You might not think so but owning plants can be a divisive topic. Some people are plant people, and some are not. Whilst there is no single reason why some people like to take care of plants and some don’t, a few reasons I have heard over the years against having plants include the presence of pets, lack of a 'green thumb', and the amount of effort it takes to keep plants happy and healthy. Although these reasons are very valid, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that no matter your experience, plants can benefit your well-being.
You might be a fully-fledged plant parent, someone who has dabbled in plant care once upon a time, or someone who has never considered taking on the responsibility of a plant. Whatever stage you are at, hopefully, there is something in this post that help you understand a little bit more about the relationship between people and plants.
Plants, the Pandemic & Beyond
People have taken care of both indoor and outdoor plants for many years, however during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, amid work-from-home mandates and lockdowns, there was a significant increase in indoor plant sales (1). As more and more people started looking for ways to combat social isolation and keep themselves occupied during the pandemic, taking care of plants, or horticulture, became an increasingly popular hobby.
In fact, interest in horticulture grew so much that some of the most popular indoor plants were regularly out of stock. This may have also been due to supply chain disruptions as a result of the pandemic, but I like to think that it was because so many of us were discovering the joys of plant parenthood. A study by Pérez-Urrestarazu et al. explored the relationship between plants and well-being during the pandemic. When asked about their motivations for buying more plants, people said that having indoor plants helped them cope with the stress of lockdown (2). Studies on improving wellbeing during the pandemic even recommended horticulture as one of the best ways to increase mood and positively enhance daily life (3).
Young people aged between 18-24 were particularly large contributors to the pandemic houseplant boom, spending the most amount of money on buying plants and owning the greatest number and variety of plants (4). However, plant ownership amongst young people has been steadily increasing for years before the pandemic even began. Some researchers and mental healthcare professionals believe that more and more young people are turning to nurturing plants as a way to provide themselves with a greater sense of fulfillment and purpose (5). They suggest that the poor state of the current economic climate has led to a delay or a reluctance to engage in major traditional life milestones such as buying a house and starting a family.
Are plants really all that great?
Numerous research studies have discussed the benefits of owning and taking care of plants over the years. Plants have been shown to reduce overall stress, anxiety, and depression symptoms as well as boost mood, cognition, and productivity (6). Plants have also been linked to greater life satisfaction, improved memory retention, and increased creativity and self-esteem (6). One study by Roe et al. suggested that women experienced higher levels of stress than men in areas that lacked plant life, indicating that having plants around may be particularly beneficial for us (7). Many studies have shown that plants in the workplace help to improve overall employee well-being by improving the perceived ‘comfort’ and ‘cheerfulness’ of the space (8). Some studies have even shown that plants in classrooms have been linked to higher test scores (9).
Plants have been associated with positive effects on both mental health and well-being as well as our physical environment. The presence of houseplants decreases air pollutants like carbon dioxide, and other volatile organic compounds and helps to regulate indoor ozone levels (10).
Physically taking care of plants has been linked to a wealth of benefits for your well-being however, just seeing plants is almost just as helpful (11). Grinde et al.'s Biophilia hypothesis suggests that humans have an innate preference for nature and that seeing plants may trigger unconscious processes in the brain which lead to feelings of comfort and happiness (11). As a plant parent myself, I can personally attest to the joy my plants bring me. Looking at my own miniature jungle never fails to put a smile on my face. If you are absolutely convinced that taking care of a real plant is not for you, then you might be pleased to know that artificial plants confer many of the same benefits as genuine plants, minus the air purification of course (12).
A personal perspective on plants
My plants mean a lot to me. I started building my collection with a Peace Lily I received as a birthday gift in 2019.
My Peace Lily is named James (after James Potter, husband of Lily Potter and father of Harry Potter) and is still an important part of my indoor garden. I consider myself a relatively new plant parent, and although I can’t say that every plant I have ever owned has survived and thrived under my care, I have learned so much from each and every one of them.
As much as I would like them to, my plants are not immortal. Leaves and flowers die, sometimes they’ll pick up pests, sometimes they struggle and fail to adapt to their new environments. Sometimes the plants will recover, choosing to cut off the dying or infected parts of themselves (with a little help from me) to protect the whole so that it can live to bloom another day. Sometimes they, sadly, can’t be saved and the whole plant withers away. Experiencing these things with my plants has taught me about transience and about letting go. I can’t always control the world around me, people, things, and opportunities will come and go. As devastating as that may be sometimes, I always live to bloom another day.
