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The flourishing effects of houseplants on our health during the pandemic

By: Sachi Villanueva, Brandon University

The flourishing effects of houseplants on our health during the pandemic

You can blame it on the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is a good reason behind the recent popularity of houseplants! While staying safe, people are keeping their wellness in check by nurturing their houseplants at home and connecting with other plant parents online.

Lockdown increasing demand for houseplants

More and more people are getting into houseplants with the stay-at-home order in place. An article shows that over 90% of the 250 garden centres surveyed in the United States and Canada saw increased houseplant sales in 2020 compared to 2019. An indoor plant shop in Regina, SK, doubled their sales during the pandemic despite changes in their business such as limited in-store customer capacity and options for pick-up or delivery. The new popularity of houseplants has also led to greater selection in local greenhouses and big box stores, and more ads on Facebook Marketplace in my area.

The benefits of plants to our well-being

Though houseplants are trending, caring for indoor and outdoor plants for therapeutic reasons is not new. The positive effects of gardening on mental health was first described in the 19th century by Dr. Benjamin Rush, the “Father of American Psychiatry.” To date, many studies have described how plants improve our mental health, including increase in mood and sense of relaxation, higher productivity and creativity, better concentration and memory retention, and lower stress levels. One can achieve these improvements by being surrounded by indoor plants, gardening, spending time in nature, or simply looking at pictures of nature.

A professional practice called horticultural therapy helps clients improve their mental and physical health through gardening activities such as watering, repotting, pruning, and making flower arrangements. Horticultural therapists work at rehabilitation centers, hospitals, schools, retirement homes, and correctional facilities. They collaborate with healthcare professionals and mental health specialists to achieve specific therapeutic goals for their clients – for example, gardening as part of physical rehabilitation can help clients strengthen their muscles and improve their coordination and balance. They also work with landscape designers to create green spaces that accommodate different abilities, such as therapeutic gardens with flowers of various colours, texture, and fragrance for sensory stimulation.

While caring for ourselves, horticultural therapy specialist Cheney Creamer explains that people also achieve a sense of caregiving when they take care of houseplants, especially for those who are isolated and alone such as seniors.

Plant parents of the houseplant community

I became a plant mom three years ago – well before the pandemic but for the same reasons of improving my mental health. I was an undergraduate student buried in so much schoolwork. Much like the new norm of working from home, I had to make my workspace more inviting. With what started as a succulent on my desk flourished into what plant parents describe as an ‘urban jungle’. I eventually started an Instagram page for selling plants and sharing care tips. Since the pandemic started, my page has doubled its number of followers! With my increasing passion for houseplants, I have discovered houseplant social media influencers – my favourites on YouTube are Crazy Plant Guy (Canada; 240k subscribers), Plant One on Me (USA; 430k subscribers), and Only Plants (Indonesia; 65k subscribers).

With the COVID-19 restrictions, the plant community online is a great place to meet other houseplant enthusiasts! I have connected with plant parents in my area through a local Facebook group of over 1,500 members. By joining different platforms, you can learn about your plant’s care needs, share your pro-tips, laugh at memes, and buy, sell, or trade plants! The community has also deemed some plants as trendy, such as the Monstera deliciosa I am strugglingly carrying in the picture below for #MonsteraMonday. If you are not ready to be a plant parent yet, you can check out hashtags like #PlantsOfInstagram and appreciate greenery through your phone screen.

Houseplants in the new ‘normal’

Not only did houseplants provide comfort to each plant parent, but they also brought people together during these uncertain times. Despite the current COVID-19 restrictions loosening in many parts of the world, I think the houseplant trend will continue to grow (pun intended)! After all, there has always been a connection between plants and people – from trees providing us food and shelter to houseplants reminding us to be hopeful for the future with every new leaf that unfurls.

Edited by participants of the 2021 Science Writing Internship program and B.G. Borowiec. Header photo from Sachi Villanueva.

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