The plant world is here to stay – it’s time to green our cities

Rose Mary Petrass

Alex Wright, owner and director of Sydney nursery More Plants

Alex Wright, owner and director of Sydney nursery More Plants says that indoor plants have definitely picked up in popularity since the pandemic, with tropical and rare plants so popular that prices have dropped dramatically from $300 to around $30.

Plants have definitely been trending in the past few years, and many businesses are waking up to the value these green additions can make to employee wellbeing, focus and productivity – not to mention the environmental benefit.

  • In the lead-up to our sister site, The Fifth Estate’s, event on Urban Greening coming up on the 28th of July, we thought we’d get in contact with some horticultural and urban greening professionals to talk about what’s new and what’s hot in the world of plants. 

There’s a reason people love to keep plants on their desks.  

Numerous studies have found that plants improve health and well-being, but in the past it’s been difficult to put a dollar value on the social impact of plants. 

Landscape designers Junglefy recently launched research from the Centre for International Economics (CIE), uncovering the economic benefit of investing in nature-based solutions.

This new research proves that nature benefits the bottom line, finding that every dollar invested in a Breathing Wall (a type of modular living wall system) delivers $1.95 return on investment. Indoors, every dollar invested in a Breathing Wall delivers $3.44 in social benefits.

Junglefy’s product Breathing Wall is a type of modular living wall system. Image: Junglefy

It’s clearly a valuable investment for our cities, where space is at a premium and life can be frenetic and fast-paced. Nature-based solutions can deliver clean air in a small footprint, with the findings showing that every metre of Breathing Wall can remove the equivalent of PM2.5 (particles with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres or less) as 20-36 metres squared of tree canopy cover. 

That means that 29-65 potted plants are required to purify the same amount of air as one metre square of the Breathing Wall.  

The research from the Centre for International Economics provides a clear business case for the investment in nature-based solutions, which provide a strong return on investment and improve health and wellbeing.

“There is no longer a disconnect between economic terms and social welfare benefits of nature-based solutions,” Junglefy chief executive Suzie Barnett says.

“The CIE report, based on robust and peer-reviewed research, clearly shows that human wellbeing and business productivity benefits of innovative technologies, like the Breathing Wall, can be achieved cost effectively.” 

Lead researcher, associate professor Fraser Torpy from the Plants and Environmental Quality Research Group at UTS, says: “The building and construction sector generates 37 per cent of global emissions and is generally recognised as the major target for developing sustainable solutions to target climate change.” 

“Our research on the Breathing Wall has surprised us at every turn: we predicted pollutant removal, but the scale at which all forms of pollutants can be removed from the air, both inside and outside buildings at full scale, and then detoxified by this system, are quite remarkable.” 

As far as which plants to go for in your own business investment, Greenlister Greener Spaces Better Places released a report on trends in plants last year, finding that plants in workspaces and break areas were on trend, and edible plants were becoming more popular. 

Urban greening Tensile found that some plants can cause more problems than benefits when it comes to urban greening, and some climbers even have the ability to damage the structure they’re clinging to. 

“Wisteria has a habit of constricting and it will tie itself tightly around the cables to the point where it can snap 2 mm, 3 mm and even 4 mm cables,” Tensile founder Peter Bottero says.

To find out what’s trending right now, we spoke with Alex Wright, owner and director of More Plants – a Sydney nursery retailer that caters to an even mix of locals and interstate customers through its online and physical store. The store has a tiny team of two staff, and specialises in rare plants, which Alex says means that they often get calls from plant enthusiasts and collectors “hunting” for rare finds. 

Their main customer base is repeat individuals looking to green up their indoor home spaces, but Alex says that demand from businesses is also starting to pick up with office fitouts and café’s looking for a nursery that will check in every seven to 10 days to keep up plant maintenance. Their most recent client is local craft brewery Willie the Boatman (producer of the limited edition “Albo Pale Ale”. 

Alex Wright, owner and director of Sydney nursery More Plants. Image: More Plants

Alex says that indoor plants have definitely picked up in popularity since the pandemic, with tropical and rare plants such as Variegated Monstera practically walking off the shelves.

“Tropical and rare plants have become more popular in the last few years, people have little greenhouses or IKEA cabinets to keep rarer tropical plants… tropical plants that were rare two years ago are now everywhere, so they used to be $300-400 and now they are like $30.”

With popularity comes price drops, as suppliers catch on to the trend and propagate tropical plants in mass production with the help of tissue culture. 

“The highly coveted Alocasia Cuprea – a big purple red plant with round leaves – and Philodendrons, these plants are now produced with tissue culture, meaning there is more availability… As popularity peaks the price drops, and then they’re everywhere.” 

Alocasia Cuprea. Image: More Plants

When asked if there were certain plants that are now harder to get your hands on, she says that hasn’t significantly changed. 

“There’s always been plants that are hard to get – that’s the way that it is. It depends on how quickly they grow, and the conditions needed to keep them happy. We haven’t experienced a shortage, except during the peak of Covid… There are always some plants that some stores can’t get their hands on.”

One plant that there’s high demand and a shortage of stock for is the Thai Constellation variety of Variegated Monstera. The mottled white and green plant she says is harder to propagate because “the mutation isn’t very stable”. That means that those patterned plants are much harder to get right, because those patterns are never the same. Another rarer plant is Sphagnum Moss, imported from New Zealand, which serves as a decorative topping for pots, a soil replacement for orchids, and rooting aid as it holds moisture well.  

When it comes to outdoor plants, native plants are always the best bet, she says. They’re adapted to the natural environment and don’t need much maintenance or care.

As for the global price crunch, suppliers are raising fees for delivery, but there is not much price rise in plants in general yet. 

“We expect to see a drop in price for rarer plants. It will be interesting to see if demand for plants is still strong moving forward post-Covid”. 

“It’s up and down as a small business, but reasonably steady, highs and lows do fluctuate, but we stick around and keep going”. 

Juglefy’s Ms Barnnett says that nature-based systems are becoming more popular as our workplaces and urban environments recognise the economic, social and environmental benefits of plants.

“Net zero carbon and employee health and wellbeing play an interconnected role in creating workplaces that are environmentally, socially, and economically stable – both now and into the future. Yet they have traditionally been factored independently by building designers and owners as well as those who actually use them.

“Employers are encouraging workers back to the office under the new hybridity of work; key to achieving this is creating a workspace that is truly fit for purpose. We simply cannot afford not the leverage the benefits of nature-based solutions in creating productive, flexible, and sustainable places of work. It’s time to Junglefy our cities.”

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Rose Mary Petrass

Bye for now. Get in touch if you have any interesting business news for us to report, or if you’re an existing Greenlister and want to share what you’re up to:

– Rose Mary Petrass, your Green List curator