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Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing the aroid queen herself, Enid Offolter, who is the founder of NSE Tropicals, a nursery that specializes in rarer aroids (anthuriums, philodendrons, and many others). I’m proud to call her a friend, as well as a fellow horticultural enabler (much like myself!). Perhaps that’s why we get along so well.
I hope you enjoy this interview and gain a little insight into the strange and wonderful world of aroids, and of the delightful personality behind NSE Tropicals.
1. Tell me the story about how NSE Tropicals got started. You also mentioned to me that you were one of the first people to sell aroids on the Internet. You were ahead of your time!
Enid: I basically was buying plants and seeds on eBay for my own garden, then I started realizing that plants that were considered really common in South Florida were a big deal in other parts of the country that maybe didn’t have access to tropical plants.
So I just started out buying plants from nurseries and dividing them to help pay for my plant habit. Now I just have hundreds of thousands of plants.
2. How long have you been growing plants, and how did your fascination with aroids come about?
Enid: I’ve been growing plants for most of my life but I started really getting into aroids back in about 1999. I’ve always liked unusual plants that maybe not everyone else was growing, and aroids certainly fit the bill for unusual and strange plants.
The aroid community was extremely welcoming and it was a nice fit with all the other plant nerds.
3. Out of all your global travels, do you have any particular plant hunting expeditions that stand out as the most memorable? Have you collected anything notable in your travels? Is it legal to collect plants in the wild?
Enid: Each country has specific rules, and you can check online what the requirements are usually. It’s not OK to just collect plants in the wild without proper permits.
Thailand for sure was the most memorable trip I’ve been on. The people are amazing and they have incredible plant markets there. Chatuchak market is the one to check out.
4. What plants can you never seem to keep in stock? What are your most popular plants that you offer for sale?
Enid: Variegated Monsteras are tough to keep in stock. I don’t have very many stock plants so it’s difficult to keep making more. I’m finding a lot of the velvet anthurium hybrids are extremely popular lately.
5. Do you propagate all your plant stock yourself?
Enid: I’d say I propagate at least 99.9% of everything I sell these days. I don’t buy much. Although the fun part is getting new plants!
6. How do you determine whether to auction a plant off, or to just offer it for sale at a specified price?
Enid: Usually if I only have one or two of something, I auction it. If I have a bunch, I put it on the website.
7. Can you approximate how many plants you have at NSE Tropicals?
Enid: Hundreds of thousands…I have a problem.
8. Have you gotten involved in any plant breeding? If yes, please elaborate.
Enid: I do a lot of anthurium hybrids. It’s fun to try to breed for enhanced vigor and specific traits like dark velvety foliage or pendulous leaves.
9. We all know 2020 was a year that many of us would like to forget, but plant sales have exploded. Are sales still strong now in 2022, and do you see any signs of it slowing down?
Enid: It’s winter right now and it naturally slows down a little this time of year, but it’ll be interesting to see how it goes in the spring. It seems to me it will still be crazy when it warms up for everyone.
Everything still seems to sell in the winter, just not with the same hysteria as in-season.
10. You and I were chatting recently, and you mentioned that many people have asked you how you can grow your plants so close together outside and not have any pest issues. And also how you can have your leaves wet all the time and not have any fungal issues. I’m sure if you did these things indoors, you would run into many issues. I’m assuming air circulation outdoors plays a big role. Can you elaborate?
Enid: Yes air circulation is a huge part of it. Even if I had a solid roof I would have more issues, but natural breezes and a general open growing space seems to make a huge difference.
My plants are always wet, because we get so much rain in the summer and then I use mist to propagate.
11. I know that choosing a favorite plant is like choosing a favorite child, but do you have a favorite genus or species that you’re fond of?
Enid: Cyrtospermas. I love cyrtospermas and anthuriums.
12. Do you have a wish-list plant that you’re dying to obtain?
Enid: Hmm I need Dracontioides desciscens.
13. What do you like the most about running NSE Tropicals, and what do you like the least?
Enid: The best part is plants plant plants and working outside. The worst part is the Internet side and working indoors on the computer. I prefer being outdoors.
14. I’m excited about your book coming out in May 2022. Can you tell me a little bit about your book?
Enid: Welcome to the Jungle is kind of like the next step up for house plant growers. It mentions how to grow some of the more exciting plants that are now being grown indoors like the more unusual Anthuriums and Philodendrons. There’s lots of propagation help in there and growing tips.
15. You must get a lot of emails from people following up with orders that they’ve received from NSE. Are there any common themes that crop up all the time? Anything that you want your customers to know? Maybe how to best acclimate their plants once they receive them in the mail?
Enid: I generally find it’s a good idea to find a good spot for them when you first bring them home and let them get used to that area. Nothing too bright, after all they’ve been in a box for a few days and they need time to acclimate.
16. What’s next for NSE Tropicals? Do you have any visions of the future, or any fun, new projects that you’re working on right now?
Enid: I’d love to build another shadehouse and some more living walls. Also a cork tree with epiphytes and mist. Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens had one many years ago and I always loved it!