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Tropical plant dearth loomsBerks-based Ambius, largest supplier in U.S., warns of Irma's impact

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Ambius headquarters (Contributed)
Ambius headquarters (Contributed)

Interior designers considering decorating their clients' offices with tropical plants may find the leafy green plants harder to get in coming months because of Hurricane Irma's path of destruction in Florida.

Irma last month pummeled Homestead, Fla., the heart of the $1 billion tropical plant industry, destroying or damaging numerous nurseries and shade trees that are needed to protect the plants from the sun.

Officials at Ambius, the Wyomissing-based interior landscaping company that is the largest supplier of tropical plants for commercial use in North America, said the shortage could be apparent next summer because the plants will not have had enough time to propagate and grow.

“The cycle’s been broken,” said Paul Essek, director of operations at Ambius, whose office is in Tampa, Fla. Ambius is a division of Rentokil Initial PLC, based in Camberley, England.

“The plants need to recuperate and acclimate under shade and grow to the size we need,” Essek said. “The whole process has been stunted by the hurricane.”

While there are a lot of tropical plants available now, the loss will be seen in the coming months, said Matt Kostelnick, senior horticulturist at Ambius.

“People are buying the volume of plants that are already here. There is not going to be as much as there would normally be to fill in when people start to order again,” Kostelnick said.

“To compound that, we slow down in the second half of November and December. Then in January and February, we ramp up our orders.”

LOSS OF SHADE

Many of the tropical plants have been damaged by the sun because they lost their shade covering from destroyed hoop houses and trees, he said.

Growers will need to rebuild their nurseries and add the plastic tarps that provide shade, and regrow the plants from cuttings.

“It will take a while,” Kostelnick said. “Every grower was affected, some worse than others.”

HARDEST HIT

Plants hardest hit are spathiphyllum, more commonly known as Peace Lily, aglaonema, also called Chinese evergreen, and dracaena, which are often used to decorate commercial interiors.

“We use those quite a bit, and those types of crops have been hit quite hard,” Kostelnick said. “Part of the reason is sun damage. These are plants that like it on the dark side. They are grown under pretty heavy shade.”

The majority of Ambius’ tropical plants that are available east of the Rocky Mountains are grown in Florida.

The plants are put on refrigerated trucks and dropped off at warehouses where they are treated and cleaned before sent to commercial customers, where they end up decorating office buildings.

RECOVERY FUND

To help with the recovery, Essek said, Ambius has contributed a “sizable” amount to the Helping Growers Rebuild fund established by Morning Dew Tropical Plants, a broker that works with dozens of the nearly 40 growers across Florida.

The goal is to raise $100,000 to assist growers with repairs and rebuilding costs.

Ambius has expedited payment of invoices to growers based in Florida, regardless of due date, to help increase cash flow for recovery. And Morning Dew said it will issue money from the fund to Florida-based growers to help them rebuild as quickly as they can.

John Myers, president and CEO of Ambius in Wyomissing, said growers in Florida form the backbone of the U.S. plant industry.

“We are proud to be part of a plant-scape industry that has come together to contribute to recovery efforts for a group that brings so much color, vibrance and wellness to all of our lives,” Myers said in a statement.

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