Millennials Find Something to Care For: Plants

Whether seeking a coping mechanism for climate change or simply wanting to maintain a connection to the Earth in an increasingly digital world, millennials have turned to cultivating plants.

Using social media and online forums, they have formed communities where they learn how to care for plants, and some of the online groups have become so large that some members have become “plantfluencers.”

Summer Rayne Oakes has more than 200,000 followers among Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, with nearly 6.8 million views on her videos. Her videos feature dual-screen breakdowns of plants like Pilea cadierei, where she explains what kind of lighting and water conditions they respond well to and how they grow in different types of soil.

In New York City, stores like The Sill have amassed a large following — 525,000 people on Instagram alone — and use their platform to share plant facts, introduce new plants and push out updates on in-house workshops that allow users to take the tips offline and join workshops.

The Sill hosts in-person workshops designed to ease some of the worries for new plant owners. Jason J. Armond/NYT Institute

One such workshop is Plants 101, a 90-minute class hosted by Elana Frank, an assistant at the Bronx Zoo who works to conserve different wild reptile species, and Samantha Storch, an employee of the store.

Millennials, who in many cases are putting off marriage and having children, are turning to plants as a way to assert responsibility for a living thing. Many have no idea where to begin for fear of killing their plants, so they enter the world of plant care via social media hashtags and online sites to get tips, have their questions answered and grow online networks of information sharing.

Inside The Sill, a cozy, white-walled shop on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, potted plants adorn the walls and line the floor in colorful pots and planters. Leaves of philodendron, alocasia and ponytail palm reach toward the ceiling in lush arrays of all sizes.

Ten attendees crowd around an L-shaped counter to hear Ms. Frank, 25, explain the basics of how to care for plants, from how much light they receive, to the amount of water they need and what the temperature in the room should be. She also dispels some myths, like how succulents don’t need water — she assures the group they do.

“It’s kind of like a joke,” Ms. Frank said. “You buy a plant and you say, ‘Oh, I hope it survives,’ then you see a new leaf and you say, ‘doing great,’ and then you buy a million more.”

Ms. Frank said she started with one plant and now has around 40. A woman in attendance, Nicole Pesce, 38, said she received her first plant for Mother’s Day and now has “more than 50” in her collection.

Ms. Frank likened “plant parenthood,” as The Sill calls it, to a form of self care — a popular topic among burned-out millennials — and even segued into May’s being Mental Health Month.

“With the zoo, I do a lot for conservation, like conserving the wild species,” Ms. Frank said. “Then with plants, encouraging people to bring plants inside their own homes. It’s really easy in New York City to be overwhelmed by the amount of concrete and everything, so I like encouraging people to take the time to appreciate the nature that’s still here.”

Half of those in attendance are 25 or younger, the lower end of the millennial range, which goes from 22 to 38, according to Pew Research Center. Almost all are women, including Ms. Storch, 26, who said her interest in plants started only recently, as did her desire to share her joy of caring for plants.

“I need some direction,” Claire Fortuna, 22, from Brooklyn said. “I always end up feeling lost.”

Presentation slides on the evolution of plants as a species played as Ms. Frank calmly fielded questions from those gathered. “How do I know when to repot it?” Amanda Deevers, 25, from Greenpoint said.

“How do you know what signs to look for when a plant has too much or too little water?” Teri Chu, 35, from Brooklyn said. After the question and answer session, each person got to pick out and take home their own four-inch plant.

In addition to leading plant workshops, Ms. Frank is a member of plant groups on Facebook like House Plant Hobbyist and routinely uses her social media channels to update her followers on her plants’ growth and progress. She listens to podcasts on plant ownership, follows plant-based hashtags and said she has become the house plant guru in her friend circles.

“I really enjoyed teaching people about it,” Ms. Frank said. “Or people would come to my apartment and say, ‘Oh you have a lot of plants,’ like very surprised, so it’s always fun to tell them about that. I want to work around plants. I mean it’s pretty awesome to be surrounded by plants all day.”