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Plantgasm - I love plants too much. By Derek Powazek.

Buying Plants on eBay

Macodes petola

It all started with Macodes petola.

The tiny orchid sat on a branch in the Lowland Tropics room of the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers. It wasn’t a big ticket item – instead of a plaque, it just had a tiny handwritten label – but I was captivated by it. Its velvety green leaves were patterned with crackling lightning bolts. I resisted the urge to stuff it in my pocket, and took a photo of it instead.

Macodes petolaWhen I got home, I scoured the usual online plant stores, but no one had it. On a whim, I tried searching eBay, and found Imperial Exotics, a small grower in California that specializes in Jewel Orchids. I ordered four different kinds. They arrived in perfect health and now live in my office. So far, they’re looking happy.

A monster was born.

The next time I came home from the Conservatory, I was in love with Medinilla myriantha. Big for an Orchid, small for a shrub, the Malaysian Orchid was a leggy grower with giant clusters of pink flowers like bunches of grapes. This time I went straight to eBay and found it at two sellers. It now lives in the front room in a East-facing window.

Since then, I must admit, I’ve been on a tear. It turns out there’s a whole community of smalltime growers who sell plants there. And while eBay may not be at the top of your list when looking for plants, I’ve had almost entirely positive experiences buying there. Here are a few tips for buying plants on eBay.

  1. Flowers, Trees & Plants. Start out in the “Flowers, Trees & Plants” category. You can then dive into subcategories. I tend to frequent Tropicals, Houseplants, and Orchids.
  2. Buy It Now. If you’ve only ever used eBay for auctions, you may not know that they also have “Buy In Now” items that are simply available for immediate sale. I suggest you ignore the auction shenanigans and just shop the “Buy It Now” options.
  3. Top-Rated Sellers. eBay was one of the first sites to really implement reputation systems, and theirs has been active for over a decade now (this dork has been there since 1999!*). So when considering a purchase, check to see how long the seller has been selling and what their reputation is. Only buy from top-rated sellers.
  4. Locals only. You can also search by country, state, or even within so many miles of your zip code. So start by looking local and then expand if you can’t find it.
  5. Sign in. If you make yourself an eBay account, you can save searches and sellers to keep an eye on. I’ll list a few of my favorites at the end of this post.

Now for the cold water. Any time you buy a live plant on the internet, there’s no telling how it will arrive. I’ve been buying plants like crazy and I have yet to receive a dead or diseased plant, but I have received plants that were poorly packed, had broken leaves, or shallow roots.

There are also laws about moving live plants around. According to eBay’s plants and seeds policy, it’s the seller’s responsibility to make sure that they can sell what they’re selling, and send it to where you live. But the USDA has rules about shipping plants and so does each state, and I find it hard to believe that all these sellers know all the rules. So familiarize yourself with the rules of your state, and be careful. If a package containing live plants is held for inspection, the plants will be dead by the time you get them.

What I’m saying is, as always, caveat emptor.

Wanna try it? Here’s a search I’ve saved for “live plants” from Top-rated sellers in the US, Buy It Now, newly listed first. You can dive in to subcategories or search for something specific from there.

And here are a few of the sellers I’ve had good experiences buying from on eBay: Palmnuts Palms Cycads Exotics, Brian’s Botanicals, Funny Farm Herbs, and Wellspring Gardens.

Remember, it’s always better to shop for plants in person, locally. But when there’s something specific you just can’t find anywhere else, give eBay a try.

* Yes, that’s me.

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Plantgasm

Plantgasm is where Derek Powazek chronicles his botanical antics and misadventures. More.