Exotica Esoterica – the Whence and Whither


Another tropical plant/gardening/terrarium website on the internet is upon us.

Just what these communities need, right?

I'll ask for some modest indulgence, so please bear with me here.

The Andean orchid  Masdevalia ignea  'Pink Flare'.

The Andean orchid Masdevalia ignea 'Pink Flare'.

For the horticulturally-inclined fortunate enough to be living in countries with developed economies, there has never been a better time to be a grower and collector of tropical plants. The diversity and ready availability of new species and hybrids, the tools available to growers and the advances in plant nutrition, artificial lighting and state-of-the-art watering systems, etc. have combined to make the early 21st century the second Golden Age to indulge a penchant for tropical gardening and rare tropical plant collecting. This is the present situation whether it be in a traditional greenhouse, warm garden setting, or in a high-tech, automated-systems’-managed paludarium or terrarium. The playground is essentially the same level field whether one is a deliberative graybeard species orchid connoisseur, a hipster tabletop succulent enthusiast, a serial collector of poison dart frog color morphs, or a fanatic preteen grower-collector of carnivorous plants.

Cloud forest epiphytic cactus  Disocactus quezaltecus , corolla detail.

Cloud forest epiphytic cactus Disocactus quezaltecus, corolla detail.

Like others I know, I have long been frustrated by - given the subject matter - the surprising banality of most tropical gardening and rare plant collecting fora on the internet. From my perspective and for my tastes, these are largely dominated and/or curated by a host of mostly unimaginative and semi-informed individuals, some of whom provide absolutely no evidence that they are successful growers themselves. There are a few notable exceptions, mostly blogs. Surprisingly few (or none) of these are based in the U.S. Outside of the ‘States. One very good example of a horticultural-themed website run by an articulate person who seems to have his wits about him both at home and in the field is the Cambodian-French naturalist Francois Mey’s, “A Garden’s Chronicle” ( All of the open fora that deal with specific families or natural groupings of plants (e.g. orchids, palms, cacti and succulents and carnivorous plants) suffer from the practical necessity of letting anyone with a connected device and an opinion add comments and, in doing so, inevitably result in the dumbing-down the topic matter for all. There are excellent reasons other than time constraints why many well-known nurserymen, botanist-collectors and owners of large private collections of rare tropical flora do not, as a rule, participate in exotic plant fora. Based on personal experience, I suspect that most have been either chased off or have thrown up their hands and turned away in exasperation. I admit that there are the occasional voices that share valuable information to growers who are inclined to listen, but their contributions usually get lost in a sea of “looky-here” babble.

Peristome detail of the endangered natural hybrid Sumatran pitcher plant,  Nepenthes rigidifolia x spectabilis.

Peristome detail of the endangered natural hybrid Sumatran pitcher plant, Nepenthes rigidifolia x spectabilis.

Social media sites - Oy Vey! - harvest all the negative flotsam and jetsam from traditional internet fora, freight them with even more brain-dead chatter, flagrant narcissism, “me too-ism” and extraneous nonsense, then lard the whole dog's breakfast with ostensibly targeted advertising (i.e. spam) and exploitative user tracking. The cookie-cutter approach to engagement, slice-in-time content and lack of longer-term value to advanced growers is particularly evident on the best known social media platforms. Beyond this, the major social media sites are creepy Panopticons, aggressively spying on their users and openly and actively stifling contrarian speech. Circumstantial evidence has emerged suggesting that at least two of them are also complicit in the persecution of transparency activists and dissidents in the Developing World. There is recent, credible reporting that the worst of all of them shamelessly exploits its moderators, treats them as nothing more than disposable entities, and leaves them psychologically damaged and walking wounded when they finally cast them aside. If you use U.S. social media sites and consider yourself a progressive or believe in the defense of personal freedoms - worldwide - then perhaps some introspection is called for.

It seems fairly obvious that someone will come up with the combination of the right formula and filtered audience that makes a curated internet forum on collecting and growing rare exotic plants function at a high level, perhaps via a blockchain/distributed ledger-based solution. In the meantime, we’re left with the option of high-end "blogging on the 'net" to promote interest and disseminate information on rare tropical plant cultivation.

This website is being designed to cater to the botanical specialist who is more than passingly familiar with general plant trade offerings and offbeat tropical flora, hence “Exotica Esoterica”. While mostly focused on challenging horticultural rarities, from time to time it will cover more mainstream plants in cultivation as well. Separate sections on the site will be dedicated to natural history-themed eye candy and man's impact on nature in northern Latin America. Given the current wave of crossover interest from collectors of unusual tropical plants to freshwater tropical fish, reptile and amphibians and vice versa, these critters, in the field as well as their care and housing, will also be addressed here.

Exceptional wild-origin Anthurium andraeanum from Esmeraldas Province, Ecuador.

