Why Are Millennials Obsessed With Houseplants?
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Illustrated by Jihyang Lim.
It was a brisk Saturday afternoon in Chinatown, and The Sill was brimming with plant lovers. There were couples eyeing snake plants, a young guy debating whether or not he needed a hanging version of the hoya-kerri, a heart-shaped plant that a Sill employee stressed was “rare and very hard to find,” and a young woman at the counter receiving advice on what plants would be best for her living situation.
“You can’t go wrong with succulents,” The Sill employee advised her. “They’re a lot like guys, the more you leave them alone, the more they want you.” It’s a metaphor that, looking back, is probably pretty bad relationship advice, but the general idea was there: They thrive on neglect. The customer ended up buying the recommended succulent, along with two other plants and three pots. I gawked when her total was announced: $240. She handed over her card without blinking an eye.
The millennial bunch and their relationship with plants is a budding one. According to the 2016 National Gardening Report, six million new Americans took up gardening in 2015, and five million of them were in the 18 to 34 age bracket. They’re even out-greening their parents in some departments, with 37 percent of millennials growing plants and herbs indoors compared to 28 percent of Boomers. Take that, Martha Stewart! (She once declared that millennials don’t have the initiative to learn how to grow a tomato plant or spinach, FYI.)
There are a number of reasons why the 20- and 30-something set is attempting to turn their black thumbs green, one of which is location. The trend is mostly specific to indoor plants because, as data has shown, fewer millennials are buying homes and more are opting to move to cities and live in rented apartments. As any metropolitan non-west coast dweller will tell you, with tiny spaces and finicky seasons, exposure to nature is often minimal. Which is where houseplants come into play.
Judith de Graaff, co-author of Urban Jungle: Living and Styling with Plants, though not a millennial, relates to the struggle firsthand. She’s been growing her indoor collection for years now and has more than 150 plants to date. “More and more people live in cities, they live in very small spaces,” Graaff tells us. “And they might have a few parks, but they're not in touch with nature anymore. So, the easiest way to get back in touch with our roots is, well, going outside but also to have houseplants in your home. You see them grow and you learn how to be patient because they don't bloom tomorrow or immediately.”
She adds that the uptick is also due to millennial’s passion about their health. Terms like gluten-free, organic, and sustainable are all words that, when stated or added to packaging, cause the average millennial to pounce. This spills over to the company we keep. “The millennial generation is very in-tune with health and making sure that their surroundings are good for them,” Tara Heibel, founder of Sprout Home, tells us. “A lot of people come into the store asking which plants give off the best oxygen; they're actually very concerned and curious about making sure how they can better benefit their life, and plants can be a part of that.”
And, on a mental health level, they’re generally a delight to have around (seriously, there are stats to prove it). “Millennials are going to spend money on what makes them happy,” Heibel says. “They're getting married and potentially having children later in life—or not having children at all—and they're going to make sure that their surroundings are something that they want to be in. And thank god, plants are part of that.”
That’s another factor—the not having kids yet thing. Instead, millennials are becoming “plant parents” to aloe vera and rubber plants, to succulents and birds of paradise. Bringing these species into the home is an added responsibility, yes, but it’s nowhere near as involved as having a child is (there also isn’t nearly as much pressure to keep a plant alive as there is a living human being). If anything, it helps prepare you for even more responsibility to come. Maybe your plant serves as a gateway to getting a pet, which is then a step closer to having kids. Or, maybe it serves as nothing more than something you can care for, watch grow, love… and show off.
And just in case you've forgotten, this is an article about millennials, and a trend isn’t an actual trend amongst this group unless it lends itself well to social media. And plants definitely do! Along with everything we already mentioned, they’re pleasing to look at above all else (especially with the right accessories). Heibel notes that, after fielding questions about which plant is easiest to take care of and which gives off the most oxygen from millennials, she gets asked about what type of plant would look best in their apartment. “They come in with their camera and phone and show me pictures of their whole entire place, wanting to make sure that it is the perfect accent to what they're doing with their furniture,” she tells us. “They consider it a part of the architecture of the space. So it is a priority to them, it's not just like getting a little plant to put on their table. They are making room in their design agenda to make sure that plants are included, and considering that part of the whole aesthetic package.”
Pantone dubbed “Greenery” the color of 2017, which is more than fitting. Remember how millennial pink took off and continues to stick around? We predict the same to happen in this case. Pantone’s statement explaining its choice reads:
Illustrative of flourishing foliage and the lushness of the great outdoors, the fortifying attributes of Greenery signal us to take a deep breath and oxygenate, leaving us feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
Yeah, we wouldn’t mind having that feeling stick around a little while longer—and/or forever.
In fact, there’s already an entire flourishing, untapped community of urban jungle devotees who look forward to #MonsteraMonday or #SansevieriaSunday and whose biggest thrill is a time lapse video of fuzzy air plants. It’s like the equivalent of watching those 60-second makeup videos on Instagram for beauty lovers. Although, cosmetic fans, your vanity #Shelfie has nothing on a #PlantShelfie, and that's not up for debate.
Will the millennial's interest in plants wane as they get older and interests evolve? It's possible, but neither Heibel nor Graaff thinks that will happen. "It will probably change over time, along with the kinds of plants that are trendy... I think in 10 years, it will be different, but there will still be lots of plants in people's homes," Graaff says.
After handing over her card to a Sill employee, the young woman made an observation: “I'm gonna become a cat lady, but with plants.” To which she got this as a reply: “Eighty percent of people who come in here are cat ladies. So, I think there's a correlation there.” As for myself (a millennial!), I am not a cat lady (and never will be), but I am at 19 plants and counting, so you could say I’m a walking, talking cliché. The agenda behind my visit that day involved replacing a plant I had, ironically, killed after taking a class on how to take care of houseplants.
“I’m sure you’ll have better luck this time around,” the sympathetic Sill employee tells me.
“Either way, I’ll be back,” I respond. “My space could benefit from some vine plants, and I'm a believer of strength in numbers.”