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4 Reasons Why You Should Be Growing a Houseplant Rainforest

CS lives in an house that's being slowly converted into a rainforest by his rapidly-propagating plant collection.

The author making his way from his living room to his kitchen, 1 year into the COVID-19 pandemic.

The author making his way from his living room to his kitchen, 1 year into the COVID-19 pandemic.

Houseplants + Pandemic = More Houseplants!

Being isolated at home during the pandemic has led to a bit of a plantsplosion in my house.

Like sweatpants and excessive coffee consumption, my houseplant collection has become a central part of my daily routine, and has grown exponentially in the past year. I'm rapidly running out of window real estate, every stray photon of sunlight is mopped up by one leaf or another, and (like their proud papa) my plants persistently need a haircut.

Fortunately, I'm not alone. Thanks to COVID-19, houseplant ownership has blossomed into a full-blown culture, and I'm not the only one becoming a Crazy Plant Parent. There's a good reason for this; houseplants are constantly new and changing, decrease stress, improve your air, and are way less likely to pee on your carpet than an animal-based pet.

If you're looking for ways to improve your mental health, whether COVID-related or just generally, I humbly present the option of growing a Houseplant Rainforest!

What good will that do, you ask? Well, for starters...

1. Houseplants are the Panacea.

Who my friends think I'm becoming*. Only partially untrue. Houseplants are still super good for you, though.

Who my friends think I'm becoming*. Only partially untrue. Houseplants are still super good for you, though.

As we round the corner on Pandemic Year Two, I find myself relying more and more on my plants to keep me from climbing the walls (metaphorically), as I destress by watching them climb my walls for me (literally).

There is a well-established link between gardening/plant ownership and reduced stress, increased patience and calm, and general well being. Nurturing other living things is a major underpinning of being human, whether they're kids, pets, or plants. We're just built to receive satisfaction from watching things grow.

Unlike the other two options on the above list (shudder), plants are particularly effective stress sponges. There's a lot of "Woo-Woo" surrounding plants' effects on human health**, but the effects themselves are really clear. By a happy coincidence, the most pronounced effects of owning a houseplant jungle directly counter central problems of modern life, namely:

I don't want to get COVID-19, any of the variants, or even a cold at this point.

-Houseplants have been connected to a 60% reduction in illnesses in people with a lot of plants in their home. There's a damned good reason why hospitals and nursing homes invest in LOTS of plants. It's not like house plants spew Magical Health Juju Sprinkles into the air (though they definitely do improve air quality), but more that there are a cascade of positive effects on your immune system that they trigger through their calming effect.

I'm super unproductive working from home, and I keep getting disLOOK, A SQUIRREL!!

-Houseplants greatly increase ability to focus on tasks in their presence (up to 70% for some people!). When this whole thing started, I tried to compensate for the loss of productivity that naturally follows working at home for me by jamming myself in the blankest, bleakest corner of my house. The idea was to minimize distractions; however, what I really discovered is how fascinating a blank wall can be. Today, I work in a chair directly in front of my prized old-growth Monstera delicosa, and for reasons beyond me, just being near it makes words appear on my page.

I'm trapped in a relatively small space with multiple humans, and my wife has threatened me with grisly murder if I leave ONE. MORE. DISH. IN. THE. SINK.

-Houseplants improve relationships through increased patience and compassion. I feel pretty safe in saying that compassion seems to be at a low point currently, at exactly the wrong time. Growing a plant forces you to think about their needs, and realizing that they depend on you completely to provide it is humbling. The more you are put into this mind space by plant care, the more natural it is to extend this to non-plant creatures.

I feel like I've forgotten what it's like not to be constantly worried.

-A form of moving meditation has been shown to occur while caring for plants, resulting in feelings of peacefulness and calm, slowed and deepened breathing, and drops in stress levels similar to guided meditation. The struggle is real, folks. The static of daily worry can swamp inner dialogue, and your brain can only run so many programs at once. While I'm a huge proponent of purposeful meditation as well, a lot of people have trouble getting into it. Houseplant care actually puts people in a meditative state without even knowing it, and you get a lot of the same benefits of meditation from checking in and watering your Rainforest.

