Indoor plant with four leaves sells for $8,000 in New Zealand

An indoor plant with just four leaves has sold for more than NZ$8,000 (£4,000) in New Zealand, as the public’s passion for horticulture surges during the pandemic.

Houseplants have become especially popular among millennials, experts say, many of whom are unable to nurture babies or pets due to financial and property constraints.

Now a cornerstone of interior and Instagram styling, the trade in houseplants is booming online too, with tens of thousands of Kiwis bidding on plants each week.

In August, a variegated minima broke the record for the most expensive houseplant ever sold on Trade Me, the country’s largest trading site, beating the previous record-holder by $1,650.

The seller had set their reserve at $1. The plant sold for $8,150.

The seller, who lives in Auckland, described the small minima as “very rare”, with “4 leaves with stunning yellow variegation on every leaf”.

The minima was planted in a 14-centimetre black plastic pot, and now has a new home on the Hibiscus Coast north of Auckland.

Ruby Topzand, a spokeswoman for Trade Me, said the record for the most expensive houseplant ever sold was previously held by a reverse variegated hoya that went for NZ$6,500 in early August.

Since 2015, indoor plant sales have grown by 2543 per cent on the site, and in the last year there’s been a 213 per cent increase, Topzand said.

“While we have seen over 1,600 searches for minimas in the last seven days, they are far from the most popular houseplant on site. By comparison, we saw over 65,000 searches for hoyas in the past week,” Topzand said. “Hoyas are the most popular plant, followed by monsteras, succulents, and snake plants.”

On the Indoor Plants NZ Facebook page, which has 30,000 members, group rules include “No heckling for cuttings” and “No shaming for amount spent”.

Plants are commonly referred to as “babies” on the site.

According to experts, sales of houseplants are booming in the western world, fuelled by the growth of urbanisation, interior design trends and millennials’ desire to have something to nurture and care for.

A genetic mutation known as variegation, which gives plants multicoloured leaves, is particularly prized in online plant communities. Cuttings of variegated monstera plants routinely sell for three figure sums in Australia, Canada and the United States.

In the UK, online plant store Patch said 67% of Londoners bought a houseplant in the last 12 months, according to its research. There was a 10% rise in plant purchasing for 25- to 34-year-olds.

Writer Alice Vincent features hundreds of houseplants on her popular Instagram account. Last year she told the Guardian that houseplants were a way for adult-shy millennials to ease into responsibility.

“Millennials don’t have the housing and security our parents had. We grow up slower and that does not mean we don’t want to connect, have something to nurture,” she said.