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Learning the Vocabulary of Plants

The vocabulary of plant lovers has always baffled me. Hydroponics, humidifiers, carnivorous plants, garden varieties of nightshade - it's a flurry of vegetable confusion. And admittedly, I've always been a botanical death dealer, the kind of person who neglects watering anniversary bouquets or a vacationing friend's prized bonsai. But when my boyfriend bought me a sprawling moth orchid for my birthday recently, I discovered how much the presence of greenery uplifts me. The sunlight dancing on the leaves of my orchid created an incandescent vision and managed to dress up my customarily moody environment to remarkable effect. I'd sometimes even talk to my plant because I've heard that's good for growth - it must have been, because my orchid lasted a whopping two months. Although I'm more of a plant dilettante than a lover, my orchid instilled in me an appreciation for floral nuance - so on the hunt for the perfect flower shop, exotic assortments and all, I came across a couple vital findings.

Plant fanatics in the city are definitely no strangers to the San Francisco Flower Mart, a wholesale plant market that denoted the establishment of an industry icon when it opened in the 1950s. With over 60 vendors, purveyors of cut flowers, potted plants, and blooming plants and floral supplies, the Flower Mart sells products from the far reaches of the world, in addition to homegrown favorites. Although wholesale buyers get a better deal than the general public (to which the Flower Mart opens its gates at 10 am, apparently early by plant standards), there's no way you can beat $9 for two dozen Georgia roses, $10 for long ivy fronds, and a robust Ficus for $20. Vendors like Shibata are known for their outlandish plants, like the towering Protea or South African "Bird of Paradise." Other vendors also combine breathtaking plants like Oncidium orchids with twig and moss to create sculptures swarming with color and imagination. The Flower Mart sponsors the Pacific Orchid Exposition's annual "Gems of Nature" show, which encourages the public to take part in the art of orchid cultivation. Aside from the flowers, there are tons of places in the Flower Mart that sell ornamental additions like ribbon, candles, and Christmas tree decorations.

Plant'It Earth, in the heart of the Castro, is the Bay Area's premier hydroponic and indoor gardening retailer. With a gorgeously stocked 3000 square foot showroom full of indoor gardening products and houseplants, Plant'It Earth features hand-selected orchids, carnivorous plants, and succulents. The store has a fresh, ever-changing medley of plants, from multi-colored plumerias to night blooming cereus to my own moth orchid (which I was tactful enough not to price-check). The hydroponics section is especially intriguing--hydroponics, at its most basic level, means growing plants in the absence of soil, in inert mediums like rock wool or ceramic rock. Used globally for viable food production, hydroponics offers plant hobbyists an exciting and productive way of growing all types of plants and vegetables inside their homes. Plant'It Earth has an extensive online retail inventory and a knowledgeable staff who are enthusiastic about spreading knowledge and directing clueless customers to their most elegant, aromatic offerings.

If there's one thing I've learned about shopping for plants, it's the complexity of the information that goes with the territory: caring for a plant, cultivating in the right season, figuring out the right fertilizer ratio for your foliage. For adventurous buyers, places like the San Francisco Flower Mart and Plant'It Earth will broaden the market beyond mere roses and tulips, and savvy aficionados will find significant plants of all shapes, sizes, and persuasions at very reasonable costs. (At press time, I'm still looking for mine.)