IllExotics is part plant store, part pet shop and all about conservation

ByWendy Daughenbaugh WPVI logo
Tuesday, June 6, 2023
IllExotics is part plant store, pet shop and conservation center
The shop is known for what co-owner Franco Urban calls "unique, weird oddball kind of houseplants."

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- When you first step into IllExotics in East Passyunk, it feels like a traditional plant store -- except for the dance music soundtrack and tropical houseplants from around the world.

The shop is known for what co-owner Franco Urban calls "unique, weird oddball kind of houseplants."

You'll find everything from baby carnivorous pitcher plants to the giant Monstera deliciosa that became a horticultural hit during the COVID-19 lockdown, and all kinds of orchids.

And, if you follow the frog footprints on the floor, up the ramp and past the colorful mural of Mother Earth, you'll find yourself suddenly transported from the dance floor to the jungle.

In The Reptile Room, there are all kinds of chameleons, iguanas and a blue tongue skink that Franco says is considered a puppy dog of the reptile world because it will hang with you on the couch while you watch a movie.

Franco and his husband, Chris, created the space. Franco went to school for horticulture and herpetology. Chris is a DJ and designed the entire space to be an experience.

The two met in 2014, married in 2021, and then wed their passions with the creation of IllExotics.

Flower Show lovers may recognize the couple's work from this year's show.

They created a best-in-show exhibit called Studio Exotica depicting a disco taken over by the jungle.

They chose the disco theme because discos have long been a safe haven for the LGBTQIA+ and other marginalized communities.

Back at the shop, there's what they call the Illarium, a big glass enclosure where you can see how the tropical plants would live in their natural environments.

Franco captive breeds a lot of the plants, along with the reptiles and amphibians, on-site.

The store is filled with museum-style, educational signage so popular with families, and the work in this East Passyunk Avenue shop is contributing to science as well.

Franco's painted mantella frogs, threatened in their native Madagascar, have just been shipped off to the University of Wisconsin to join the school's breeding and reintroduction program.

This means Franco's frogs are now helping to keep the species alive.

Franco believes anyone who adopts a reptile or amphibian is practicing small-scale conservation and he and Chris hope everybody who walks through the store leaves with a new piece of knowledge and a stronger feeling of connection to nature.

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1704-06 E Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia, Pa. 19148