Zalina Bakar watering her private collection of caladium plants. AFP
Learning to tell your elephant ears from your flamingo flowers has become the latest virus lockdown escape in Malaysia, where houseplants are very much in season.
Collectors are searching out specimens with intricate patterns in a dazzling array of reds, yellows and greens, and sharing their best on social media.
"It's like looking at a painting," collector Leiister Soon said, admiring the broad-leaf caladium — elephant ear plants — at his Kuala Lumpur home.
"Taking care of plants meant that I can divert my attention — (it is) better than watching the number of Covid cases going up."
The plants are known as "keladi" in the local Malay language, but the trend has grown to encompass other species, such as anthuriums — known as flamingo flower, or laceleaf — and alocasias, whose varieties include the silver dragon.
Once relatively cheap, prices surged last year when lockdowns confined Malaysians to their homes, and many collectors started posting images of their favourite plants on social media.
While some still cost as little as 20 ringgit ($4.80), the rarest can now fetch up to 6,000 ringgit each.
Soon says he spent more than 20,000 ringgit on plants in the past year alone.
"During the lockdown, people were at home thinking about how to beautify their homes," nursery owner Daud Kasim said in Sungai Besar, 100 kilometres (60 miles) northwest of Kuala Lumpur.
"They could look at these plants — and their stress would go away."
An avid collector himself, Daud said he started selling keladi plants in late 2018 but demand exploded during the pandemic.
Nearly half of his nursery's inventory is now made up of such plants, with foreign varieties from countries such as Thailand, China, the United States and the Netherlands.
Standing among thousands of potted specimens, Daud said the trend was here to stay, even as authorities gradually begin lifting restrictions.
Malaysia first imposed curbs last year shortly after the start of the pandemic and had to implement restrictions again in January when a new wave hit, but the outbreak is slowing.
A 74-year-old Malaysian man's quest to rid the country's beaches of washed-up glass led to a collection of thousands of bottles, now displayed in a colourful seaside museum.
Meat and seafood consumption in Asia is projected to soar, fuelled by growing middle classes in booming economies, but green groups warn of the environmental damage such a trend could bring.
Several species, including green turtles, hawksbills and leatherbacks, nest on Malaysia's coasts, where the spectacle of babies hatching and scurrying into the sea has long been a major tourist draw.
The fruit contains essential minerals such as calcium, iron, copper, potassium, magnesium and other vitamins which provide a wide range of benefits.
"Africa Fashion", at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum from Saturday, is also the country's first exhibition dedicated to the medium.
The 22-year-old Italian, of Senegalese origin, influencer, whose real name is Khabane Lame, joined the platform in March 2020 after losing his job, according to The New York Times.