MESSAGE FROM THE OWNERS
As an interior plantscaping company, we have connections in far away places. Recently it occurred to me while watching several documentaries, the process for receiving merchandise goes through many hands and processes. A salmon dinner you order at a restaurant was once swimming in the ocean or a fish farm. And then of course had to be plucked up and via many processes, ended up on your plate. Just watch the Deadliest Catch and you will gain appreciation for the difficulties catching fish and why it can be pricey. It’s the same thing with supply and demand in the nursery industry. Recently you might have heard us say certain plants are unavailable. It’s the truth because interior plantscaping has a process of its own.
Over the last few years our team has had the opportunity to learn even more about growing and selling plants, truly a fascinating process. One thing I always strive for is continuing education in our industry to keep ourselves in-the-know. It’s amazing after 36 years in the business I still find there is still so much to learn.
Plants get nurtured by a worker.
We toured the Hawaiian nurseries a few years ago where most palm trees are grown. The process is long and arduous and 10’ trees start out as 2” plants, thousands of them, sitting in trays lining the greenhouses. If you do the math looking at the gorgeous 10’ palm, you need to realize an average Rhaphis excelsa grows 1’ a year. And that is after it has endured natural phenomenon such as hurricanes, heavy rains, excessive heat and other natural elements. By the time the palm has reached 10 feet, it has spent 10 years growing.
While the palms get bigger they are hand transferred to 5, 10 or 15 gallon grow pots, all dependent upon the quality and size of the tree determined by the growers. Then they are placed on cinder blocks (see picture left of Stage 1 baby Rhapis palms), again by hand, to keep infestation at bay in the greenhouse. A lot of care has gone into that one palm in the meantime. It has been watered, hand-trimmed, hand re-potted and sprayed for insects, not to mention all the while sitting on very expensive waterfront Hawaiian property.
Stage 2 of growing Rhaphis palms shows their increasing size.
After they have matured to their desired height the plants are sleeved and put on a Matson truck filled to the brim with plant material and sent via airplane or boat which can take up to 10 days with some material ending up lost during transports.
Rhaphis palms are now 12 feet tall at Stage 3.
When they finally arrive to their destination, the United States Agriculture Department investigates the crop of potted plants, searching for any infestations like the invasive coqui frog native to Puerto Rico. These little guys had hitched a ride on a potted plant from Florida and now reside in Hawaii without any natural born predators to stop them. This is the importance of quarantines.
The plants sit in quarantine for a specified time to be sure they are clear of any pests, then released for sale to the United States. The way to tell if your plants are grown in Hawaii is the plants are potted in lava rock. Only Hawaiian materials have lava rock in their soil.
Plants are ready to make a trip via FedEx to California.
But it doesn’t end there. It is then sent to your local nursery; or delivered to you by your interiorscaper. The palms are sold or shipped to nurseries throughout the United States as 3’, 4’ and up to 10’ potted plants. The less healthy looking trees are sold to the larger retail markets. The crème de la crème are sold to top commercial greenhouses and nurseries throughout the states. This happens with many other types of interior plants which are basically tropical in nature and typically grown in Hawaii or Florida.
There are botanists that even go to the rainforests to collect bromeliads out of the trees and make new varieties by joining them together, getting the license to do so. Then they bring them back here to grow and sell to the public.
Dracaena Lisa plants are grown in groves.
Other plants, mostly the Dracaenas, come from Florida. Many varieties are actually started in a Petri dish by a botanist. They are hand transplanted to a small 4” grow-pot with soil and then the plants begin their journey. They are grown in groves and as they become different heights at time of harvest, someone chooses by hand the different cane sizes – 3, 4 and 6 feet to put together in a grow container to create a multi-sized Dracaena tree to be sold. This process can take up to 7 - 10 years. From this point forward, it is the same process as explained for the palms to get the plants to the end user.
Some of our largest growers in Florida have lost their complete crops due to horrific hurricanes. The expense to re-build is great and therefore the supply of Dracaenas drops which affects the consumers by a loss of that variety. This actually happens quite a bit. And like in any community when the demand is higher than the supply, it is because we don’t have enough growers to meet our needs.
Another instance is the cost to grow trees over 8 feet have increased tremendously so growers are not holding trees for long periods of time for them to reach those heights. Finding tall trees has become a very hard task and in turn has driven the cost up. We especially see this in Christmas tree lots, where taller trees are harder to find because it is just not economically feasible for Oregon growers to keep trees in the ground that long.
One workaround is we have had to work directly months in advance with growers to sell us tall trees on projects such as high-ceiling lobbies in offices and hotels. And in the last 4-5 years we have seen restrictions on obtaining certain plant types. Living walls have become increasingly popular, so 6” colorful plants (the size required for the walls), are difficult to get because the growers cannot keep up with the demand. So when you can’t find a certain type of interior plant; or an interiorscaper indicates they can’t get a replacement, it is the workings of demand that has caused the limit of supply.
We recently took our entire team to one of our greenhouses for a field trip. We all learned so much about behind-the-scenes at a plant nursery, how plants are grown, get to us, with all the trials and tribulations of the industry, some of which I have detailed above.
One important fact is everything grown in Hawaii and Florida is shipped via the trucking industry, even on some occasions through FedEx, always after the plants have been quarantined. A netting is wrapped around the plants to keep them from being damaged in transit. It’s very common to loose many plants not only to pests but during shipping, which costs the greenhouse thousands of dollars.
Our team learned so many fun facts that day. But one of the biggest take away from our visits is to appreciate all the things we have and take a minute to think of the long process it took to get to you, especially organic items such as food.
Right now there might be a worker in Hawaii hand picking the stalks of a Dracaena Lisa and placing them together in a grow pot this very moment. It just might end up in your living room someday. Gives you something to think about.
Warm regards & blessings,
Mark and Julie Farrow