Grower Profile: Mike Rimland

Grower Profile: Mike Rimland

Plant hunter Mike Rimland, reveals the magic behind finding new plants. 

What is your job title?

Director of Research and Development for Houseplants at Costa Farms. I'm also called the Costa Farms Plant Hunter.

How long have been worked at Costa Farms?

10 years

Locating unique plants throughout the world is a pretty exciting job. What do you do as a plant hunter?

I travel the globe for the company, looking for new and different plants. Plant hunting is kind of like discovering a needle in a haystack. It’s not just about discovering a new leaf color or shape. It’s more about finding plants will we know will be successful for the home gardener. When I’m looking, I have to be patient. When I set out on a trip, I can’t be panicked that I’m not going to find something.

So how do you know when you’ve struck gold?

Finding new marketable plants is always a gamble. It starts with touching leaves, looking at the plants. I’m not sure what I’m looking for. Then instinct kicks in. I’ve spent 40 years working with plants, building an instinct for the right ones. Because there are a finite number of indoor plant species, I have better odds of finding a plant that already exists that features an improvement. For example, it might be a new color of corn plant—that’s an improvement because it’s new to the home gardener. But it’s more than just what a plant lover can see; we are always looking for how to make people more successful when they own plants. Just a new color; that’s not enough. The plant has to be a better than one we are currently growing.

After you find an improved variety, what next?

We do a lot of trialing. We start growing a small amount of a new variety to be sure we can grow them perfectly, and also profitably. I do indoor trials in my home and office. I maintain the plant in an indoor environment, monitoring water and light levels to see how they do. I have all the extremes of light in my home, so it’s a good trial location.

What type of hoops do you make new plants jump through? 

We need to answer a lot of questions when considering a new plant. Can we grow it easier? Does it perform well indoors? Will it ship well? And, of course, we have to be able to grow. If the plant passes all these hurdles, then our New Product Development Committee reviews and discusses this new variety. If the committee gives the thumbs up, the plant goes into production.

What is your favorite discovery?

Colorful Aglaonemas (nicknamed Colorful Ags). This plant, without a doubt, is the biggest, most extreme change in the indoor plant industry. Ever. It’s a game changer. 

What’s so special about colorful ags?

It’s the first time that the indoor green plant world has a variety that exhibits true colors. The leaves stay the same color or actually get better indoors. Plus, it’s a genus that is considered one of the greatest for indoor locations (its variegated cousin Chinese evergreen has been a popular houseplant for decades). Colorful Ags offer different colors, spots, splashes, and tones, so they are an asset to home décor. They are as pretty as a bouquet of flowers. Colorful Ags are a true home decorator’s plant.

What is your horticultural method in discoveries new varieties?

I consider myself an expert plant killer. Trust me, I’ve killed a lot of plants. But I remember what works and what doesn’t. I’m a person who has really good memory. So by default, I am expert plant grower.

If you could be a plant, what would you be?

I’d be a Kentia palm (Howea forsteriana)—it stands upright, it’s proud, it’s majestic. And it’s in for the long haul.

Written by Karen Weir-Jimerson