For a generation whose romantic lives have been reduced to swiping left or right, millennials’ love affair with house plants is surprisingly full of passion, care and nurturing.
The RHS have reported that 80 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds own a house plant, that the house plant market is growing at 15 per cent per annum and that two-thirds of Londoners bought a house plant last year.
“There is much greater awareness of the wellbeing benefits that plants (and the experience of nurturing them) can bring, such as improved concentration, mood and emotions,” says James Folger, founder of online sustainable houseplant shop, The Stem.
Another reason for house plants’ growing popularity, according to Folger, is that people have a desire to connect with nature while they are living in increasingly urbanised societies.
It’s not any old plant that millennials have decided to shack up with. The most popular house plants right now are green foliage plants, along with ones that are low maintenance like cacti and succulents.
While the participators in this trend are young, the trend itself has lived through decades of its own phase.
In a 1979 New York Times piece, called ‘The Boom in Blooming Plants’, Marilyn Pelo writes about the transition in trends from green foliage plants to flowering pot plants.
She writes that the foliage plant craze was an “offshoot of the back-to-nature movement of the late 1960s”, politely referring to Woodstock going hippies who inspired a trend in growing indoor jungles.
But this fad faded away for a few reasons. The higher the demand got, the higher the prices rose, and the lower the quality of plants became – plants were just being grown far too quickly. This effect in the house plant spike is something some predict will follow the current popularity of green house plants.
While it would probably be wise to heed these warnings, it’s also important to remember that anyone marketing to millennials, knows to put sustainability and ethical consumption at the top of their list.
Popular house plant companies like Patch and The Stem all emphasise their commitment to sustainability and quality on their websites, and there is certainly no shortage of information on how to get involved in the house plant world in an environmentally friendly way.
But back to the trend itself.
After scientists figured out how to clone plants in the late 1970s, orchids became much more accessible to the public, but this did not make them cheaper. “The orchid in a pot became a status symbol,” wrote Marilyn Pelo, citing the plant on the desks of presidents, fashion designers, and movie stars.
This spiked a popularity in other types of flowering plants like tulips, lilies, irises, reticulata. One or two flowered plants replacing an indoor jungle was part of the move towards minimalist interior design but it was also less maintenance.
Flowering pot plants did not require the same amount of watering, spraying, repotting as foliage plants did. “No more plant sitter at vacationtime,” wrote Pelo.
And this where the difference in consumer is important again.
People buying foliage plants now are generally people without children who live in flats too small for pets, who are going for weekend city breaks instead of long family holidays, who are buying green plants specifically to have something to take care of and to reap the benefits of doing so.
“Modern homes offer much better conditions (although low in humidity) for tropical plants to thrive. In the Victorian times, not much else besides a Cast Iron Plant would survive in the typical English home,” James Folger said when asked how house plant consumption is different from its previous crazes. “Also, the sophistication and innovation of the Dutch growers has significantly increased, meaning it is now easier than ever to ensure a consistent supply of high quality, uniform plants of different varieties.”
Folger added: “ I would also make the distinction between a trend and a fad – indoor plants are here to stay!”