A Guide to Unicorn Plant Hunting
One of the most asked questions I receive is: where can I find that plant? I usually purchase and trade from several different places, especially when the plant in question is rare/difficult to find. In this guide, you'll find some useful tips to aid in your hunt for that hard-to-find "unicorn" plant. (Please note that this entry applies mostly to the United States.)
KNOW YOUR LOCAL NURSERIES
Search on Yelp or Google and find your local plant shops. You'd be surprised at how many there are. Some places even specialize in rare and collectible plants. Here in Los Angeles, we have shops like Mickey Hargitay's Plants, Sunset Nursery, Folia Collective, and Leaf and Spine, just to name a few. Reach out to them to see if they have a particular plant, or if something can be special-ordered. Please note that availability can be limited by region; for example there will be more tropical plants available in Florida than in Utah.
SIGN UP FOR WAITLISTS AND MAILING LISTS TO ONLINE STORES
There are several online stores that carry limited stock of hard-to-find plants. Logees and Gabriella Plants have the sought-after philodendron pink princess, but they sell out in moments. The best thing to do is sign up for the waitlist to be notified when these plants become available again. Logees carries a few rare philos as well as some rare hoyas. Steve's Leaves is another great online store and carries tradescantias and rare begonias. NSE Tropicals carries rare anthuriums and monsteras. Search for the plants you want and sign up on the waitlist if they are currently out of stock. Make sure to have a login with those sites and have your information saved for faster checkout. Trust me on this - those extra seconds matter when you're trying to check out quickly! Be aware that your cart doesn't reserve your plant, so it can truly be devastating if it sells out right as you're completing checkout.
SEARCH ON ETSY OR EBAY
This is where things can get a little pricey. How bad do you want that plant? There are lots of variegated monsteras and pink princess listings on eBay and Etsy. The trick is to find a good seller. Make sure to check their ratings and read their reviews. Confirm that the listing has photos of the exact plant they are selling. I highly recommend that you order only from U.S. sellers/ or sellers in your own country, but it is possible to import plants from other countries (I'll address this in the next tip).
You can import rare plants through international sellers. Again, vet them beforehand and make sure they are legitimate. Pay through PayPal if you can, so your purchase is protected. Always purchase a phytosanitary certificate. This assures that the plants are inspected and imported legally and will not be destroyed by customs. You can legally import up to 12 plants into the US without a wholesale license. I've imported rare cacti from eBay sellers in Italy and also philos from Thailand in the past. Prices are usually a lot cheaper for rare plants, but a phyto certificate is around $25-30 per shipment, and shipping can get a little pricey for express international delivery. The import option is great if you want multiple rare plants and can afford to place a large order.
Swapping/trading plants are a great way to grow your collection. Swapping for rare plants can get a little tricky though! Local stores sometimes host plant swaps, but note that if someone has a rare plant to trade, they will most likely be expecting an equally rare plant in exchange. Don't take it personally if they don't end up trading with you. There are online places to swap plants (by mail) and you can sometimes find people on Instagram and Facebook willing to trade. Note that these will be private individuals so be respectful when communicating and always be careful if you're trading with strangers. I also recommend shipping your plants with USPS Priority mail instead of First Class.
There are numerous plant groups on Facebook, such as "Time to Splurge and Purge BST", "Philodendron - Monstera - Aroids - Buy - Sell - Trade", "Hoya Lovers FB Store", etc. You can post an ISO (In Search Of) post if you're looking for a particular plant or you can take part in buying from many seller's "purges" in a first-come, first-served format. These sales are usually through PayPal, and are securely backed if you make the payment as a business transaction.
Keep in mind that collecting rare plants can require a lot of time, effort, and money. There is no seller who can magically bestow upon you every plant you're looking for. Never message someone (especially non-sellers) you don't know and demand to buy or trade for a plant - that can come across as rude! It never hurts to do your research, be involved in the online plant community, and reach out to new plant friends who might be able to help you. Good luck in your hunt!