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Trendy Tropicals: Reporting back from the Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition


March 26, 2008
By Brian Minter

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The Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition is North America’s top tropical plant show with international attendance from more than 16 countries.

The Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition is North America’s top tropical plant show with international attendance from more than 16 countries. It might also be one of the most significant tropical plant trade shows in the world. Since I was there three years ago, a dramatic change has taken place in the world of tropical plants. Florida growers deserve a great deal of credit for their innovation in repositioning tropical plants as both indoor art and outdoor patio plants. Many new varieties have a specific appeal to the X and Y generations, and colourful new foliage has also helped create new interest for everyone.

The three areas with potential for huge growth in terms of new, easy-care plants are bromeliads, anthuriums and phalaenopsis orchids. There has been an explosion in new bromeliad varieties, sizes and colours. The beauty of these plants is their easy care, their ability to withstand a wide variety of household and office conditions and their long-lasting qualities. Unfortunately, we all kind of dabble in them without year-round consistency of supply, quality and selection. Like anything else we sell, we need to go deep into a product if we hope to have success. Bromeliads now come in all sizes to suit diverse budgets and locations. They are easily value added in containers or combined in tropical mixed gardens. One of the award-winning booths in Florida was a display of bromeliads in glass vases, growing in coloured pebbles or coloured gels and blinged-up with sparkle, twisted branches and ting ting. They truly should be a huge category in our stores.

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The same can be said for new varieties of anthuriums in red, white and pink. Anything that can be done with bromeliads can be done with anthuriums. Anthuriums can also be displayed in beautiful glass vases filled with clear or coloured water. Their white-pink bare roots are attractive. They sparkle, bling-up well and also look great in mixed containers with other plants. I think both these plants have outdoor potential
on patios.

With new varieties, sizes and colours, orchids just keep growing in popularity. Phalaenopsis, however, are the easiest and longest lasting for our clients. The trick is to keep the prices reasonable to position them in the range of an everyday purchase as opposed to an infrequent luxury item. They should also be value added in inexpensive ceramic orchid or bonsai pots. They can be dressed up nicely and easily with glitter, ting ting and Spanish moss glued to the stems.

The other missing category in our shops is tropical gardens. I’m not talking about the traditional violets and kalanchoes but simply a tropical splash. With so much new colourful foliage, we no longer need to rely on flowers. The new yellow philodendron, striking calatheas, ctenanthes, peperomias, marantas, syngoniums and many more will spice up any foliage container. In Florida, this is a huge trend, and most foliage growers are now selling them finished products. The trick again is to have enough of them in all sizes for a great selection. Tropical combinations have been around for years, but with all the new colourful foliage, interest in them has exploded recently, offering your store a great
opportunity to differentiate.

Even larger, single-sale tropicals have come such a long way.  The top award-winning plant of this recent show was aglaonema ‘Ruby Sunset.’ It follows on the heels of another award-winning variety, ‘Pink Sapphire.’ These plants are truly spectacular. From ‘Limelight’ dracaenas and stunning new Ti plants to brilliant yellow philodendrons, these new tropicals will change the profile of the same old tropical selection. I spent a bit of time with Kerry Herndon, one of the true Florida innovators and the owner of Kerry’s Bromeliad Nursery in Homestead, Florida, who is having tissue of many new varieties being done in Asia with stunning new colours.

He mentioned that in just a few years there will be some truly spectacular plants available.

Another new opportunity lies in the field of design. Many new high-end condos and apartments are stylish and beautifully designed, but they are, I find, often sterile looking and cold feeling. The new trend of designer tropical plants in designer pots will certainly add life and warmth to any room. Vertical is “in” to stay, and tall, thin, steel-coloured pots in metal or ceramic are meant for small spaces. Fitting this style nicely are the new varieties of sansevierias – not just the old-fashioned Mother-in-Law’s Tongue, but S. cylindrical and many other forms grown in twisted braids or tied together in intriguing shapes.

Designing with interior plants is nothing new, but it’s taking a new turn, providing an opportunity for specialty sales to the X’s and Y’s and the trendy new condo and apartment owners.

The 2008 Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition has given me a whole new perspective on the new role tropicals can play in homes and on patios. I’m excited to expand our tropical department in these new directions. 

To see pictures from the show, taken by Brian Minter, visit the website's photo gallery .