Rare Plants and Where to Find Them - Thailand

November 25, 2022
C

Chen

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic, people in the western world have been hoarding rare tropical plants like crazy. But where are they actually grown, why are they rare, and how do they get into the households of Americans? Plant Story will uncover the story behind rare plants, through a series of articles.

In this first episode, the founder of Plant Story went to Thailand, to uncover the supply chain behind rare plants, the farmers, and the businesses that are on this supply chain.

Plant Show in Chiang Mai

It all started with the 1st Lanna International Exotic Plant Show in Chiang Mai. I was traveling in Asia and heard there's a big plant show happening in Chiang Mai of Thailand. I've been hearing good words about plants in Thailand, and immediately decided to take the chance to visit Thailand.

Chiang Mai, located in northern Thailand, is a smaller city compared to Bangkok. But the plant show was huge. More than a hundred businesses set up their booths, presenting all kinds of gorgeous and rare plants.

👆Look at these plants sold at the show! The prices are in Thai Bhat (each USD equals 36 THB at the time of writing)

☝️This Alocasia Black Velvet was sold at 100K THB, about $2.8K.

☝️This Philodendron Warscewiczii variegated was priced at 100K THB, about $2.8K.

☝️This gigantic Philodendron Billietiae variegated, priced at $8K.

While these numbers seem high, they're actually cheap compared to their prices in the US. Let's look at the supply chain of rare plants in the US first.

The Domestic Supply Chain of Rare Plants

When a US consumer buys a plant, they're actually buying from retail sellers. These retail sellers are very sensitive and adaptive to plant trends, and usually take on the responsibility of coaching customers on how to care for plants. However, most retail sellers don't grow plants themselves; they buy plants from plant brokers and take care of plants until they're sold.

Plant brokers don't grow plants either. They aggregate the demands from retail sellers, and source supplies from multiple plant growers. Without these brokers, the retail sellers would have to not only do marketing and customer service but also talk to many different growers to source plants, which is impossible given their limited time.

Growers are the people who massively grow plants. Some grow from seeds, some grow from cuttings, and some grow from tissues. In the US, the majority of rare plant growers are in Florida, thanks to its beautiful weather, possession of ports, and friendly environment for agriculture businesses.

The plant consumer - retail seller - broker - grower chain, is the basis of the rare plant supply chain in the US.

  • Some people/businesses can take multiple roles in this chain, however. For example, Rare Plant Fairy, a premier exotic tropical plant grower in Michigan, has their own labs in the US and supplies wholesale, and is also running a successful online retail plant business with a large fan base.
  • Sometimes sellers directly purchase from a trusted grower
  • This model is still very rough, in the sense that many things are figured out through emails & spreadsheets, and there's no SaaS software existing for this large business.

The Global Supply Chain of Rare Plants

While the US has its own growers of rare tropic plants, the heaven of rare plants growing is Southeast Asia, which has warm and humid weather all year long.

Among all the Southeast Asian agricultural countries, Thailand has a booming number of trustable and mature plant farms. Many farms leveraged the great weather and loose export restrictions, while some have already mastered the technique of tissue culture. Those farms produced the gorgeous rare plants you saw in the first section of this article.

When a new plant variety is bred in some parts of the world, one or more mother plant of this variety is brought into Thailand (or other countries suitable for mass plant production). Exporting plants from the US is not an easy job; some businesses specialize in doing this, Exotica Exportare from North Carolina is a famous one of them.

This new and popular variety will be mass-produced in the next few months or years, in the farms or tissue culture labs of Thailand, and finally exported back to the US. Again, a plant's trip from Thailand to the US is not easy, and Dragon Courier specializes in this business.

Rehab

A plant's trip from Thailand to the US is usually in a couple of parts:

1. From farm to Thailand airport

This stage is usually by truck and very fast

2. From Thailand airport to a US airport

For example, Dragon Courier delivers plants to either LA or Mami

3. From the US airport to the customer's nursery

Clearing the custom can take 1-3 days, this is the biggest variant in the whole process

Overall, the trip can take 5-7 days, and plants suffer during this process. That's why they need rehab before being resold. If they're sold to consumers directly after the long international flight, they're very likely to die in consumers' homes.

A responsible seller always rehabs plants before selling to consumers, to make sure plants are in the most healthy condition. For example, PlantTheStudio rehabs plants for up to 8 weeks, before selling them.

Thailand Rare Plants Growers

Many readers of this article are US plant sellers or growers, with the need to import plants from Thailand. Here's a few Thailand plant growers that I've personally met, with their website/contact info listed:

  1. Family Farm
    A huge farm near Chiang Mai. Do some calculations yourself on the $$$ worth of the plants in the pictures👇 😄 And these pictures just represent a few small parts of their farm. Their Facebook page

2. Rabbit's Hole Plant

Founded by a young man with fluent English, he focuses on propagation from cuttings rather than tissue culture, this farm feels very modern and clean. His IG page

3. Lady Florist

A few sisters own this business in Bangkok. They're already shipping many orders to the US every week. Their IG page

4. Amazon Garden

I met Eli from Amazon Garden at Chiang Mai's plant show. As a Caucasian from Chicago, he is a unique grower among the other Thailand growers. Their business handles plant shipping from a farm in Thailand, all the way to the doors in the United States, end to end. They're managed to do the farm-to-door shipping within 4 days, compared to other business that relies on Dragon Courier which took 5-8 days to achieve the same. Their Facebook page

If any US plant sellers are interested in learning more about Thailand plant farms/nurseries/growers, feel free to join Plant Story, and we can help you get connected with quality Thailand suppliers.

About Plant Story

Plant Story is a social marketplace for plants, with a mission to grow 8 billion plants across the world. Its mobile apps, featuring plant marketplace & community & plant identification tools, have been downloaded more than 1 million times. Its newly added plant marketplace is fast growing, featuring experienced rare plant sellers, plus buyer insurance for Pro members.

We're looking for new plant sellers and plant topics to cover! Feel free to email feedback and suggestions to chen@plantstory.app. Looking forward to building the future of plant business with you!

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One More Thing...

Last but not the least important: Thailand has amazing coffee! If you're ever paying a visit there, try them!

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