“Millennials have given birth to a whole new type of living culture.”
Like many millennials, Erin Marino found herself glued to a screen most days – be it at work on a laptop, in transit on her cell phone or at home watching TV. In the beginning, she approached buying a houseplant as you would any home décor addition.
“I bought one because it looked pretty, and I thought it was an affordable way to perk up my apartment,” said Marino, brand manager for The Sill, a highly popular online plant destination with stores in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City.
Over time, Marino says she found her interest in plants growing. “I wanted to know where it came from, how to property care for it, what other plants I could buy. It felt great that this plant was alive and growing under my care.”
Marino isn’t alone. According to the National Gardening Association, 30 percent of all households in America purchased at least one houseplant last year. Additionally, U.S. sales of houseplants have surged 50 percent, to $1.7 billion. A quarter of that can be attributed to the millennial population, 24-to-39-year-olds, whose spending on plants, such as the Swiss-cheese-leafed Monstera deliciosa and the uber trendy fiddle-leaf fig (Ficus lyrata), has grown to a higher rate than any other age group since 2014.
It’s not like plants are anything new; they’ve been part of our existence for centuries. So where did this resurgent fascination, especially among millennials, come from? And why now?
Cultivating indoor plants actually dates back to the ancient Chinese, who used penjing trees (miniature manicured trees, like bonsai in Japan) and different varieties of plants in interior spaces as ornamental features. Back then, growing plants indoors wasn’t only a sign of wealth but also a way for inhabitants to practice their green thumb year around, regardless of outdoor temperature extremes.
While certain genera and species have gained popularity over the years, houseplants haven’t changed that much. The 1970s featured more “indoor jungles” with Philodendron, Tahitian bridal veil (Gibasis pellucida), snake plants (Sansevieria trifasciata) and a fair share of succulents and macramé hangers while the 1980s saw a shift toward a more minimalist approach. In 1979, The New York Times wrote that homeowners had grown tired of the upkeep involved in maintaining dozens of foliage-heavy plants.
According to the Times, “indoor jungles” began to disappear, “leaf by leaf, until it was fashionable to have only one or two grand botanical plants. A Ficus, a Yucca, a ming tree or two (Polyscias), standing like a sculpture under spotlights to dramatize their solitary beauty.” This minimalist trend continued into the 1990s, as orchids gained popularity due to their very straight simplistic lines and also, because of advancements in breeding and cloning, their affordability. Eventually, in the dawn of the new millennium, East came West and with it, America’s fascination with “feng shui” and the lucky bamboo plant (Dracaena sanderiana).
But only a few years later, lucky bamboo was dethroned, and succulents ruled as an up-and-coming trend popularized by a whole new generation: millennials.
Air plants, ferns, macramé – they may seem like a fad, but there’s actually more to them than meets the eye. Life decisions are playing a huge part in millennials’ desire to nurture and grow something.
“Owning a house with a backyard garden is not something this generation can afford as easily as the previous one, which benefitted from a better economic situation,” said Boris Dadvisard, urban naturalist and blogger for InvincibleHousePlants.com.
Statistics show why more millennials are delaying buying homes, getting married and having children. For example, the median home price hit an all-time record high of $618,000 in Los Angeles this past June, prompting an increasing number of millennials to remain renters. And the cost of having a child is also higher than ever, $233,610 – excluding the cost of college – for a middle-income family, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Plants are not only inexpensive and pretty to look at but also require less attention than other living things, such as a pet, and can offer the same sense of fulfillment and purpose. “With plants, anyone can create a cozy atmosphere in a room for a few bucks,” said Dadvisard, whose blog covers all things houseplant. “On top of that, plants have a universal ability to make any room alive.”
It’s one of the many reasons leaf-loving millennials are now referring to themselves as “plant parents,” said Darryl Cheng, author of The New Plant Parent and blogger for HousePlantJournal.com.
“How plant care is being approached is changing,” said Cheng, whose book gives modern tips to plant parents both new and experienced. “Plants are being viewed as more than just a piece of décor that has to be maintained but rather something to enjoy as a living thing.”
And, as Cheng can attest from the 409K followers of his House Plant Journal, Instagram has done a lot for plant aficionados. “Millennials want to be ‘house proud,’ and they want to build their spaces around things that get the most attention,” he said.
Having a “plant shelfie” is as much a trend as collecting rare plants – some of which, like variegated Monstera, can go for anywhere from $200 to $1,000 for a single plant.
