It Takes a Village to Raise a Rhaphidophora
This is the story of my Rhaphidophora cryptantha, but it’s also about the International Aroid Society and how awesome plant people are. Let me explain.
I first noticed Rhaphidophora in Thailand. Some species are called “shingle plants” because they climb up walls and keep their leaves flat, like shingles.
A Rhaphidophora korthalsii I saw at the Tom Taylor house in Bangkok.
I traveled to Miami, Florida, this month to attend the International Aroid Society annual show. It was … weird. I’m a professional technology dork, but this is a whole other kind of geek community. I was younger than most of the attendees, some of whom have friendships that stretch back decades. Usually, in a situation like this, I’d feel like a strange interloper and retreat into my awkwardness.
But here’s the thing about plant geeks: they’re nice. You have to be a nurturant person to care about plants, and nurturant people are generally good to be around. Everyone I met was so kind, welcoming, and genuinely happy to meet a fellow aroid geek, I got over my initial shyness almost immediately.
The show was fascinating, full of talks by expert botanists with photos and stories of amazing plants in the wild. Tales of plants so rare, they can only be found in areas the size of the room we were in. Plants that adapted to their environments in amazing ways, like growing deep tubers to survive forest fires or evolving to survive on riversides where they’re sometimes above water and other times totally submerged.
And, of course, there’s also a plant sale, where I met Brian Williams of Brian’s Botanicals and his lovely fiancee, Sarah. I’ve bought several plants from him and recommend his nursery highly. The funny thing is, I recognized Sarah first because she’s often in Brian’s photos. She’s there to show how big the plants are, but I had no idea how tall she was. So when I met them, I insisted on getting a photo of the three of us. Now, when I see Sarah in a photo, I’ll know how tall the plants really are.
Sarah, Brian, and yours truly. Yes, I have a Plantgasm shirt. The shirt actually preceded the site.
On the last day of the show, I saw Brian heading out with a cart full of plants. We stopped to chat about our purchases and I noticed a small Rhaphidophora in his collection. “Wow, that one’s awesome,” I said. “You like it? Here!” He said, handing me a 6″ piece of the plant that had broken off.
I thanked him excessively. I think I was standing there grinning at the cutting for a few minutes, because other people came over to talk to me about it. Albert Huntington pointed out that it had been misidentified as a Monstera earlier, and said it was really a Rhaphidophora cryptantha. He wrote it down for me, as I never would have remembered.
I wrapped the little cutting up in some damp paper inside a Starbucks cup and put him in my suitcase for the long trip home. Now he’s planted in some good soil, tied to a wood stick (it’s actually a paint stirrer). If he survives the transition, he’ll root to the wood and climb up towards the sun. I absolutely love the white veins in his leaves. They practically sparkle when the light hits just right.
Whenever I see him, I’ll think about that awesome weekend in Miami and the kindness of my fellow plant people.
Other awesome folks I met but couldn’t work into the Rhaphidophora story:
- Zach DuFran and his lovely wife Christie from Oklahoma. Zach is the reason I attended the show. We’ve been commenting on each other’s blogs for a while and have traded a few plants. He kept asking me if I was attending the show, even when I kept saying no. Thanks for getting me there, Zach! You can read his reflections on the show here, along with a photo that makes me look like a giant.
- Taylor Holzer from Ohio, who won the prize for the youngest attendee, as well as an incredible $11 deal on a Philodendron at the auction. He knows more about plants as a teenager than I ever will as an adult.
- LariAnn Garner, who created the Alocasia calidora hybrid that’s taking over my office, and who’s writings on growing aroids have been of immense help to me.
- Dan Levin, fellow Bay Area-based tropical plant aficionado, who commiserated with me on the struggle to grow the plants we love in the place we live.
- Kathy Upton, who presented an awesome talk about raising an Amorphophallus titanum (the world’s biggest flower) and promised to send me some seeds.
Finally, though I never got to meet him, I have to thank Steve Lucas. His kind help in email is what brought me into the IAS, and he’s still sorely missed by the entire community.
Dearest Plantgasm readers, if you’re into aroids, consider joining the IAS. If you’re into something else, check around, chances are there’s a society for that, too. Turns out, plant people rock.