Online communities to swap, share or exchange seeds and plants are on the rise

Instead of buying at nurseries, gardening enthusiasts are trading plants and seeds via Facebook groups

“They are my prized possessions.” Mumbai-based Mamta Sukhija Joseph is talking about the Dendrobium nobile orchid, a double-petalled red azalea and a cherry plum in her terrace garden. She got them from Darjeeling in exchange for a gulmohar bonsai from her collection.

The pride of place in Sunita Hooda’s garden in Gurugram, Haryana, goes to Sansevieria cylindrica, a snake plant variety, which she got from a grower in Chennai after she swapped her pink syngonium (arrowhead plant) for it. “I sent the person crinum lilies too because while my plant costs ₹30, sansevieria is usually priced at ₹800-900. Also, he might have spent quite an amount on packing and transportation as well,” says Sunita.

Mamta Sukhija Joseph at her terrace garden in Mumbai | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Mamta and Sunita are gardening enthusiasts who trade seeds and plants online. Helping them do this are groups — both pan-India and city-specific — on Facebook, many of them started during 2020. There are also multiple swap groups for specific plant varieties.

“I was part of several online gardening groups and these pages saw unprecedented traffic during the lockdown. It felt good to make new friends via these pages,” says Mamta. She is a member of five swap groups and co-admin of Free Seeds and plant for Swap, founded by Hyderabad-based P Anilkumar.

P Anilkumar from Hyderabad | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Anilkumar, also a member of over 20-plus gardening groups, says that the group has 6,800 members, from across India and abroad. “Until I formed this group, I swapped plants only locally. After the lockdown restrictions were eased, new members are joining in large numbers,” he says. Hemant Dhingra, a teacher from Palwal in Haryana and admin of Spread free seeds and Plants is overjoyed that the membership in his group crossed 10,000 within six months of its launch.

Chennai-based Minal Thamarai Selvan, member and moderator of one of the earliest swap groups, Seeds and Plants Swap Community (India), says that they get at least 50 requests per day for membership. The group, formed in 2017 by Lawrence JD D’souza, Shivanand Kare, Placido Dias (all from Goa) and Lynn Periera (Mumbai), has over 25,000 members. “The group was started to help with gardening but later the focus shifted to swap and share. Now we have another group for gardening-related queries,” Minal says.

Minal Thamarai Selvan  | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Why the rise now

Ludhiana-based Mona Chopra, an avid gardener and a regular swapper, feels that the spurt in members has to do with people missing new friendships in a period of social distancing. “You interact with people from all over, some of whom you will probably never meet. I learn something new about plants and also get to share what I have with others. It is fun,” says Mona. While pan-India groups exist, it is easier to go hyper-local in hobbies like these. Cities such as Mysuru, Pune, and Ludhiana have swap groups.

Give and take

  • Some of the Facebook groups where you can swap, share or exchange seeds and plants are ‘Seeds and Plants Swap Community (India)’, ‘Free Seeds and plant for Swap’, ‘Spread free seeds and plants’, ‘free plants exchange’, and ‘Plants Paradise’. There are city-specific groups such as ‘Chennai Plants & Seeds Exchange Group’, ‘HYDERABAD- Free Seeds & Plants Swap/Share Gardeners’, ‘mysuru free plants and seeds exchange/swap’…

Adventure coordinator and snake rescuer, Pradeep Gangarkar, who started the Mysuru group in January, says he returned to gardening and farming during the lockdown. “Mysuru is a beautiful city with blooms everywhere. Most of the plants in my garden were collected during my snake rescue missions and I began the group to share them with interested people.”

Delhi-based Dimple Agarwal chooses to swap in and around the Capital, even though she runs a pan-Indian group (‘free plants exchange’). “The whole exercise makes me happy. I started this page because I had seeds and plants in excess even after distributing it to my relatives. However, I am not keen on sending them by courier and prefer people to come and collect,” says the 47-year-old entrepreneur.

Dimple Agarwal at her garden in Delhi | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Swap, don’t shop

The basic rule of these groups is that no buying or selling is allowed. However, postal charges can be claimed, especially if the other person does not have any plant or seeds to swap or share.

An obvious advantage of swap/share groups is that those varieties priced high (not the rare plants that cost a fortune) in nurseries can be purchased for free or by paying only postal charges. This makes it a good platform for gardeners to fulfil their wish list. Succulents such as aloes, cacti and agaves cost between ₹100-300 in nurseries or even online.

“For example, a member in Khargone, Madhya Pradesh wanted succulents and cacti from me since they are expensive in the nurseries there. Swappers in North India ask for ground orchid prevalent in Kerala,” says Sabitha Sujith from Kollam, Kerala, a member of Seeds and Plants Swap Community (India).

Sabitha Sujith with her son Ridansh  | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Ever since she came across these groups on Facebook last July, Sabitha has done over 20 swaps. “I took seeds of dianthus, carnation, antirrhinum, verbena, petunia, dimorphotheca and red salvia from a grower in Punjab who wanted pepper in return. Thanks to these groups, now I know that there are so many varieties of the same plant. Pea plant, for instance,” she says, adding: “I am part of a Kerala-based group where we even have competitions to keep the group active. Top contributors or those who get maximum likes and comments for their activities, get seeds as gifts.”

Hemant, meanwhile, is on the look out for Ashwagandha and has plans to “grow turmeric and black wheat.” While Sunita, admin of Plants Paradise, says that she is “crazy about sansevieria these days” and Anil keeps looking for orchids, Minal is interested in any “unique”, sturdy plant. “Each cutting survives differently in transit and so I go for sturdy ones as I can easily get other varieties from my local contacts itself. Philodendron pink princess is in demand and Kerala has the best climate to grow it. I got a cactus variety from Delhi for a swap of portulacas and purslanes. Hawaiin sunset vine is the latest addition from Kerala and I have promised my morning glory in return,” adds Minal, also a member of Chennai Plants & Seeds Exchange Group.

What can you share

  • Succulents and cacti have the largest fan base among swappers, because they survive the transit. Seeds, seedlings or cuttings of water plants, winter annuals, ornamental plants, leafy greens, table roses, orchids, gerberas, roses, hibiscus, medicinal plants, vegetables are often traded online.

Besides the no-sale policy, the groups do not allow members to post phone numbers and addresses, promotional posts and, in some cases, gardening tips. Minal says, “We don’t give membership to people abroad. Anyone wanting to join has to have a Facebook profile that is at least a year old. We neither allow posts asking to identify plants nor do we let members to show off their garden or plants! Also, people taking plants from multiple members and giving no seed or plant in return to any of them are not entertained.”

And then there are some members who give away seeds and plants to multiple people without asking for a swap. “There are elderly members who send items to 10 or 20 people and expect only a word of gratitude on the page,” says Minal, adding, “swaps work on trust”.

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