Being a “plant parent” also offers social benefits, says Dadvisard. “Social media has been instrumental in spreading the love of plants to millennials since the 2010s,” he said.
Those sporting their plant environments on social media are able to connect with other like-minded leaf-lovers. Meetups where plant cuttings and tips are swapped are very popular, according to Cheng. “There’s a story and a sentimentality in getting a cutting and growing it into a full-grown plant,” he said.
As millennials have eagerly taken on the role of “plant parents,” they have unsurprisingly put their own tech-convenient spin on it. Don’t know the name of a plant? There’s an app for that! Upload a picture to an app like PlantNet, and it will provide instant information about it. Can’t remember when or how much to water? Apps like Happy Plant, Waterbot and Potted are out there to make sure consumers don’t over- or under-water – i.e. kill – their plants.
For those who aren’t sure if a Begonia or bromeliad is going to work in their apartment, the new Australian app, Plant Life Balance, uses AR, or augmented reality technology, to help them “try before you buy” by assessing their current “plant-life balance” (how many rooms they have, how many plants), then uses AR to drop in more than 90 plant recommendations.
And for consumers who are ready for more “plant babies,” they don’t even have to leave their couches. Plant subscription services like The Plant Parent Club from The Sill, House Plant Box and Horti not only deliver plants directly to their doorsteps but also offer specialized options such as low-light or pet-friendly varieties.
“The entire plant ecosystem is booming,” said Dadvisard, who believes the 2020s will be a golden age for growing indoor plants. “I think we’re going to see a broader diversity, with more specialized, niche applications rising, such as the LED grow lights, the propagation stations or soil-free mediums, also with more exotic specimens coming to the mass market.” Maxwell Luthy is the director of trends and insights at TrendWatching, one of the world’s leading trend firms, and author of the book Trend-driven Innovation. As a keynote speaker on plant trends at the Tropical Plant International Expo 2020 (TPIE) in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in January, Luthy challenged retailers to ask themselves, “If consumers can spend more time inhabiting fictional, fanciful worlds in their leisure time (think Fornite, Netflix and Disney +), how will that impact the plants they surround themselves at home?”
For millennials like Marino, it’s summed up a bit more simply. “Now I have just under 50 plants in my current apartment, and checking in on them has become a welcomed reason for me to shift my focus, even if it’s only for an hour or so a week.”
The Hottest Trend: Kokedama
Japanese moss balls, known as kokedama, are hot right now. No pot required, the ancient Japanese art form is a way to display a plant where the exposed round root ball is the focal point. Hang it, mount one on the wall, or create an arrangement on a table for a modern-Zen look. A kokedama ball is traditionally created by using soil that has a heavy clay composition and doesn’t crumble easily. You can wrap the ball in moss and colorful twine to hold the shape and retain some moisture. Or, if you or your customers would rather not get your hands dirty, there are kits available. Choose plants for kokedama balls according to where they will be displayed. Orchids, African violets, ivies, succulents and ferns work well both indoors and outdoors.
The Biggest Houseplant Trend of 2020
Move over, air plants and fiddle-leaf figs. We’re calling the biggest houseplant trend of 2020: Citrus trees.
Bring living spaces to life with their attractive fruits, glossy green leaves and sweet-smelling flowers. Backyards aren’t required for growing Citrus trees; they perform just as well indoors in containers as they do outdoors in the ground (Ahem, apartment dwellers).
What better way to brighten interiors than a blooming tangerine (C. reticulata), lemon (C. limon) or lime (C. aurantiifolia) tree? Whichever you choose to sell, buy dwarf varieties that won’t grow more than a few feet tall.
The 10 Most Popular Houseplants on Instagram
1. Swiss-cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa) – 7.28%, 745 average likes per post
2. Echeveria ‘Princess Blue’ – 7.0%, 1395 average likes per post
3. Chinese money plant (Pilea peperomioides) – 4.48%, 2001 average likes per post
4. Devil’s ivy, Pothos (Epipremnum aureum) – 4.2%, 220 average likes per post
5. Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata) – 3.64%, 164 average likes per post
6. Hedge cactus (Cereus hildmannianus) – 2.82%, 180 average likes per post
7. String-of-hearts (Ceropegia woodii) – 2.52%, 1243 average likes per post
8. False shamrock (Oxalis triangularis) – 2.52%, 1091 average likes per post
9. Rubber plant (Ficus elastica) – 2.24%, 475 average likes per post
10. String-of-pearls (Senecio rowleyanus) – 2.24%, 256 average likes per post