Houseplant Appeal Grows with Younger Generations

Millennials and multi-generation businesses are key factors for increased houseplant sales.

By Brenda Silva

Millennials and the oldest third of Generation Z are key demographics spurring the demand for houseplants, and the floral industry expects the 19-to-40-year-old consumer demographic—approximately one-third of the U.S. population—to sustain their interest in houseplants, as both self-purchases and gifts, for some time to come. Similarly, younger generations working in the floral industry (or those considering a career in floriculture) are proving to be influential in the increased sales of houseplants and flowering plants. 

Connectivity Desire and Compassion Fatigue

One reason for the continued growth of plant sales, according to Lauren Alsina, content manager at The Urban Jungle, located in Mt. Dora, Fla., is “the desire for connectivity.” She asserts, “Though we are more connected than ever (thanks to phones, internet, travel, etc.), we’ve seen a rise in isolation, as well, due to the pandemic, political polarization and access to natural spaces. Plants are a way for people to connect to nature and actively care for something. Plants are meditative and rewarding, and they are a gateway into a community where people find support and can share common interests. Plants have been shown to lower rates of depression and to increase productivity and creativity, so they make wonderful gifts with many benefits.”

Alsina adds, “Social jet lag is a trend we see emerging for the next few years. It is characterized by individuals feeling exhausted from keeping up with their friends on social media or doing things at different times across the globe, resulting in a lack of sleep. Also, on the rise is ‘compassion fatigue,’ which is characterized by physical, emotional and mental exhaustion, resulting in emotional numbness. It’s a form of secondary traumatic stress, triggered by helping or wanting to help those in need.”

Pointing out how plant care can play an integral role in improving our daily lives, Alsina explains, “We are increasingly running ourselves dry, but plants allow us time to ourselves. Gardening and plant care are very much meditative, ‘brain-off’ routines that help individuals disconnect from the outside world for a small amount of time. This break allows people to rest and recuperate so that they can feel rested and ready to go about their daily lives more efficiently and with greater engagement.”

Nature Experiences and Nurtured Environments

When considering the gift-giving preferences of millennial-aged consumers, Justin Hancock, brand marketing manager at Costa Farms in Miami, Fla., points out, “Many of today’s consumers—especially millennials—appreciate plants as gifts. There’s something of a ‘perfect storm,’ with younger generations preferring ‘experiential over stuff,’ and what’s more experiential than a plant you nurture and watch grow and mature over time?”

He continues, “Millennials want to better connect with the natural world, and they put a greater value on their health and wellness (more and more studies have been published about how houseplants offer a wealth of physical and psychological benefits, from air purification to stress reduction), and how fabulous plants are on social media (especially Instagram; it’s astounding how houseplants have taken off on that platform).”

Hancock says, “Some of the houseplants we’re seeing consumers flock to are ‘Raven’ ZZ [Zamioculcas zamiifolia ‘Raven’], sterling silver Scindapsus [Scindapsus treubii ‘Moonlight’], polka-dot Begonia [Begonia maculata], and Philodendron ‘Birkin’. These plants are popular now, and we see no sign of them slowing down, in part because they’re new and they have colored or variegated foliage, which gives them a different and dramatic look. They’re all big hits on Instagram right now. We’ve also seen a lot more interest in climbing/trailing plants, like Scindapsus‘Moonlight’, from consumers lately.”

Sustainable Practices and Succulent Space

As an easy gift-giving way to bring people closer to nature, Plant the Future, a biophilic design studio, plant boutique and botanical art gallery in Miami, Fla., asserts that plants are the best option for many reasons. Lucia Abuin, marketing assistant, says, “At Plant the Future, our mission is to bring people closer to nature through art and design using sustainable practices. For that reason, we believe that plants are the way to go for consumers who want to give gifts that will stand the test of time, satisfy consumer demands for sustainable products and make beautiful additions to any home. When gifting a plant, low-maintenance selections win the race. For this reason, cacti and succulents—especially succulent and cacti gardens and terrariums in artful containers—make for elegant, easy-to-care-for, novice-friendly gifts.”

Another biophilic design store experiencing increased consumer demand for indoor plants is Andromeda District, in Coral Gables, Fla. Julio Villamediana, marketing coordinator, agrees with Abuin about the importance of bringing people closer to nature with products such as succulents.

“For the past nine years, Andromeda District has provided innovative alternatives for clients who are looking to own indoor plants,” Villamediana says. “These include our signature vertical garden system. Made from recycled plastic and built like construction blocks, consumers can now build living walls in their homes with succulents, indoor plants, flowers and even edible plants, as a way of maximizing their spaces.”

He adds, “Among our new collection of plants, succulents and dramatic colorful plants—like Calathea and the ‘Black Velvet’ elephant’s ear (Alocasia reginula)—are extremely desired by consumers. They add touches of color and texture to any space.”

Looking to the future, Villamediana assures, “New generations are becoming more aware of the importance of nature in our environments, and they understand that sustainability is the future. For this reason, ‘gifting’ plants for special occasions, such as holidays and birthdays, has become increasingly attractive to consumers.”