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*If you get the above reference to Troll 2, which routinely lands in the Top 5 of worst movies ever made, gold star for you. If you didn't, and you enjoy so-bad-it's-inspirational, D- attempts at horror movies, then I encourage you to check out this cautionary documentary on the perils of houseplant ownership.

**As a scientist, it's been a rough few years, in terms of public abuse of "studies show that...". So instead, here are a handful of the actual studies I'm referencing, and I encourage you to do a Google Scholar dive for more: Mitchell, 2008, Brethour 2007, Bringslimark 2007, Frank 2003, Kohlleppel 2002, McFarland 2010, Pohmer 2008, Ulrich 1991, Waliczek 2000.

Beyond "Just Put It In The Corner"

2. Why Not Just Get A Pet?

This is why.

This is why.

My cats are basically fur tornados with claws, no rationality, and no conscience. Dogs are similar, but bigger and clumsier, and with less impulse control.

Plants are quiet, clean, and don't poop on the carpet. Or barf under the couch. Or jump on your head for no reason at 4 AM. Or...

The general goal is to decrease stress.

'Nuff said.

3. You Can Turn Them Into A Side Hustle ( buy more plants).

A solid bounty of traded cuttings to diversify the COVID-19 Rainforest

A solid bounty of traded cuttings to diversify the COVID-19 Rainforest

A lot of people have already leaned into gardening during the pandemic, and the demand for houseplants generally is through the roof. This presents a wonderful opportunity to fund your new Houseplant Rainforest by turning propagation into an easy Side Hustle.

I won't got into huge detail here (because I wrote a lot about how to sell/trade propagated houseplants HERE), but the process is relatively straightforward, and extremely satisfying. Once you get good at propagating and figure out how much you can/want to do, you can make a surprising amount from simply putting your cuttings on a local buy/sell page.

The other option is to trade cuttings from your collection with other people. This was easily the best way to expand your collection and have a ton of fun, but the larger Plant Swaps that ruled before COVID hit are on pause for the time being. Still, it's possible to coordinate safe, distanced swapping via social media, or just let them grow bigger until we can all get together to swap again.

Personally, my general goal is to sell enough cuttings to break and have my Rainforest fund itself. And if I end up with a little extra, I bet I can find a spot for just one more plant...

4. You Need More Things To Talk To.

"Hey, can I call you back? My Philodendron is on the other line."

"Hey, can I call you back? My Philodendron is on the other line."

Finally, finally, the link between mental health and physical health is being given more of the attention it deserves, as the effects of isolation become more and more clear. Particularly in older people (the same people that are the most vulnerable to illness), loneliness is thoroughly linked to increased mortality (e.g. Steptoe et al. 2013).

Feeling unneeded or isolated doesn't do younger people any favors, either. Suicide rates have steadily risen over the past 20 years, and loneliness is frequently indicated as the major cause.

Humans are just social creatures. We get something different from screentime than from face-to-face conversations, emotionally and chemically. And we're talking face-to-face a lot less these days, even before the pandemic.

Despite the old myth, talking to your plants hasn't been demonstrated to make them grow (but Plant Parents that care enough to talk to their plants are probably more attentive, and thus taking better care of them generally). What is only just being appreciated is how good talking to plants can be for you. Many of us think better and gain better perspective on our thoughts when they are said aloud, especially when we feel someone is listening, and even if they never say a word (a phenomenon variously known as therapy, confessions, best friends, etc...).

While I won't go so far as to say that talking to your plants is the same as talking to humans, I will stand by the claim that having a lot of plants is fantastic for reducing loneliness. Happy plants only exist because of their devoted parents, so the feeling of being needed and important is reinforced every time you see your Rainforest. Their subtle way of telling you they appreciate you doesn't come with a tail wag, but new growth is the plant equivalent of a purring cat, and has much the same effect on their parent.

It feels a bit odd at first, but trust me, it helps more than you think. Give it a shot, don't worry if talking to your plants feels a little crazy (but worry a little if they respond...), and let your Houseplant Rainforest return your love by helping you through challenging times.

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