Every new leaf I spot is a reminder that life is all around me. Even if I don’t always feel like the best plant parent, I am enough for my plants. My care for them means that they continue to grow. Sometimes they grow enough that I can share them with my friends, my family, and even my co-workers. Life can be busy and that can make it hard to ‘stop and smell the roses’ as it were. Sitting with and caring for my plants helps to remind me of the value of stillness. Even the hardiest of plants need patience and gentle handling, just like people. Repotting my plants in the spring always serves as a good reminder that, like my plants, I am not invincible and that I should also be gentle with myself.
My plants are resilient yet delicate, determined but know when to let things go, and they are beautiful. Through them, I am learning to be all of those things too.
So, you want to be a plant parent?
Now that you’ve read all about how great plants are, you might want to introduce some plants to your home or add to your collection (because you can never have too many plants, right?). Hopefully, this section can help point you towards some beginner-friendly, easy-to-care-for plants.
Some plants that are generally considered ‘super easy-to-care-for’ or ‘unkillable’ are:
Golden Pothos (Epipremnum aureum, aka Devil’s Ivy). These tend to grow quite quickly and recover well when battered. They are also very easy to propagate (make smaller plants by cutting off and replanting sections of the larger plant) so don’t be afraid to cut away the sections that are not holding up well or start from scratch with just a cutting if it all goes wrong - you’ll be back to a full plant in no time
Snake Plants (Sansevieria, Sansevieria Moonshine or Sansevieria Zeylanica). These tend to grow very slowly so you might have one for years without seeing much difference, but that doesn’t mean that you are doing a bad job taking care of them. They don’t need a lot of water as they are very drought tolerant and so they can withstand a little neglect here and there
ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia). Similarly to snake plants, these don’t need a lot of water since they store water and nutrients like a cactus does. They are used to extreme weather and can survive fairly well in rooms with low light
You can find more options for ‘unkillable’ plants here.
Some plants that are pet-safe (and also relatively easy to care for) are:
Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum). These grow quite quickly and are great air purifiers. Even though they are pet-friendly, they also make for wonderful hanging plants
Parlor Palms (Chamaedorea elegans). These can grow to around 4 feet tall within a few years. They are evergreen and are big fans of moisture
Boston Ferns (Nephrolepis exaltata, aka Sword Fern). These can grow quite wide, and like parlor palms, they are big fans of moisture and humidity. The best place to keep a Boston fern is in the bathroom
You can find more pet-friendly plant options here.
Some plants that are safe for curious children are:
Dracaena. This species of plant are shrubs that can be grown both indoors and outdoors. If grown outdoors, they can sometimes produce flowers and berries, but this is not likely if they are grown indoors. There are many Dracaena species, but they all look broadly similar and would all make for great statement living room or entryway plants. Dracaena are unfortunately toxic to cats and dogs so are not recommended if you have both children and pets
African Violet (Saintpaulia). These are small plants, which, unlike some others, can produce flowers all year round. Depending on which species you have, the flowers can be shades of mauve, blue, pink, red or white. African violets are also not toxic to cats or dogs.
Orchids (Cattleya, Epidendrum, Oncidium or Paphiopedilum Maudiae). These species are considered non-toxic but other species of orchid may be toxic to children and pets. Orchids are flowering plants that come in a range of different colours, some, like many of the ones sold in supermarkets, are artificially coloured. Unlike the African violet, Orchids have flowering seasons. Once all the flowers have fallen off, keep taking care of the stem until the next flowering season
You can find more child-friendly plant options here.
Some of the most popular plants for first-time plant parents are:
Peace Lilies (Spathiphyllum). They survive well in low light (for example, in a room that doesn't get much sunlight) but need a lot of moisture. The leaves of this plant droop very dramatically when they need water so it is very easy to tell when you need to provide some extra TLC
Aloe Vera. These succulents do very well with minimal watering as long as they have a good source of bright light. The sap in the leaves of aloe vera has various health benefits, including being used to soothe burns on the skin
Chinese Money Plant (Pilea peperomiodes). These plants grow very quickly and are very easy to propagate. They have unique circular leaves that make them great, eye-catching décor pieces. Like the spider plant, they also make for wonderful hanging plants. Chinese money plants are thought to bring luck and financial prosperity to anyone who owns one
You can find more examples of popular houseplants here.
If you need any more help with starting or continuing your life as a plant parent, the plant community is huge and full of kind and passionate people who are generally very happy to share advice and inspiration, and maybe even the odd cutting or two. Don’t hesitate to reach out. Plant people can be found all over social media and in-person at events like local plant sales and community plant swaps. If this post has inspired you to become a plant parent or expand your plant collection, you can look out for local plant-related events on Eventbrite or on social media platforms like Twitter and TikTok.
By Esther Ansah, Blog Writer
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