Bored, restless urban India is turning to exotic, exorbitant plants
It’s the green revolution no one saw coming. Plants that cost as much as Rs 20,000 a piece are finding eager takers.
They don’t need to be walked, or fed very much. They can’t nip out, forcing you to give chase. They’re a calming thing to have around.
“Having plants in a living space is proven a mood booster,” says psychologist Arunima Mukherjee. “The mind connects green, the colour of nature, with energy and warmth. This creates a sense of well-being.”
As we spend more time indoors, without the freedom to travel, eat out or go to the movies much, people are spending more on plants, for a range of reasons. In August, a New Zealander paid NZD $8,150 (or about Rs 4.25 lakh) for an “extremely rare variegated Rhaphidophora tetrasperma” on the auction site Trade Me. It was the most expensive houseplant ever sold on the platform.
That level of hysteria has not hit Indian shores yet, but plants going for as much as Rs 10,000 and Rs 20,000 are finding more eager takers, and plant-lovers — with little else to spend on — are upping their nursery budgets.
“Since March, I’ve had orders for a Monsteras [a kind of Aroid] worth Rs 25,000 and a bonsai for Rs 30,000,” said Shaan Lalwani, who runs the Vriksha nursery in Mumbai. While total sales are at 60% of what they used to be pre-pandemic, online sales have risen by 40% and that’s where he gets the bulk of his orders, he adds. He’s also seeing collectors now mark the days on Instagram with posts hashtagged #MonsteraMondays, #FlowerFridays, #SucculentSunday, etc.
One such collector is Navneet Kumar, 26, an entrepreneur in Bengaluru. “I may think twice about meeting my friends, but nothing can come between me and my plants,” he says. “Gardening also helps distract me. When my garden grows, it gives me a feeling of setting a goal and achieving it. So for the right plant, I don’t think about the money as much as before.”
His most recent acquisition has been an alocasia cuprea (commonly called elephant’s ears), a type of Aroid, that he bought for Rs 3,600. The most expensive plant in his garden is a Philodendron Florida Beauty that cost Rs 16,000 and was given to him by a friend.
“I don’t like flowers so much,” says Kumar. “I like the Aroid for its myriad leaf patterns, its foliage. Before the lockdown I would spend maybe Rs 1,500 a month on plants. Now, I’m willing to shell out Rs 5,000 for the right beauty to add to my collection.”
His plant babies have given him a plant parent network too. “Having a plant means you get to talk to others, exchange tips,” Kumar says. “At first the chats were just about plants; now we’re making travel plans together.”
Anindita Chakrabarty, 35, a data scientist in Mumbai, says she’s spending part of her travel budget on plants. “My holidays were mainly among nature and among wildlife. Now, when I walk through a room filled with plants, I feel like I have managed to find a substitute in the pandemic.”
Her most expensive plants is a Bird of Paradise she bought for Rs 2,000. “Plants do a lot for me. You’re stuck at home all the time. Unless you’re living on the Marine Drive there is hardly any scenery. I just feel so happy to see a new leaf sprout or a flower bloom… to wake up to that in the morning,” she says. “They have also taught me to accept that a living thing is born and has a life cycle and also dies.”
Her monthly spend on plants has gone up by about 30% since March, she says. “Plants give me a sense of certainty. These days there’s not much you can control. But I can look at a plant and know immediately what’s wrong with it, and usually I can fix it,” Chakrabarty says.
Lalwani points out his customers are getting younger too. Jash Nanda, 14, is now a regular. “My plants are my only source of fun… they calm me, give me positive vibes,” Nanda says. “On the first day of every month, I splurge. What I used to spend on video games, I save for my plants.”
They’re teaching him about life, and love too, he adds. “I loved my first one, a litchi plant, too much. I over-watered and over-pruned it. Now I have learnt not to be in a hurry or try to make them grow fast. It’s not about me, it’s about them.”