If you’ve ever gotten your own place (or asked for decorating advice) you’ve probably heard the same advice over and over again: get a houseplant. Also, clean the crumbs off your desk and wipe the counter down. Many cite health benefits to just having a plant lying around by the windowsill. So what’s up with that, why do people like indoor plants?
Probably some of the most popular houseplants are the fiddle-leaf fig, various succulents like aloe, or even those air plants that sit inside those hanging spheres. Now the easy answer is that some of the more popular indoor plants you’d find at any store are pretty low-maintenance. You probably saw a social media bump in 2019 or 2020 about young adults getting tons of plants–clickbait that mainstream outlets immediately bit on and signal-boosted. That might explain some of the initial popularity around the indoor plant fad, but chasing trends or memes probably isn’t going to keep people hooked for long–and there are definitely a lot of people who still want to get plants.
The economic standing of millennials (the generation most attributed to getting plants), and maturing zoomers probably has something to do with their popularity. It is well documented that the millennial generation was financially ruined before it even started. Becoming the largest portion of the American labor market in 2016, millennials in aggregate only possessed 4.6% of America’s wealth in the beginning of 2020. Baby boomers, by comparison still hold over 55% of America’s wealth while millennials are far worse off than boomers were at the same age. In 1989 (comparable to where millennials are now), boomers controlled 21% of America’s wealth almost 5 times more than millennials.
Facing the ramifications of the 2008 housing crisis turning housing into a renters market, and the recession following covid-19 looking to do the same, many milestones people once took for granted are simply not financially accessible to younger generations. We haven’t even broached the nightmare of crippling student debt, staggeringly low wages, and ever-decreasing job security. The federal minimum wage has not increased since 2009, where inflation has increased by 27% between 2009 and 2021.
This is all to say that the youngest Americans (this is not a trend isolated to the US) have no money, cannot make money, and the money they do have or can make is worth substantially less with nothing to replace it. It’s super depressing, but it’s actually important to understanding why plants might have taken off.
Are Plants Just Kids?
Kind of? But not really. Obviously watering a succulent is not all the same thing as raising a child. It is a lot cheaper though, with people unable to afford a house, child rearing, and the healthcare costs of giving birth–having kids is simply not financially feasible. Some argue that plant-care may fulfill a similar niche, in the same way that having a hobby you really care about might give you a sense of additional purpose. If you’re asking why people don’t just get pets, that’s a fair question if you don’t live in an apartment. The short answer is some just don’t let you get one. Also your little cactus won’t poop in your bed.
Whether or not indoor plants have benefits to one’s health that go substantially beyond having a hobby, it’s no secret that younger generations are becoming increasingly conscious of their mental health–likely spurred by record high counts of depression and anxiety. Which was probably spurred by all the “not having a future” thing.
Brass Tacks. Do Plants Help You?
Alright, but let’s get down to brass tacks. Do plants actually help you?
It turns out, the answer is a lot closer to yes than you might think.
In a study with 24 subjects, 12 cared for a houseplant where 12 just did “computer tasks.” Afterwards the groups switched. Subjects recorded being calmer while working with the plant, and their blood pressure was actually significantly lower afterwards. Other studies have reported plants can increase the well-being of those with major depressive disorder or even dementia. Some places in England even prescribe plants.
Plus, if you know anything about air, plants take carbon dioxide and make it oxygen. This makes them (in a vastly oversimplified way) natural air filters for you. Some plants do demonstrably increase air quality, like areca, lady, and bamboo palms.
See if you can identify some herbs here.