It may seem redundant to people who know the contributors, but is perhaps worth pointing out to those that don’t that the material shown on this website is overwhelmingly “homegrown”. I am constantly flabbergasted by the number of armchair experts that have proliferated on the web over the past two decades, usually by brazenly standing on someone else’s shoulders or work, confidently opining on subjects they have little or no first hand experience with. The plants and animals shown here have all been photographed by us with a few notable exceptions (my buddy Ron Parsons’ contributions come to mind), mainly in nature in LatAm or being grown/are living in our personal collections across three countries. There are a few images that have been included that were taken in public gardens are of friends’ plants where we felt that they were accretive to the gallery underpinning the rest of an article.

The website is still under construction so there may be wonky links and the odd bug, typo or (rare) mis-ID here and there that we will sort out as soon as they are detected (he said confidently). I also intend to have new material up on a weekly or biweekly basis, so please keep checking in for the latest posts. It will end up being a fairly wide-ranging website, so please explore its far corners for topics and/or images that you may find of interest.

Exotica Esoterica performs best on a high-resolution screen with a fast internet connection, either PC, laptop or iPad/tablet (rotated sideways). It should display OK on almost any recent generation mobile device, but the image size and other content makes it a bit of a slog to scroll through on a phone.

Line bred Odontoglossum (Oncidium) nobile.

Since being launched in early August 2018, friends whose opinions I value have observed that it is dead easy to get lost on the site because of the volume of content. My counter-argument is that the site is designed to be methodically explored by visitors, like nature itself, and that the best experience where the wild things are involve looking under bushes, prying bark, scanning the canopy and even putting on a diving mask and immersing oneself in the aquatic realm. That said, I realize that - like a vehicle GPS - we may need to install a “Go Home” button on pages to rescue first-time visitors lost in the woods…

My close friend and former wingman, Peter Rockstroh, currently of Bogotá, Colombia, is the author of almost all the material related to that country's natural history, as well as most topics related to nature photography. As will be evident when perusing the site, another of my good friends, the indefatigable Fred Muller of Guatemala City, Guatemala has also very kindly provided a large number of his top-notch images captured in situ of flora and fauna from the back of beyond in México, Central America and Panamá. Other late-coming compadres of the site from tropical northeastern Australia, Guatemala or the 'States may also contribute content from time to time. Any image or post without attribution may be presumed to be mine (Jay Vannini). Both Peter and Fred are professional nature photographers who derive income from their work, and I seethe when finding my images being used on a stranger's website or (worse) eBay and Facebook, so:

Vietnamese begonia,  Begonia melanobullata  leaf detail.

Vietnamese begonia, Begonia melanobullata leaf detail.

Please do not use images from this website without their photographer's permission.

Unless otherwise noted, the cultivated plants shown on this site are the property of the author/s. We don't "aggregate" or "borrow" others' images here, and all content is original. Whenever relevant and/or valuable to the reader, links to offsite websites may be provided.

If you are using a PC or laptop, hovering your mouse cursor over an image will reveal additional notes. On a tablet or other touchscreen, "finger-clicking" will produce same result.

No comments section will be provided, but interested readers with intelligent questions and commentary can contact me/us via the email link provided by the site on the end page and here also: Please don't write inquiring as to why your supermarket orchid/anthurium/bromeliad, or your PetSmart red-eyed treefrog is giving up the ghost. No promises as to response times, but I’ll/we’ll try and answer any worthwhile query with aplomb and in an informed and polite manner.

We are not part-time capitalists, so some endorsements may be encountered in the future and will always be related to products that we use ourselves. Good friends of the site will always ride free.

Our very talented and no-nonsense website designer, Barry Anderson at SquareTaper Media, made this project seem far easier than it actually was. Given a few anchor images for the main pages, a very rough concept of what we were looking to do, some super glue, bailing wire and rubber bands, he knocked out a beautiful working mock-up in a couple of days. He also patiently addressed some of my  - I'm pretty sure to him at least - stupid questions and concerns with both the right answer and wry humor. I think he did a great job here and I believe that you will, too. If you're looking to build a digital home on the range, I highly recommend him. Barry can be reached via his website at

For the adventurous and well-heeled, all three of us have guided (and, in the cases of Peter R and Fred M, continue to do so) specialty interest ecotourism jaunts (birding, herps, rare plants, freshwater tropical fish, etc.) in the northern Neotropics. Please use contact links provided if tramping hard on the wild side south of the border is your thing. It is always a huge plus if you have a keen sense of humor and you're in good shape!

Flowering Neotropical blueberry,  Satyria warscewiczii , elfin forest, Cerro Jefe, Panamá.

Flowering Neotropical blueberry, Satyria warscewiczii, elfin forest, Cerro Jefe, Panamá.


Good hunting!

Exotica Esoterica