Importing Plants in 2022: Is it still worth it?

Is importing plants still worth it in 2022? My short answer is that in most cases, it’s NOT worth it anymore.

To find out why I’ve come to this conclusion, keep reading!

Table of Contents

Leading up to 2022, what has changed with importing plants?

Importing Plants Before the Pandemic Began (Pre-2020)

As the houseplant hobby gained popularity, the price of many plants increased.

Plants that became super popular on social media platforms, like Instagram or Youtube, experienced the largest price increases, reaching triple- or quadruple-digit price tags.

Many of us looked for ways to collect these plants for a fraction of the local cost and importing became an obvious answer.

Importing plants gives you the ability to find plant sellers living in locations where many of the popular plants grow naturally and many other plants grow prolifically because of the tropical conditions.

Because of how easy the plants are to source and sell in these tropical countries, international plant sellers could sell the rare and popular plants for much less money.

This attracted many plant enthusiasts to try importing plants because it was one of the only ways to find many of the most sought-after plants for a more affordable cost.

Importing plants, even on a good day, is a risk and an investment though

The cost to import is high

The cost to ship imported plants around the world is high. In addition, imported plants require paperwork to certify that they aren’t carrying any invasive pests or diseases and that paperwork also comes at a cost.

In the United States, if you import more than 12 plants, you also need to apply for additional paperwork to bring so many plants in and this paperwork also carries a processing fee.

With the need for expensive shipping to get plants to you safely and proper paperwork, the total cost of importing plants becomes high pretty quickly.

Let’s pretend that you live in the United States and are wanting to buy a single rare plant overseas that is being sold domestically for $100 and internationally for $40. It may seem at first that you would save a lot of money.

But, it is super common for the total of DHL worldwide shipping with a Phytosanitary certificate to be about $70.

$40 for the rare plant plus $70 for shipping and paperwork totals $110, which is more than the domestic cost!

It often only makes sense to import plants if you are going to buy several, spreading the shipping cost among all of the plants. This is typically the only way that importing plants ends up being less expensive than buying locally.

But, the stress experienced by plants during their international travels is pretty high

The rare plants we import are living in their ideal environment. Then they are shoved in a box and shipped around the world for unknown lengths of time. If we are super lucky, shipping might only take about a week. If we aren’t super lucky, it can take much longer.

Now they’ve arrived in our home environment, which is most often very different from the country they were shipped from and they’ve just emerged from a crowded, dark box for some length of time.

It is at this point that many imported plants may fail to thrive or never fully recover.

Sellers who important lots of plants will tell you that it isn’t uncommon to lose some of the plants they import and, for them, with such large orders some loss is expected.

However, when we as individuals are buying only one specimen of our wishlist plants, it can be pretty disappointing to have the plant do poorly or not make it alive and healthy.

And even if the plants make it to us quickly and in good shape, there is still a long acclimation and rehab period that the plant has to go through before thriving in our environment.

Plant mail Importing Plants
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Importing Plants at the Height of the Pandemic Changed Dramatically (2020 through 2021)

Then the pandemic happened and the houseplant boom exploded as people from around the world became interested in houseplants for the first time during quarantine. Prices increased a lot during this period as did the desire to import plants.

Many people also began importing and reselling rare plants because they realized how lucrative it could be.

International sellers became aware of just how much more domestic sellers were reselling their plants for and, as a result, international sellers started increasing their prices as well.

At the same time that all of this is happening within the houseplant market, the pandemic had simultaneously decreased the workforce to handle imports and deliveries (due to illness and safety concerns) while exponentially increasing the amount of stuff that people were buying online to be delivered (due to illness and safety concerns as well).

This resulted in a lot of disastrous plant imports because they were taking longer than ever to arrive and were often being sprayed with chemicals to eliminate any potential germs (to contain the virus) which happened to also cost the plants their lives.

If you received any of these boxes, you will likely remember how disgusting they were. The plants gave off a terrible aroma of rot and were complete mush.

I tried importing one time in 2021 (when business operations had returned to a more normal state) only to have the plants arrive sprayed and mushy still.

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In 2022: Is It Worth It to Import Plants?

My personal opinion is that importing is not going to save the average hobbyist a lot of money nor will it drastically increase plant variety and availability in most cases because:

  1. A lot of the plants that used to be quite rare are now pretty darn available and the prices for those plants have been dropping as availability increases and the number of houseplant hobbyists levels out after the huge spike in 2020.
  2. While import plant prices have decreased as well, many of the prices aren’t far off from what you can find domestically – which makes it less desirable to pay for an import that carries a similar price tag and a lot of risk
    • Imported plants are risky due to the length of travel and the amount of stress on the plant
  3. Buying a plant domestically from a responsible seller than has either propagated the plant themselves or has rehabbed the plant after international travels is going to highly increase your success with the plant

When is importing plants worth it 2022:

  1. If you are looking for a super rare specimen that can often only be found from an international seller
  2. If there is a large price difference between the plant you want when purchased domestically versus internationally, which makes the cost savings and risk worth it
  3. If you are a plant shop owner and are buying internationally in bulk to rehab and sell the plants locally / domestically
  4. If you have the money to spend and want to access the huge selection many international sellers have

For the average houseplant hobbyist, however, importing plants in 2022 isn’t as desirable as it was a few years ago.

What are your thoughts on importing plants in 2022? Do you find the opposite opinion is true for you? Let me know in the comments below.

Happy Growing!

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