A Long, Strange Trip: the Journey of a Tropical Plant

You probably already know that tropical plants are a great way to distinguish your interior environment. They’re perfect for adding texture, color, and vibrancy to any home or office.

But most people take for granted the fact that tropical plants don’t originate in the United States—and their journey is just as interesting as the plants themselves.

While there are many different varieties of tropical plants imported into the United States, the majority are cane plants. These include the most popular tropical plant group, Dracaenas.

Dracaenas and other cane plants are big business in countries such as Costa Rica and Madagascar, where they’re exported to destinations all over the world. These plants thrive on the tropical mountainsides of these countries where sunlight and pollutant-free air are abundant. In fact, Massangeana cane plants (a species of Dracaena, often called corn plants) can grow more than four feet per year in this environment.

Once the plants are of desirable size, they are harvested and shipped to a cane processing facility where they’re cut to uniform height as specified by the customer. After the plants are cut, they’re thoroughly washed to help rid them of fungus and pests and to make them more aesthetically pleasing.

When the washing process is complete, the cane plants are dipped in a fungicide, a bactericide, and a rooting hormone on one end, and hot wax on the other end. The wax prevents the cane from losing too much moisture during the shipping process.

After these steps are complete, the cane plants are crated vertically so gravity doesn’t affect the way they grow, and they’re placed on large pallets to begin the journey across the ocean. The cane plants are usually transported by boat, and the trip from Costa Rica to Florida can take as long as a week. When plants are destined for a longer trip—say Madagascar to China—they can be on a boat for as long as a month. In these cases, the plants are kept at a very warm temperature prior to leaving for their destination. This helps prepare them for the long journey.

When the plants arrive in the United States, they are typically rooted and grown in the southern parts of the country. While Florida is the primary destination for these tropical plants, they can also grow in states such as Louisiana and parts of Texas. Once the plants are rooted, the foliage sprouts, and when they’re up to specifications, they’re put on a truck and brought to destinations all across the country.

Most tropical plants are surprisingly adaptive to indoor environments, making them easy to maintain. They have no problem acclimating to the lower light and humidity levels common indoors. The one thing they can’t adapt to is cold weather; temperatures as low as 55 degrees can start to damage them. That’s why these plants are almost always confined to indoor environments.

As you can see, the journey of a tropical plant isn’t a cut-and-dried affair. It’s a long, complex process—one that several of us saw firsthand when we visited a Massangeana Cane Production Facility in Costa Rica back in April of last year. We were fortunate to have made such an informative trip, and now have an even greater respect for the process that brings these unique, beautiful plants into our country


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