Living with Plants and Loving Life

Currently, the floral industry is experiencing a trend, the popularity of which does not focus on the appeal, sales or uniqueness of any specific plant or flower. Rather, it focuses on the “love of life” by way of a connection with nature and the benefits such a connection provides. Author Sally Coulthard elaborates on the trend of “biophilic design” in her latest book titled Biophilia: You + Nature + Home (Kyle Books, 2020), which describes how to best incorporate the fundamentals of biophilia into everyday life.

“Most of us feel good in nature,” Coulthard asserts. “If you ask people to imagine a place where they feel happy and relaxed, many describe a warm sandy beach or woodland walk. Some might conjure images of camping under the stars, picnicking by a stream or pottering in the garden. Others talk of feeling the sun on their backs, listening to bird song or seeing a magnificent sweeping view. Whatever the nuances in description, we often talk about being in nature, looking at nature and interacting with nature.”

She continues, “That’s what ‘biophilia’ is. It’s the simple core truth that humans need a connection with nature to be content. It’s the idea that people—since the beginning of time—must feel linked to their natural environment and the other living things in it not only to survive but also to thrive. It’s a fundamental part of who we are.”

According to Coulthard, the word “biophilia” literally means love of life. She reports it was first used in the 1960s by a social psychologist Erich Fromm in his book, The Heart of Man. It was popularized as a “love of nature” two decades later by biologist and conservationist Edward Wilson, after he observed “how increasing rates of urbanization were leading to people feeling a disconnect from the natural world.”

“For all their differences in approach,” Coulthard suggests, “one theme emerged: the idea that people have an innate affinity with living things and natural surroundings. It’s a concept that’s been tweaked and reinterpreted ever since by disciplines as diverse as architecture, psychiatry and neuroscience.”

Coulthard’s book offers three suggestions for consumers to “biophilic spaces”:

1. Create a space somewhere that puts you in direct physical contact with nature, whether it’s filling your house with flowers and plants, enjoying a real fire or making sure your office is awash with fresh air.

2. Embrace many different things in your living space that remind you of nature. This can be patterns, colors, materials and textures.

3. Live in a way that connects to natural rhythms and outside spaces. This could be living in tune with the seasons, letting in more natural light and/or making the most of outdoor views.

Entice and Educate Younger Generations

When looking at consumer trends in houseplants and flowering plants, what may appear as a new trend to some is actually a trend that has been around for some time, according to others. In speaking to the boom in houseplant sales, Linda Adams, COO at the Florida Nursery, Growers & Landscape Association (FNGLA), based in Orlando, Fla., points out, “Although it seems the houseplant boom is a recent trend, it has been in the works for several years. As part of the Tropical Plant International Expo (TPIE), FNGLAhas been providing consumer trend experts and their insights to the interior plant professionals for many years.”

She continues, “In the last few years, people’s desire to be connected with nature has only intensified, and houseplants are the perfect way to experience nature as part of our living and working spaces. The pandemic has had many of us switching from company offices to work-from-home offices, in which we have full control of the décor and adding plants not only as Zoom background scenery but also for their general stress-reducing value. Today, growers are making it convenient to buy beautiful plants in a variety of finished containers—some stylish, some organic and some even silly. It makes it easy to find a plant to fit any living space and to give as a personalized gift.”

In terms of younger generations, Adams reports that social media has had a huge impact on plant interest. “Inspired by plant photos, plant collections and plant expertise shared on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube, users of social media—typically the domain of millennials and those younger—want to be part of the ‘plant-people crowd,’ calling themselves plant parents, plant geeks and plant whisperers, to name just a few,” she explains.

When it comes to getting younger people involved with plants as a career, Adams asserts that “there are broad opportunities” available. “FNGLA has a newly established apprenticeship program in which we match apprentices with employers. FNGLA has always offered scholarships for people who wish to study horticulture, not only at the university level but also at trade schools.”

In addition, Adams referenced FNGLA’s horticulture professional certification programs, which are available at the high school level as part of Florida’s Department of Education’s emphasis on career training in conjunction with business industries.

“We also work on a state and national level with the National FFA Organization [Future Farmers of America] to keep horticulture front and center with students who have an interest in agriculture,” Adams continues. “We are now working with Future Builders of America, a program of the Home Builders Institute, to promote the landscape contracting side of construction as a career for students interested in building and contracting. FNGLA is always happy to see mutual industry entities working together to promote horticulture as a career, such as “Seed Your Future.” They offer terrific promotional materials that organizations like FNGLA can help disseminate to our unique audiences.”

Generating Sales and Creating Careers with Multiple Generations

At Lafayette Florist, Gift Shop & Garden Center, located in Lafayette, Colo., the multi-generational family that works together also generates sales together. The business is currently run by third-generation co-owner Lori WheatAAF, who is also the chief financial and merchandising officer; her co-owner husband Brian WheatAAFPFCI, who is also the CEO; and Lori’s sister, third-generation Sandi Yoshihara-SniffAIFDAAF, who is also the general manager–florist. Also currently working in the family business is fourth-generation Tanner Wheat, who acts as Lafayette Florist’s garden and greenhouse manager.

