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The Monstera: Creating Monsters in the Houseplant Industry

By Abbey Farlow (z5075317)

Word Count: 1074

Made famous by French artist Henri Matisse in the 70’s, the Monstera Deliciosa remains one of the most revered and desired houseplants of the modern era. In contemporary society, the aesthetic appeal of its lush foliage has caught the eye of interior designers and plant lovers alike, resulting in the Monstera being the most tagged plant on Instagram. But has the worldwide love and subsequent increased demand of the Monstera and its varieties opened a market of exploitation?

Monstera Deliciosa, Image Credit: Luisa Brimble

The Monstera Deliciosa and its equally popular siblings, Monstera Obliqua and Monstera Adansonii, are highly sought after plants in our current media-run society. Coverage on the trend of houseplants has been seen in the likes of Cosmopolitan, Washington Post, Nylon and The Independent, and subsequently, the Monstera is now considered a symbol of social capital in the online world. Planthunter, a popular Australian plant blog, testifies the popularity of the Monstera Deliciosa to its audience with reassurance;  “You know this plant. Your mum probably had one in her living room in the 1970s, or it could be growing wildly up a tree in a shady corner of your courtyard, or you may have spotted it in an artfully placed pot against a white wall on Pinterest”.

Like many growing trends of the last decade, the popularity of the Monstera Deliciosa is owed to its reputation on social media. A simple search of #Monstera on the Instagram explore function results in hundreds of thousands of posts of the leafy plant perfectly styled in urban settings.

But why has the popularity of the Monstera suddenly skyrocketed in the last decade? Like many others, Lauren Camilleri, founder of Domus Botanica and Leaf Supply, was drawn to the Monstera’s aesthetics and survivability.

“I’d struggled with succulents for a while (killing more than I’d like to admit) but my first foliage plant, a Monstera, seemed to grow successfully from the outset and was a game changer for me,“ says Camilleri. “I absolutely loved seeing new leaves unfurl and it gave me a bit of confidence to really get greening”.

Monstera Deliciosa, Image Credit: Luisa Brimble

Domus Botanica was created by Camilleri as an online retail experience with the simple intent of celebrating the indoor plant. “I have always lived in a very urban environment with limited access to green space. I was really craving more of a connection to nature in my everyday life and indoor plants were the answer,” she says. “I also wanted to everyone to experience the same joy I did from building an indoor jungle.”

Like many contemporary businesses, the social media craze of indoor plants like the Monstera, acted as a catalyst for the success of Domus Botanica and her plant delivery service, Leaf Supply. She admits “Instagram in particular has been really important for us. The popularity of indoor plants across the board is fantastic for us as we have a really engaged social audience who love our plant-filled content.”

Jana Stewart of Microcosm

Jana Stewart, Founder of Microcosm nursery, says that Monsteras stay on her shelves for merely hours before they sell out. She says “the Monstera Deliciosa is very common…the Monstera Obliqua or Adansonii is a bit harder to find and demand is so high that even though they grow fast and easily, there isn’t enough.”

But there one Monstera variety that is a rarity among the plant community. “The Variegated Monstera is the unicorn of the plant world and super hard to get your hands on in Australia,” says Stewart. “It grows slow and there is the possibility that the plant is not truly variegated, and could revert back to green if given enough light.”

While the opening gap in the market for houseplant businesses has allowed plant enthusiasts to generate income from their passion, the increasing popularity of the Monstera has created spaces in the market for exploitation, and for new roles to be created in the demand and supply cycle. Stewart describes them as “Plant Scammers”.

Plant Scammers use a variety of techniques to exploit the high demand of rarer types of plants and rip of innocent and unassuming plant-lovers. The first of these scamming techniques being the “flipping” of plants on buy, swap and sell sites, Facebook Marketplace and unregulated sites like Gumtree. Much like the “flipping” of designer clothes, this technique sees scammers buy plants at cost price, and resell them at inflated prices to make a profit.

Jacob Spokes, local Sydney Artist and self confessed Monstera enthusiast has experienced first hand. “People always flip plants for more than their cost price” says Spokes. “Something is only worth what someone will pay for it, and Monsteras are so popular, people will pay whatever they [the seller] wants, or whatever they can to get their hands on one.” This deception only gets increasingly worse with the rarity of the monstera type.

The Monstera Adansonii, Image Credit: Jana Stewart

Stewart also recalls instances of plant-flipping with rarer Monstera types. ”I’ve heard of Variegated Monstera going for $1200 so it’s pretty lucrative I guess.”

Inflated pricing, however, isn’t the only technique plant scammers are using. “People do all sorts of things”, she says. “[Scammers will] send you a different plant to what they advertised, or say it’s a seed for something and it turns out to be grass seeds.”

She elaborates, “[Buyers] get a “cutting” that is just one leaf, no stem, so you can’t grow it”, says Stewart, “or its fine and then the plant grows and reverts back to full green because it was just a random leaf that came out that way…. or sometimes people send exactly what they say but it just doesn’t survive postage. More and more people are shoplifting plants too!”

Despite the foul play in the industry, the houseplant boom continues. Plant enthusiasts are willing to overlook the potential to be exploited to get their hands on the Monstera they love and want. “There’s a possibility of ripped off,” says Spokes, “I really want to get a Monstera Adansonii, but I have to find the right one and hope its legitimate.”

For most, plants are a passion, rather than a hobby. Plants evoke feelings of home and calmness, and it is this love that creates a community which frowns upon the exploitation of the industry. While the Monstera has transitioned from a symbolism of art and decadence in the 70’s, to one of social capital on the online world in contemporary society, we can choose whether it becomes, in our own mind, a symbol of deception or a symbol of belonging.