Meet the plant hunter
All houseplants are descended from wild plants. It’s up to men like Obed Smit to track down the rare and beautiful.
Every plant in your home has a story. Each one is a descendent of a plant that once lived in the wild, in rainforests, mountains or deserts. Finding and developing them so they can live happily in European homes can take years. It’s down to ‘plant hunters’ like Obed Smit, who travel the world searching for the most unusual and exciting species.
Obed is the owner of Smit Nurseries, one of the growers that supplies Patch with world class plants. A couple of times a year, Obed makes trips to places like South America, New Zealand and South Africa, in search of new species.
“I find growers and collectors all over the world, who know the hot spots in the wild where you can find new plants,” says Obed. With the help of local experts, he gathers cuttings of unusual plants (only cuttings are taken, so as not to disturb the natural environment) and brings them back to his lab in the Netherlands. The process of creating a new houseplant is not as simple as just bringing a plant home and letting it grow. “Sometimes plants grow under special circumstances that you can’t recreate in a greenhouse,” says Obed. “When I go overseas, I may come back with 100 cuttings, but only one or two will eventually become commercially sold plants.”
Once gathered, plants are examined and grown in a high-tech lab, to understand them better and see what conditions they favour. Those tests can take well over a year. Once they’ve been tested in the lab, they have to be tested in a normal home, to make sure they’ll thrive. In some cases, the time from discovering a plant to selling it can be decades. That was the case with delosperma echinatum, which we know better as Xena the pickle plant.
“I first found that plant in South Africa, 20 years ago,” says Obed. “We were not successful in growing it. It was too difficult. Three years ago, we tried again. We had a lot more experience now and we grew it successfully.”
Obed has been growing plants for over 40 years and he says the joy of discovering new things has only increased over the years. “There is a whole new group of people interested in plants now – the people Patch is selling to, I think. I’ve been collecting a lot more rare plants recently, so there are very exciting things to come.”
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