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Hoyas bring joy to grower Rhiannon Spaw of Burnet 

Rhiannon Spaw in Burnet greenhouse

Burnet resident Rhiannon Spaw in her 1,500-square-foot greenhouse that her husband, Mario, built on their property in 2021. The structure is home to hundreds of species of hoyas and is a tropical oasis in the middle of Texas. Staff photo by Nathan Bush

At the end of a long dirt road in Burnet lies an Asian paradise maintained by Rhiannon Spaw, a horticulturist turned small business owner with a Texas-size green thumb. Inside her greenhouse, she cultivates a variety of hoyas, which are native to Southeast Asia and also known as wax plants, porcelain flowers, and wax vines.

“It is incredibly peaceful being in (the greenhouse),” Spaw said. “I can focus on these plants while everything else kind of washes away.”

Hoyas have become Spaw’s self-described obsession over the past few years. After caring for them inside her home for a while, she convinced her husband, Mario, to build a greenhouse so she could grow her hobby into something larger.

“Mario loves plants, too,” Spaw said. “It’s good, too, because, if he didn’t, I’d probably annoy him by talking about plants all the time. It’s amazing to see how our relationship has evolved over the past 10 years. I would have never imagined we’d be on this journey together.”

After her husband finished the 1,500-square-foot greenhouse in May 2021, Spaw got to work. 

Hoya blooms
Hoya plants must be fully mature before they are able to bloom, a process that can take several years. Once bloomed, the plant’s intricate and elusive flowers can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Photos courtesy of Rhiannon Spaw

The hoya genus consists of more than 500 species, each of which has its own distinct care plan, Spaw said. To ensure every plant’s unique needs are met, she is constantly working inside the greenhouse.

“It’s always a challenge,” she continued. “Every day that I walk in, something is different. Either a plant has grown, it’s starting to flower, or it’s starting to yellow and I need to figure out why.”

Hoya care is no job for a novice, and Spaw has an educational background central to growing an army of Asian flora. She graduated with a horticulture degree from Montana State University in Bozeman.

“The nerd in me really loves learning about the functions of the plant, how to promote the healthiest growth in the plant, diagnosing diseases, preventing insects, and things like that,” she said.

Over time, Spaw devised ways to make her passion profitable. In 2021, she attended popup plant events in Leander and South Austin to sell her hoyas and engage with other gardening enthusiasts.

“Those plant sales are great,” Spaw said. “It’s really wonderful to go out and meet like-minded people.”

In October, Spaw opened her greenhouse to the public. While nervous at first, she said the event was a major success with about 75 people attending.

“It was a little weird,” Spaw said. “During the pandemic, (my family) did as much quarantining as we could. It was weird to invite people into our little bubble. To have so many people come out was a little intimidating at first, but it was really fun once it got going.”

Several guests at the October event traveled hundreds of miles.

“We had a great turnout,” Spaw said. “There were people from McAllen, San Antonio, Fort Worth, all over the place. I felt really humbled that people cared that much to come. I’m not one to put myself in the limelight, so it was kind of overwhelming.” 

hoya in special growing medium
A mixture of coco and perlite serves as the perfect growing medium for most hoyas. Staff photo by Nathan Bush

Spaw also moderates a Facebook group with over 1,000 members called “The Nest.” People from around the world connect, talk, and share their love for hoyas. The group has also served as a fantastic marketing tool for Spaw’s young business.

“I’m not really great at putting myself out there and saying, ‘Come join me!’ or ‘Do this!’” she said. “The group has become a really nice, organic creation for people who all share a love of hoyas. I do a lot of my selling on there.”

To expand her budding business, Spaw is creating a website for those not on Facebook. She hopes to have it online by March.

“My thought with the website is that I can, hopefully, increase the volume of my sales,” she said. “It will be an easier way to offer plants to people who don’t use social media.”

Another open greenhouse event is planned for sometime in early spring. Readers interested in learning more or purchasing hoyas from Spaw should call 512-666-8002 to set up a private appointment at the greenhouse. Visit her Instagram page @nesttopicals.

Hoya growing tips

Tips from hoya expert Rhiannon Spaw on how to care for your own plant.

  • Be careful with watering! It’s very easy to overwater a hoya.
  • Stay away from dense mediums such as peat moss. Use lighter mediums such as coco and perlite mixes.
  • Common species such as hoya carnosa and hoya australis are great for beginners.
  • Bamboo u-hoops keep household hoyas tidy.
  • If white spots appear on a hoya’s leaves, don’t panic. Spray a little water on the leaves, and the plant will soon look good as new.