Ottawa

Monstera house plant prices reach for the sky

The cost of a leafy green house plant with splotches of white, the variegated monstera, has grown from about $60 per plant to up to $1,000, creating a speculative marketplace around the evergreen vine that is native to tropical regions of the Americas.

One expert compares it to the Dutch tulip craze in the 1630s

Jenny Nguyen admires a monstera amidst a collection of exotic plants she sells at Haus of Plants, a newly-opened cafe. (Stu Mills/CBC)

A house plant with a rare genetic mutation has captured the hearts of green thumbs around the National Capital Region pushing the cost of one plant up to $1,000.

Variegated monsteras have a broad, frilly green leaf that can be streaked or splotched with white patches. Even a few leaves cut from a healthy plant are fetching hundreds.

"Oh! Dream plant! Dream plant number one!" exclaimed Karina MacIsaac, 21, as she doled out some water to a few pots in a house overflowing with greenery.

Her passion for plants propelled her through Algonquin College's horticulture industries program this year. Freshly graduated in January, she is now looking for a job in her field while working at a restaurant.

In the meantime, MacIsaac supplements her income at a rate of about $200 every month by selling cuttings of various house plants between $3 and $10 each.

Not the Monstera, though.

"It's just not in the budget for me," she lamented.

A plant that might have been purchased for $60 before the pandemic now sells for more than 15 times that.

Social media influencers have also discovered the casually posh effect a few well-chosen rainforest plants can have on an interior photo. And in that clean, minimalist interior aesthetic, the variegated monstera is king.

On Karina MacIsaac's mantle sits a photo of her recent graduation from Algonquin College's horticulture program. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Hobby became side-hustle, then a business

Stepping into Jenny Nguyen's plant store on Elgin Street feels like stepping inside an Instagram post.

Haus of Plants opened five months ago with Nguyen describing it as a chance to cash-in on a "plant addiction" that began about four years ago when she first laid eyes on a variegated monstera.

"It was a hobby turned into a side-hustle, then the side-hustle turned into a business," she explained.

Students come to study and admire monstera Thai constellations, while green thumbs come to browse and buy monstera albos, some of which must be kept in humidity-controlled glass cases.

Scarcity is also keeping the prices monstrously high.

Because the distinctive white bands or spots are the result of a mutation causing an absence of chlorophyll in those regions, the most sought-after monsteras are fragile, and cannot be cultivated from seed.

Instead, they are carefully propagated by taking cuttings from existing monsteras.

White splotches indicate an absence of chlorophyll and make this monstera belonging to Alex Dussault worth about $800, he says. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Memories of the 17th century

For Lynn Gillespie from the Canadian Museum of Nature, this newest plant fad reminds her of the Dutch tulip craze of the 1630s.

Though traders had introduced the colourful Turkish flowers to the Dutch public the century before, a mania for certain special colours and varieties took hold in 1634. 

"It was kind of prestigious to have one of these beautiful tulips and so the prices just escalated — and they went crazy," according to Gillespie.

Demand from neighbouring countries, especially France, then grew.

Speculators entered the market, causing prices to skyrocket until they dramatically collapsed a mere three years after the craze had begun. 

Canadian Museum of Nature research scientist Lynn Gillespie compared the price increases for variegated monstera to that of the Dutch tulip craze of the 1630s. (Stu Mills/CBC)

'Plants are like stocks'

That history is not lost on Alex Dussault, a 25-year-old mortgage specialist by day, and monstera trader by night.

"The prices are so volatile. Plant prices have been going up an insane amount," he said.

Under artificial light in specially modified glass curio cabinets kept in a humidity-controlled room, Dussault estimates his collection is worth $25,000.

For house plant enthusiast Alex Dussault, the variegated monstera becomes an investment. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Each variegated monstera he sells online fetches about $800.

"It's almost like an asset now — plants are like stocks," he said, with plants adding about 10 per cent to his monthly income.

Dussault said he wonders what will happen to prices if new "plant parents" migrate back to offices where they can't water and monitor expensive house plants through the day.

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