Indoor plants steal the show, theft takes root

INDOOR plants have become a hot commodity with people spending more time with their plantbabies during lockdowns, with enthusiasts prepared to fork out thousands for a rare species. 

Indoor plant lovers are planning to gather for the second Indoor Jungle Festival at Perth City Farm, with rare greeneries expected to be a big attraction this year. 

For many it’ll be the first time they’ve met in person, having made friends in online plant communities. 

Horticulturist Kristen Storebaug says: “I’ve definitely noticed in the past two years that indoor plants have ramped up,” with lockdown bringing a noticeable bump in members in the Perth Houseplant Club facebook page. 

‘In thing’

“Everyone needs to have them, they’re the ‘in thing’, and people tend towards being a collector and need to have one of everything.

“I think the hype is social media driven; you’ve got to have insta-worthy plants” that can be posted on social media, with whole instagram pages devoted to peoples’ plantations.

Highly sought after plants demand big prices. “A cutting of a plant – not an established plant, a cutting with two leaves, [sold] for $2,000, and that’s not unheard of,” Ms Storebaug says.

“In Perth, the most I’ve seen is $9,000” for the sale of an adansonii variegated, a multi-tonal species that’s now come down in price but commanded huge sums in the early days when they were scarce. 

The high prices have prompted a spate of plant thefts in the past year.

Some Perth Houseplant Club members suspect the thieves do their homework scoping out who’s selling rare species before striking. 

“They’re definitely targeted attacks,” Ms Storebaug says. “I think people see the price tags on these things and think they can get a quick buck. They’re targeting people who collect them.

“A friend of mine was broken into and they went for very specific species.”

Exotic plants are extremely difficult to import because of Australia’s strict biosecurity laws. “It’s basically impossible at the moment: The quarantine facilities in Perth are all but shut down,” Ms Storebaug says. 

But the allure has led to some unscrupulous collectors flouting quarantine and smuggling them in and threatening everyone’s collection and our agriculture. 

“There is a real problem with plants coming in illegally,” Ms Storebaug says.

“We’ve had an outbreak this year with a pest called a chilli thrip,” an invasive bug that damages many plants, first seen in northern WA 20 years ago and being widely reported in Perth gardens since March this year. 

“It’s affecting agriculture and home gardens. That’s the sort of thing that biosecurity breaches can affect.”

The rare species tend to be rare because they’re hard to propagate, but when properly looked after the plants can be a lifelong furnishing. Ms Storebaug runs Houseplant Horticulture, a business teaching people how to tend them, and will run a workshop at the festival. 

“A lot of the plants that we keep as indoor plants have an infinite lifespan or will reproduce babies,” Ms Storebaug says, letting their generations carry 

on. She has a maidenhair fern passed down from her mother this way, and her grandmother before that: “She grew them in her garden 50 years ago.”

The Perth Indoor Jungle Festival runs August 6 and 7, tickets and the list of many workshops and specialist stalls are up at perthcityfarm.org.au/events

by DAVID BELL

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