Have you accidentally turned your living space into a jungle? Do you find yourself scrolling through Plant-Tok? Do you spend your free time assessing new growth and leaf color? If you answered “yes” to these questions, you might be hooked on houseplants. You are not alone. After noticing these behaviors in myself and many friends, I decided to do a deep dive into understanding the growing obsession with indoor plants.


I started 2019 with less than 5 houseplants, and steadily accumulated plants throughout the height of the pandemic. Visiting plant nurseries with friends provided an outdoor social environment where masks could stay on and minimal physical exertion was required. According to the National Gardening Association annual survey, many people resorted to plant shopping as a pandemic hobby, causing a 65% increase in estimated indoor houseplant expenditure in the U.S. between 2019 and 2021. In 2021, this resulted in an estimated $2.17 billion spent on houseplants. Although these numbers are a bit shocking, science has shown that plant-based spending habits could be less irresponsible than you might think. In fact, many studies have shown that having indoor plants can have mental health benefits. 


For example, indoor plant ownership during the global COVID-19 pandemic was shown to correlate with positive emotional well-being during mandated confinement. Viewing greenery either inside or outside a home also decreased depressive symptoms during the quarantine. Houseplants have even been shown to impact social behavior. In one study, flowering plant exposure during meals increased the average time spent in the dining room, conversation (measured by vocalizations), and food consumed. Even scrolling on Plant-tok might have some benefits. Studies have shown that just viewing images of nature can improve mood and reduce stress levels


There are a variety of theories about why plants can impact how we feel, but some reasons might be especially potent in a COVID era. Some theories report that having houseplants contributes to positive self-esteem by providing positive feedback for caring behaviors, which is especially relevant for people experiencing social isolation. There is a new trend of using plants as a means of caretaking, sometimes called having “pet plants”, which piqued people’s interest during the pandemic. Other studies suggest houseplants contribute to a feeling of “being away” even within your own home, offering a sense of escape to make confinement feel less crushing.


The benefits of outdoor nature exposure are well-documented and recently described in an article by Erin McNell. In addition to using neighborhood greenspace where available and spending time in nature, the flexibility to bring living greenery into temporary or urban living spaces in affordable doses could be helpful for many professionals who work from home, or for people who spend a significant amount of time indoors without access to public green spaces.


Regardless of whether these houseplant fun facts hold true for you, these studies highlight the importance of finding joy in simple things and incorporating them into the place you call home. If you are considering ways to improve your mood at work or at home, a houseplant could be worth a try!


Peer Editor: Anna Goddard

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