The Monstera: Creating Monsters in the Houseplant Industry

In the new Internet plant economy, one plant has opened a market of corruption and posed us with one question; Is the Monstera a beautiful houseplant, or catalyst of corruption?

The Monstera Deliciosa and its equally popular siblings, Monstera Obliqua and Monstera Adansonii, are the Kardashian’s of the plant world. Much like Kim, Khloe and Kourtney, the plants are photogenic, popular and have a cult following. Unfortunately, in their rise to Instagram fame, the Monstera has lead to innocent plant enthusiasts being ripped off by “Plant Scammers”.

Jana Stewart, of Microcosm nursery divulges on the techniques “plant scammers” use to rip off unassuming plant lovers. “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 [the cutting of a particularly rare breed] is 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!”

Local Sydney artist, Jacob Spokes, tells another tale of exploitation he has experienced as a self-confessed Monstera lover. “People always flip plants for more than their cost price” says Spokes. He provides an interesting insight into the market, “something is only worth what someone will pay for it, and Monsteras are so popular, people will pay whatever [the seller] wants, or whatever they can to get their hands on one.”
Stewart also recalls instances of plant scammers flipping rarer Monstera types. ”I’ve heard of Variegated Monstera going for $1200 so [the market] is pretty lucrative I guess.”

Jana Stewart of Microcosm 1

The houseplant industry, however, hasn’t always been in such grim circumstances. Esther Anderson in her article notes that plants were once shared and gifted to friends and family.  “These plants are not treasured for their foliage and the lush atmosphere they create…As they grow, so does the significance of their origins: gifts, unwanted items, or excess, all passed on by others who knew they would be appreciated.”
Unfortunately, she too recalls a culture of deception that has blossomed in the plant community. “Rare plants are coveted, tightly held onto but shared widely by their owners on social media with a certain pride, voracity, and even smugness. Their owners are secretive, and do not share where they purchased their new green children”.

Her observations raise the question: is social media to blame?

The recent boom of houseplants among millennials has been covered by leading news media such as Cosmopolitan, Washington Post, Nylon and The Independent. These sources claim that due to housing prices being so unaffordable, millennials are ‘filling the void in their hearts’ with houseplants.
These articles owe the popularity of houseplants to bringing a sense of home to a space, and the likes they attract on Instagram. A simple search of #monsteramonday brings up hundreds of thousands of posts of Monsteras, and is a testament to the popularity of the plant.

Monstera Deliciosa, Image Credit: Louisa Brimble

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 why has the Monstera in particular skyrocketed in popularity and subsequent market value?

Like many others, Lauren Camilleri, founder of Domus Botanica, was drawn to the Monstera for a particular reason. “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 Adansonii, Image Credit: Jana Stewart

Her houseplant business, Domus Botanica was created as an online retail experience with the simple intent of celebrating indoor plants. Her success is hindered on the high demand of species like the Monstera. 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.”

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

UNSW Design/Media PR & Advertising student.