finished when it is pullable, meaning it has achieved sufficient growth so when it is pulled out of the plug tray, all the substrate comes along with the root ball. It takes longer for a 50-cell plug to reach a pullable stage compared to a 288-cell plug. Therefore, the larger plugs will have more leaves from the longer production time and be more mature than the smaller seedling.
Juvenility is only an issue for seed-propagated perennials. If you are using cuttings (root or stem-tip) for perennial production, they are already mature, as the cuttings are being taken off mature plants. Additionally, if you are using products like bare-root rhizomes or crowns as starting material, they are also mature and ready to flower.
Once a perennial is mature and can flower, many species require a vernalization or period of cold temperature to flower. Although the requirements for dormancy and vernalization can be met by the same cold treatment, they are different processes (Fig. 1). Dormancy refers to a cessation of development by plant tissue otherwise disposed to develop. On the other hand, vernalization is a cold treatment that results in plants being able to form flowers. Regardless, the cold treatment perennials are given usually satisfies requirements for both vernalization and dormancy.
A successful vernalization requires sufficiently cold temperatures for a sufficient period of time. While the specific temperature and duration for vernalization varies with species, there are some good guidelines that can be followed. Temperatures around 40°F are effective for vernalizing many crops. Similarly, six to eight weeks of cold temperatures satisfies most vernalization requirements; some species can require longer periods of cooling. If plants are insufficiently vernalized (too warm or to cold, not enough time at cold temperatures, etc.) or if they are vernalized but held too long in cold condition, this can increase forcing time and reduce the quality of flowering plants.
Perennials can be cooled in a variety of environments, including outdoors, cool greenhouses and coolers. Outdoor space can be the most economical approach if available, but there is no control over the temperatures during vernalization. Greenhouses have more temperature control than outdoors. But bench space can be valuable and it may be hard to dedicate it to cooling perennials. Coolers give you the best temperature control, but this is also the most expensive option. If you don’t have the facilities to vernalize your perennials or are not interested in doing so, there are some alternative approaches. You can purchase crowns and rhizomes of field-grown plants that have been cooled prior to shipment, much like purchasing case-cooled Easter lily bulbs. Additionally, there are some young plant producers that specialize in growing perennials and offer vernalized plugs and liners that can be planted and forced.
cold treatment can increase the quality of finished flowering plants.”
Other flowering options
Not all perennials need to be vernalized in order to flower. For some species, even though a cold treatment is not required to produce flowering plants, a cold treatment can increase the quality of finished flowering plants and should be provided if space is available and economical. Alternatively, some species do not require a vernalization and there is no improvement in finished crops when provided with one. For these species, a cold treatment should not be provided, unless need to be cooled and grown with other species requiring a vernalization for logistical reasons.
Many perennials also have a photoperiodic flowering response. While there are some day-neutral and short-day species, many perennials flower in response to long days. For those species that flower in response to long days, their responses can be further categorized as obligate (long days required) or facultative (long days not required, but beneficial).
Depending on the time of year, you may need to manipulate day length to control flowering. From mid-fall to mid-spring, the days are naturally short for many species. If you are trying to force species with a long day requirement during these times, you will need to use either night interruption or day-extension lighting to create long day conditions. Whatever your light source (incandescent, light-emitting diode, etc.) is for night interruption or day extension lighting, be sure there is enough far-red light to induce the long day species to flower. Alternatively, if you are forcing short day plants during naturally short days, you may need to provide some long days after cooling to avoid premature flowering and bulk plants to get sufficient vegetative growth. Short days may need to be provided for short day crops beginning at the end of spring through the summer to force flowering during the naturally long days. Pulling blackout cloth over your crop is the only way to create artificial short days when the days are long.
Christopher is an assistant professor of horticulture in the Department of Horticulture at Iowa State University. firstname.lastname@example.org