"How did you like this interview?", Olaf asks with a smile when we wrap up the conversation after an hour and a half. Thirty minutes more than we had scheduled in our agendas. It was an intense talk with a passionate breeder, grower, and advocate of the plant that always seems to be present everywhere: Spathiphyllum.
Just look around you in an office, hotel, airport, restaurant, or perhaps with you at home. Spathiphyllum, also known as the peace lily, is so highly decorative it has both the extraordinary qualities of blending in and catching the eye.
Are you ready to hear what Olaf van der Voort has to say about this gorgeous air-purifying pot plant?
3 x Van der Voort
You might say that Olaf van der Voort plays chess on many boards simultaneously; as a breeder and as a grower, with his choice of assortment, and by selecting a wide array of distribution and sales options.
So, how does this look from a helicopter view? There are three companies that are closely related:
1) The breeder: Van der Voort Breeding breeds spathiphyllums that are propagated by seeds and through tissue culture propagation, and their variegated Spathiphyllum is another separate breeding program. Van der Voort has a joint venture with Floricultura for the breeding and propagation of the pot anthurium. Breeding takes place in the Netherlands.
2) The propagator: Van der Voort Young Plants propagates a wide range of green and flowering plants as a link between breeder and grower. Think of plants like cordyline, musa, syngonium, and spathiphyllum varieties, to name just a few. These young plants are sold to the company Van der Voort Potplanten and to growers in the Netherlands and around the world. 100% of the bred pot anthurium varieties are sold via Floricultura. For the vast majority of sales outside the Netherlands, that breeder is increasingly also the point of contact and 'seller' of their spathiphyllum varieties worldwide.
3) The grower: Van der Voort Potplanten grows a wide range of spathiphyllums and azaleas. These finished products are sold through organizations such as Decorum and Air So Pure, and directly to wholesalers and retailers.
From Breeding to Propagation to Growing
What makes the Van der Voort organization special is that it takes care of the breeding (for some product groups) and propagation themselves, and then (partially) sells these to its own nursery. This is quite unique within the horticultural industry. It is how Olaf and his team control the quality and the market optimally.
You might say that he spoils his own market by selling to other growers, but this is not happening. By making the right choices in which regions of the world to sell either young plants to growers or ready plants to traders, the market is clear and balanced out.
One big plus for Van der Voort's customers is the company's flexibility. It offers many pot sizes in its spathiphyllums and can easily switch its production to more or less, big or small, high or low plants.
The Love for Spathiphyllum
The company was founded as a vegetable grower (tomatoes and cucumbers) by Chris van der Voort who made a first step towards pot plants with poinsettias. Years later came the spathiphyllums. Van der Voort started to be a breeder of these frivolous white pot plants almost thirty-five years ago Chris is the father of the current owner, 51-year-old Olaf, who started working in the nursery at the age of 28.
Everything about Olaf shows the pure passion and pleasure he has for his job. It's the enthusiastic way he talks about his companies and their products, the role that plants play in daily life, and — particularly for the air-purifying spathiphyllum — the health factor of plants for people.
"I love the entrepreneurship, our dynamic sector, and its global business. There is always a place with potential for our products. I love the beauty of the plant, which is never static and always makes people happy.
For a grower, spathiphyllum is a rewarding plant in terms of volume-value ratio. You can produce large quantities at a relatively low cost."
Spathiphyllum for Consumers
There is a peace lily for everyone. There is a huge range in pot sizes, so if you like big plants (Mexicans love pot sizes 19 to 32 cm!) or small ones (6.5 to 9 cm in the Netherlands), there is always a plant for your taste.
"Spathiphyllum is loved by consumers because of the wonderful combination of its green with white colors. The plant is already in full bloom, fully alive, so an instant eyecatcher.
Important to mention is also its air-purifying qualities. There has been a studies by Nasa that put the spatiphyllum in the top 10 of most healthy house plants on Earth, mind you: as one of the very few flowering plants! In other words: spatiphyllum is highly decorative and increases your well-being.
Next to all that, it is an easy and perfect plant for all kinds of consumers. It is not one of those very expensive niche plants. Spathiphyllum is accessible to a very large number of buyers, for every wallet. And you will enjoy it a lot for between three and six months. Many consumers also enjoy a spathiphyllum 'without flower', i.e. as a green plant (with the occasional single flower).
I often call it a vandal-proof plant. Practically the only thing it cannot stand is overexposure to direct sunlight, like in a hot windowsill. But for the rest, it is capable of surviving almost anything that you throw at it. Even if you've forgotten to water the plant and the stems are hanging limp, just pour a bit of water to revive the spathiphyllum. That is quite a unique feature; not many plants can be brought back to life like that. And when the flowers are finally finished, the remaining leaves still look attractive as a green plant."
Collaboration With Floricultura
The wide choice of varieties by Van der Voort Young Plants is a result of its connection with breeder Floricultura, a fruitful relationship that was started in November 2017. All varieties are marketed under the Floricultura label.
Olaf is convinced that the powerful combination of expertise and an international sales network has made and still continues to make both companies stronger.
"As a result of our collaboration with Floricultura, we made a big step forward in our worldwide exposure and sales opportunities. They have a team of account managers that is connected globally. They represent us everywhere, directly with growers outside of Europe and at trade shows around the world.
Floricultura has made our market so much bigger. We could never have done that ourselves."
The Assortment: Are There Just White Spaths?
Van der Voort Young Plants shares with Floricltura a vast assortment of over twenty varieties of spathiphyllums that they propagate for growers worldwide. Olaf claims that he can tell the difference between them, and we believe him. Even if they are all white with green leaves, they all have their distinct characteristics or specific traits.
Did you ever wonder if there would be or could be spathiphyllum in more colors than the plain white that we are accustomed to? Yes, there can be. You might see peace lilies around that hint at a touch of light green or creamy hues, and there are some specialist companies dyeing the spaths in all colors of the rainbow, like the Spathiphyllum Make-Upz® series. But those colors are artificial, of course.
To really get a new color of this plant is highly uncertain, it would be very hard, and very expensive.
"If you want to invent a spathiphyllum with a new color you need to dig into the genetics of the plant, which is prohibited in Europe and it would be so costly, for a plant that is very affordable so far. That is simply neither feasible nor desirable. I don't see that happening."
An Inspiring Interview
To answer the question "How did you like this interview?" is easy. The very talkative Olaf van der Voort has shown great passion and professionalism when it comes to his 'spaths'. We all know now why to get this strong, perfect, and healthy plant with our next plant purchase, don't we?