Florida is clearly the country’s industry leader in houseplants, with companies selling lines of plants catering to new buyers while touting the impacts of houseplants on air quality.
More than 500 Florida operators grew foliage and flowering plants in 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“Houseplants represent about $500 million in Florida farm gate sales, most of which is shipped out of Florida, bringing in tremendous net revenue for Florida’s economy,” says Rod Hollingsworth, co-owner of Arcadia-based Sun Bulb Company, which markets Better- Gro plants. “Virtually 80 percent of all the tropical foliage and houseplants produced in the U.S. come from Florida.”
Florida’s climate allows for large areas of tropical plant production – both in greenhouses and outdoors.
“To really perform well, most houseplants should be tropical in nature,” says Justin Hancock of Miami-based Costa Farms, which started growing houseplants in the 1970s and is now the country’s largest producer.
Tropicals have a natural advantage for homeowners, Hancock says. Plants from cooler climates need to be moved, often out of the house, to mimic the cooler dormant months in their natural environment.
“Consumers don’t want a plant that’s going to disappear for a couple of months,” he says.
New houseplants are selected to be as easy as possible for homeowners to grow and maintain. Sun Bulb Company specializes in orchids, selling easy- to-grow “blooming size orchids.”
Sun Bulb, Costa Farms and other Florida growers also sell “air plants,” which do not require soil and are popular with younger consumers.
“If you just mist an air plant, or dunk it in water occasionally, and keep it out of too much sun, you’re pretty much going to have success with it,” Hancock says.
Houseplant growers got a boost when science documented potential health benefits from indoor tropicals.
“Tropical plants are not only a beautiful addition to an indoor space, they are also very useful in filtering chemicals out of the air,” Hollingsworth says.
First documented by NASA research, more than a dozen common houseplant species – from the anthurium to zamioculcas, the “ZZ plant” – can scrub interior air of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. The presence of houseplants in the office was linked with lower rates of worker illness in a study in Sweden, Hancock says.
Ferns are the best air filters – research shows they can remove more than 80 percent of VOCs – but the best air-cleaning strategy is a mix, as different species remove different compounds. Beneficial mixes include many traditional favorites, including dieffenbachia, dracaena, orchids, palms, peace lilies and sanseviera (Snake Plant).
“We’re excited to see the next generation of consumers getting excited about some of the health benefits of houseplants,” Hancock says.
Young consumers also get excited about new plants that may not appeal to core houseplant consumers. Costa Farms, now in its third generation of family ownership, has introduced Desert Gems, a line of cacti that have been dyed in candy-like colors. “They’re popular with the college crowd,” Hancock says.
Adjusting to changing consumer tastes, while providing the outstanding quality Florida houseplant producers are known for, will keep Florida’s houseplant companies contributing to Florida’s economy for generations to come.
“I’m proud of my family heritage and company’s 60-year history in Florida,” says Hollingsworth, who’s a sixth-generation Floridian and third-generation managing his family’s business.