Houseplant obsession: an expensive new hobby in Vietnam

By Phan Duong   April 23, 2021 | 05:00 am PT
The houseplant-enthusiast community in Vietnam has attracted thousands of followers in just a few years, with many boasting collections valued at billions of dong (VND1 billion = $43,340).

A group of about 50 plant enthusiasts in central Da Nang City met one evening in March to show off and admire the beauty of rare, unusual houseplants with complicated scientific names like Anthurium Veitchii King, Philodendron Billietiae Croat, and Alocasia Silver Dragon.

Nguyen Ngoc Quy, admin of an online forum with more than 5,500 members, said the hobby involves collecting colorful and uniquely shaped plants that adapt to each season.

Houseplant enthusiasts attend an offline event in Da Nang City in early March, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Quy.

Houseplant enthusiasts attend an offline event in Da Nang City in early March, 2021. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Ngoc Quy.

Quy said collecting houseplants was a hobby started by European nobles in the 16th century that had subsequently spread across the globe. It has been making waves in Vietnam for the past five years, with people especially looking for a healthy hobby amid the Covid-19 lockdown.

Excited newcomer Thu Hang, 32, was eager to learn how to mix soil substrate. Planning to buy mutant Monstera plants, or evergreen tropical vines and shrubs native to Central America, she also enquired how to distinguish natural mutants and chemical interference. She admitted she failed to get the hobby at first and questioned "why people were so obsessed with houseplants." But after digging deeper, she fell in love. A year on, she now owns 20 types of plants.

Price is largely determined by popularity. Certain plants boasting beautiful colors only cost a few hundred thousand dong. Some rare hybrids cost tens of millions to billions of dong. Even more scarce plants could easily cost hundreds of millions.

Dinh Han holds his Monstera Deliciosa White Monster. Photo courtesy of Han.

Dinh Han poses with his Monstera Deliciosa White Monster. Photo courtesy of Han.

Dinh Han, from central Ninh Thuan Province, boasts some plants deemed the rarest, most expensive vegetable types in the world. For example, the Philodendron Spiritus Sancti with 23 leaves, is valued at about $120,000. He also has many other high-value mutants like Monstera Deliciosa White Monster that costs VND150 million (nearly $6,500) per leaf.

Regardless of price, type or rarity, many plant enthusiasts depend on their own personally perspectives when it comes to determining the value or their collections.

Quy takes care of his houseplants which he has been collecting for four years. Photo courtesy of Quy.

Quy is surrounded by his houseplants, which he has been collecting over four years. Photo courtesy of Quy.

Nguyen Quoc Hoa My, from Da Nang, said she would not sell her Platycerium Foong Siqi at any cost.

"It looks like a fake tree and is unbelievably beautiful. So I must have it in my collection," she said.

She had waited on a Thai contact for three years to find her Platycerium Foong Siqi tree, deemed to be largest of its kind in Vietnam. This species can be cultivated as an ornamental plant indoors or in the garden.

In 2018, when she had embarked on her hobby, the ornamental plant community was still very small and uninformed. At the time, several players had collaborated to source plants from foreign gardeners. Everyone shared the branches of rare species, along with expertise on how to care for them.

"At the time we grew by learning from each other's experience," the 35-year-old said, sharing she now owns 12 of the 18 original types of Platycerium Grande (also known as Dragon Nests) recorded in the world.

As one of the first houseplant players in Vietnam, architect Hoang Duy in Saigon has a collection of more than 100 species of fancy and mutated ornamental leaves. Among these are rare and unique types of Monstera. In the ornamental leaf community, the Monstera is rare due to the variegated of its unique half-green, half-white or yellow leaves, which feth high prices on the market.

Many expensive plants are publicly traded on international exchange websites. The price of each plant is usually determined according to the number of leaves, which attests to the time spent raising the plant.

Hoang Duy said under ideal conditions, Monstera Deliciosa plants need a month and a half to produce a leaf. In this process, players need to take very strict care to get a perfect leaf. It is recommended to not dampen young leaves during the watering process, to provide plants enough light, and to avoid the plants burning in the sun.

In recent months, the domestic market had experienced some turbulence after some players tried to create a "price bubble" for certain types of breeds. Due to the loss of pigmentation in mutant plants, they are considered weaker than normal equivalents. Many players are unaware mutants, though few in number are easy to propagate, Quy said.

"Not every mutant is expensive. In fact, there are many lines of ornamental plants that cost hundreds of millions too," he maintained.

Architect Hoang Duy warned many newcomers fail to obtain the necessary information about a species before purchase. They mistakenly buy plants that look similar to ones in the picture and sold at a cheap price. Recently, due to the high demand for houseplants, cases of fraud have made it imperative for buyers to research their purchases.

Houseplant decorators are looking forward to a large-scale offline event in Saigon early next month, bringing together about 200 enthusiasts. This will be a rare opportunity to gather the "top" most species in the green ornamental world in Vietnam.

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