The Beauty and Value of Having House Plants

Ariel Smith describes how house plants serve not only as greenery but also as a way to maintain connections between loved ones and reduce loneliness and stress during times of isolation.

A rescued orchid. Picture with permission to use by Kristin Arnett.

It Takes Practice to Keep your Plants Alive

Keeping a houseplant is a seemingly mundane task. Three elements contribute to your success: water, air, and sunlight. But, there’s one seemingly universal experience for plant lovers. They’ve killed one if not five.

I would consider myself an intermediate gardener/houseplant lover. I have about 17, more than the average person but less than an aficionado. I interviewed people across climates, cultures, and age ranges to see how that affected their interests.

“My favorite would be my Epipremnum Pinnatum or Oxalis Triangularis”, says Aaditya Singh, a 21-year-old student who lives on India’s east coast, and who owns 45 houseplants. These two, more commonly known as Cebu Blue and Purple Shamrock, have been on my wish list for months.

“Well, I live [where it’s] sub-tropical so it pretty much grows all year round here, considering you give it enough sun,” Aaditya said when I asked him how he dealt with overwintering his purple shamrock. “Though it does go dormant for a few weeks in summer if it gets too hot,” he admitted.

Reno’s cold winters make keeping purple shamrock over the winter a difficult task. The shorter days and cool breezes necessitate cutting back all the vegetation during wintry months and storing the plant in a cool, not cold, and dark location until spring arrives.

“Yes, most of my plants if not all of them are tropical,” he replied when asked which sort of plants he grows. “I can’t really grow temperate plants or ones that like less heat because summer temps reach 45 degrees Celsius or more.”

While temps sometimes reaching above 113 degrees Farenheight would prevent many from even attempting to garden it has made Aaditya more determined. Two-thirds of his plants require little care. Consisting of native plants or aroids like Cebu Blue that are happy with a moss pole and water when the leaves curl. This makes taking care of the remaining third much less daunting.

“I do take precautions, as to let the soil dry, spray with insecticide once a month or so ..but other than that, I wait for things to happen,” Aaditya said of his hands-off approach to his houseplants “I do keep a check on my plants once in one or two weeks though.”

Pest outbreaks amongst plants are common like viral outbreaks amongst humans. The quicker they are remedied and managed the sooner things can go back to normal in terms of care and placement. When a plant gets infested it must be quarantined from other plants to stop the spread of the bugs. This reminded me greatly of our current Covid-19 situation.

“Oh yes definitely. It keeps my mind occupied, feels calming to be in between them,” he said when speaking on the effect of houseplants on his COVID-19 experience. “It has helped my mental health a lot in general.”

More Care during the Pandemic

“Working from home during COVID gave me the time to take care of them,” said Emily Miller from Fishers, Indiana. “I worked [in] a greenhouse during high school so I’ve had some experience taking care of plants.” Emily uses her houseplants as home decor.

“Well I have over 200,” Emily revealed. “I like trailing plants so Pothos, Philodendron, Scindapsus, Aglaonema, and Monstera,” all of which happen to be aroids, which include many common houseplants.

After interviewing people with such impressive plant collections I decided to return to someone more on my level of houseplant ownership and see if they shared any experiences with Aaditya or Emily. Kristen Arnett, my grandmother who lives in Lafayette, Colorado, rekindled her interests in houseplants over the pandemic.

“When people were dying, flowers were thriving,” Kristin said candidly. Kristin works as a nurse and keeping houseplants during the uncertainty of the pandemic helped her to alleviate that stress. She often picked up struggling orchids in grocery stores for a buck or two apiece and “rescued” them.

When I asked what her favorite plant was, I was expecting to hear of her orchids and was left surprised when she said the ZZ plant. As you may have guessed the ZZ plant is also an aroid. Her response left me confused.

“It’s a connection that she and I share,” Kristin said when speaking of her daughter who owns the same plant. “I have one and she has one.”

Reynolds Sandbox reporting by Ariel Smith

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