How can you tell if a houseplant is rare?

The term “rare” is a frequently used, but confusing descriptor that is applied to houseplants regularly.

This post aims to explore what that label means and how houseplant lovers can decide whether to think of a particular plant as “rare.”

We will discuss:

  • What the term “rare” means
  • What a “rare” houseplant is
  • How people are using the word “rare” within the houseplant community and market
  • My personal opinion on rare plants

As you will soon find out in this post, a rare plant is a very subjective concept, which makes it quite challenging to write about in a purely objective way.

Because of that, please regard this post as my view on the subject, rather than the definitive answer to this question.

If you have different views or opinions on the subject, please share them in the comments! I would love to explore the topic further.

Table of Contents

What does the term “rare” mean?

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online, the term “rare” means:

1: seldom occurring or found : UNCOMMON

2a: marked by unusual quality, merit, or appeal : DISTINCTIVE

2b: superlative or extreme of its kind

“rare,” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rare. Accessed 1/25/2022.

Using these definitions, the word rare is meant to describe something that is not commonly found and/or something that is exceptional, unique, or remarkable.

These definitions make it difficult to determine what should be labeled as rare because:

  • What is common to one person may be extremely uncommon to another.
  • What is extraordinary and remarkable to one person may be boring and unremarkable to another.

One great example of this in the world of houseplants is Pilea peperomioides (pictured below). A few years ago this plant was extremely rare in the United States, despite being much more common overseas.

If people were able to find this plant, it was typically through a friend that already had one or by paying a large sum of money for one.

Eventually, Pilea peperomioides made its way to growers and began being propagated prolifically. The once rare, expensive plant is now able to be found in nearly all plant shops and even many grocery stores and big box stores.

Not only is it readily available, but the prices have dropped significantly. It is not uncommon to find a plant for little more than $10.

Someone entering the houseplant hobby today, in 2022, may never realize how sought-after, pricey, and rare this plant was not so long ago! How quickly things can change!

rare plant pilea peperomioides
Pilea peperomioides
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What is a rare houseplant?

So, what is a rare houseplant then?

A rare houseplant is either:

  • A plant that is very uncommon and hard to come by, or,
  • A plant that is viewed as extremely special, remarkable, and appealing

What qualifies as uncommon or remarkable is significantly impacted by where you live and what your personal taste is in houseplants.

For example, I live in Michigan where we experience rather cold weather for nearly half the year. We don’t have tropical plants living outdoors year-round and, therefore, tropical plants must be brought in from growers or warmer locations and be grown as either seasonal plants or as houseplants (at least part of the time).

However, people who live in Florida literally live in a subtropical or tropical climate, depending on whether they are in the northern or southern portion of the state. There are many tropical plants that are either native to Florida or imported from other tropical locations that can thrive in Florida, indoors and out.

The result is that the plant selection in Florida is far more abundant year-round than in Michigan. So what is uncommon to us Michiganders is probably considered by some Floridians to be boring and cheap.

How is the label “rare” being used within the houseplant community currently?

Rare is being used in 3 main ways within the houseplant community (in my opinion):

  1. Some houseplants are labeled as rare to describe how hard it is to find these particular plants for sale
  2. Other plants are labeled as rare to denote how spectacular and unique they are in relation to other houseplants
  3. Still other houseplants are labeled as rare because they are so highly sought after that the price is extremely high and amount available on the market isn’t high enough to meet demand
  4. And lastly, some houseplants are labeled as rare to make them seem more desirable, expensive, and sought-after

To explore each of the applications of “rare,” we will look at some specific, “rare” plants for each of the first 3 uses above. The fourth use, however, will be covered in the last section where I discuss my personal feelings about “rare houseplants” today.

#1: Philodendron spiritus-sancti – Unique & Rare in the wild and in the houseplant market

Philodendron spiritus-sancti is a plant that is both rarely found in the wild and infrequently found in houseplant cultivation.

It is coveted for its huge, long leaves and sells for a very high price because of how uncommon it is and how unique and special many houseplant enthusiasts find it.

This particular plant is beginning to appear a bit more often in the houseplant scene, but not enough to drop the price significantly or meet demand at this time.

#2: Variegated Philodendron billietiae – Unique & Slow Grower

Variegated Philodendron billietiae is another coveted plant known for sporting long leaves, orange stems, and gorgeous splashes of yellow variegation.

The all-green version of Philodendron billietiae isn’t super readily available and is a bit more demanding than more common Philodendrons, so it does carry a higher price tag.

The variegated version is even less commonly available since variegated plants grow more slowly. Its slow growth combined with the high demand for variegated Philodendron billietiae has earned the plant a very high price tag.

#3: Philodendron Pink Princess – While not new or uncommon or hard to grow, demand for this plant surged as its popularity surged

The Philodendron Pink Princess is an interesting case that is nearly the exact opposite of Pilea peperomioides’ story I discussed above.

Philodendron Pink Princess has been in the houseplant trade for a very long time but just wasn’t very popular. Due to its lack of popularity, the plant was available but not in large numbers and sold for extremely affordable prices (under 10 USD is many cases).

Then it gained extreme popularity through social media and the demand for this pink plant skyrocketed. The demand grew much, much faster than growers could propagate the plant. This caused the price to go higher and higher, reaching hundreds of dollars per plant at its peak.

In 2022, the plant is still somewhat popular though not like it was a couple of years ago. Prices are beginning to drop a little, but nowhere near the 10 USD price tag it once was.

What are my pet peeves with the word, “rare,” in relationship to houseplants?

When I peruse sites like Etsy and eBay for houseplants being sold by U.S. sellers, I notice that many, many plants these days are labeled as rare.

While some of them probably are, at least where the seller is located, there are many others that I don’t think are very rare as they are standard plants being sold in big box stores and grocery stores.

It seems to me that labeling the plant as rare in an eBay listing is simply to make the demand for the plant seem greater than it is or to make the availability of the plant seem less than it is.

In my opinion, the word “rare” shouldn’t be used as a marketing term to try to sell more plants. It should be used to describe plants that meet some of the criteria we discussed above (rarely available, uniquely remarkable, etc).

However, it’s difficult to discern what a seller’s intentions are since rarity is largely subjective. Is the seller genuinely offering a plant they believe is rare even if I do not? Or, is the seller intentionally labeling plants as rare (despite knowing they are not) in order to try to sell more plants?

Because of the overuse of the word “rare,” I don’t believe the label has a lot of meaning or weight within the houseplant market these days. At least it doesn’t for me.

I find this to be a little unfortunate as it’s very difficult to discern what a truly rare plant might be without having lots of context and experience over time about a particular plant.

That makes it very misleading for new hobbyists wanting to learn about and discover new plants.

Happy growing! See you next week!

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