Explaining the importance of people’s roles in the business, Lori shares, “The third generation (young baby boomers) is the stability, the guiding force and the supporters of our business. The goal of this group is to nurture, encourage and guide our younger management team. We help with problem solving, forecasting and money management, and we give our staff the tools to help them build their teams.”

She adds, “The fourth generation (millennials) has enthusiasm and are open to new opportunities and ideas. We need to invest in them because they will lead our company into the future. The goal of this group is to have a keen focus on our customers, build teams to focus on our customer service goals, create interesting shopping environments and work through omni-channels.”

Lori points out that the business has three mid-management individuals who are all millennials in their early to mid-30s, each with their own areas of expertise. “Tanner works with all-things plants and plant-related. Jordan Davis is our events coordinator, and handles weddings, sympathy, our sales staff and our website. Jessica Beard is our office manager, and she is in charge of HR, payroll and all things office related. They work together well, help each other out and give a fresh perspective on attracting new, younger consumers as well as a good work force.”

“I take pride in building and maintaining chemistry between my employees,” Tanner remarks. “We get to watch for trends and react quickly to new ideas. The business continues to evolve, and it’s exciting to be part of it. The sky’s the limit.”

Lafayette Florist has been an area-wide resource for a wide variety of plants for decades, but in responding to the houseplant boom of the past few years, Lori informs, “Plant lovers have become collectors; the more the merrier! Plants have become affordable choices when decorating and enhancing our living and working environments, enabling us to bring indoors a little piece of nature. So, in January 2020, we remodeled a 5,000-square-foot greenhouse to specifically target a younger audience with green plants. The remodel included a section of succulents, orchids, floor plants, and lots of varieties of hanging and tabletop houseplants. We also focus on plant accessories—interesting and fun pots and saucers; plant stands; hanging and wall planters; watering cans; water meters; plant foods; and potting soils, including specialty soils for African violets, orchids, succulents and cacti, and outdoor gardening.”

Throughout the pandemic, plants offered myriad mental and physical health benefits, Lori contends. “Plants have filled all the needs for a young population who couldn’t go out. Plants provide comfort and a refuge from the hectic world, they give us a sense of wellness, they offer relief from depression and anxiety, and they clean the air. People have needed things to nurture and care for. In addition, plants are a relief from the constant bombardment of technology. They give us a break from notifications, buzzing mobile devices and constant social media.”

When marketing the floral industry to younger generations as a viable career, Tanner offers these five thoughts:

• The traditional florist may have to evolve. It could be a niche part of the industry, like events, or it could be like a boutique. Our younger team, for example, wants to be able to create and nurture a section of our business—to take ownership.

• Consider creating a boutique environment with gifts, plants, flowers and jewelry. Your business no longer has to be just a flower shop or plant shop; it can be a fun lifestyle shop, as well.

• People who have an artistic flair or a passion for working with flowers need to be able to show it off. Taking advantage of platforms such as Instagram, as well as websites, can not only drive traffic to your store but also create interest in floral industry careers.

• People who have a passion for growing plants and watching plants grow can benefit from working in a green environment that’s good for their well-being. Make sure visitors to your business know of any available employment and educational opportunities.

• Market floriculture retail as a creative field of work, with opportunities that allow younger generations to embrace their passions.

Houseplant Marketing and Merchandising Tips

When it comes to maximizing potential sales opportunities for houseplants and flowering plants, Justin Hancock, brand marketing manager at Costa Farms in Miami, Fla., offers these four tips.

1. Take advantage of houseplants’ beneficial impact on health and wellness. It’s easy to find and cite university studies about how your plants can make your customers’ lives better.

2. Look at what plant influencers are talking about on social media, and pull quotes, with attribution, in your in-store signage. This gives consumers a sense of third-party endorsement and can help make a connection if your consumers follow the same influencers.

3. Use social media platforms to poll your consumers on why they want to receive a plant as a gift, and then recycle those answers in your marketing, especially during the winter holiday season.

4. If you have different areas/departments in your store, incorporate plants into your home décor section. That’s how a lot of your consumers see em—as beautiful home décor—so help them by giving ideas for how plants can be incorporated with other home accessories.

Stats from the “Floriculture Crops 2020 Summary”

• The 2020 wholesale value of floriculture crops (which includes potted foliage and flowering plants, as well as cut flowers and greens) was up almost 9 percent from 2019 sales—an estimated $4.80 billion for 2020, compared with $4.42 billion for 2019. 

• Florida was the leading floriculture crop-producing state, with sales pegged at $1.14 billion, up 7 percent from 2019.

• In California, the second-largest floriculture crop-producing state, wholesale sales were down 5 percent, to $967 million in 2020.

• Florida and California accounted for 44 percent of the nation’s total floricultural crop production value.

• The top five states—Florida, California, Michigan, New Jersey and Ohio—accounted for 65 percent of the nation’s total floricultural crop production value of $3.13 billion in sales.

Source: United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS)