In the seedy, succulent world of online houseplant obsessives
Summer Reading: Houseplants have become celebrities, charging huge, hard-fought fees in digital markets. Steph Matuku, a household foliage addict, washes away the dirt.
First published on February 14, 2021
I I am writing this surrounded by a fittonia, two monsteras, three dracaenas and a golden pothos. If you know what I’m talking about, congratulations, you are my people. If you don’t, where the hell have you been?
Covid-19 has spawned many new and exciting trends – especially in the lands outside of Aotearoa, where half-hearted lockdowns have been longer and more frequent, and people are stuck at home doing nothing else what to do with TikTok videos and plan insurgencies. Mental health issues such as depression and agoraphobia have skyrocketed, heralding a massive renewed interest in indoor plants. They’re pretty, they’re responsive, they improve air quality, and they’ll give a little taste of nature without ever having to brave the germ-laden and angst-laden atmosphere of The Great Outdoors.
They should no longer be pushed over the fridge and forgotten until their leaves are as dusty and wilted as Judith Collins’ opinions on women’s rights on the marae. Houseplants have become celebrities, charging huge fees, hotly contested on Trade Me, featured on the front page of Reddit, and admired in hundreds of Facebook groups. Just search for the indoor plants hashtag on Instagram. Now find out how many followers you have. Plants – brainless life forms – are more popular than you ever will be. Sorry.
Plant people assign genera, names, and personality traits to their plants. They bring their plants and pets together to take group family photos. They debate the advantages of one potting mix over another, feverishly trading recipes containing freshly dug imitation peat moss, shredded organic bark fiber, and coarse river sand untouched by human hands. because branded blends just aren’t good enough. They flagellate themselves with grief and guilt if a leaf tip turns yellow, and buy a party cake if a new bud appears. They’re embarking on huge DIY craft projects, turning Ikea shelves into sleek indoor glass greenhouses with grow lights, heaters, misters, and humidifiers, especially for their wayward drama queens. They post photos of cracked pots and tangled plant roots, lovingly tagging them as ‘#rootporn’.
Their plants are their babies – pampered and adored – especially by Americans for whom having a real baby means being skinned and ruined by medical and educational expenses from pre-birth until the day they die. Fears of imminent and indiscriminate death from a pandemic made them want to nurture a life they can largely control. And where America is going, so our influencers are following, posting glamorous, multi-filtered snaps of glistening monsteras and graceful palm trees spouting from K-Mart wicker baskets, and monkey-headed vines dripping from hanging macrame-style racks. 1970s, a welcoming living contrast to the corpse – like stiff white sofas and blond wood coffee tables emblazoned with an unopened book on racial feminism, and a matching Bridgerton teacup and saucer with a biccy (no fat, no sugar, no flavor) on the side.
Most social media plant groups are welcoming and fun, with followers only too happy to drop a blurry, underexposed image of a new unfurling leaf (taken with the green hand shaking with anticipation of the expectant parents), or to give you some advice on why your new two hundred dollar hoya suddenly decided to ditch all of its leaves and rebrand itself like a bare, defiant stalk. They can identify a plant in seconds or be wrong for days, arguing happily over whether a tiny leaf is from a marble queen or a snow queen and how to distinguish the tiny differences in variegation.
They’ll congratulate you on an expensive purchase with starry-eyed emojis and ‘omg I’m so happy for you’ comments that bubble with gratifying undercurrents of barely hidden envy, and share sad face commiserations when the browning clump you’ve been desperately trying to save eventually gives up and becomes compost.
But some bands are bitchy. They’ll laugh at you with laughing face emojis if you mistake one species for another, or ask what the gorgeous purple flower is growing in your garden (that was a stray potato, okay, so keep going. -Me.) They’re going to taunt you for spending too much money on a wishlist factory because they found the same one thirty dollars cheaper than Miter 10 yesterday. They will eagerly remind you to “seek the group before you post, we have identified the same variety of curly climbing pubus twice in the last month, Let’s go guys, stop wasting everyone’s time â. Some sons break up into insults, fights, and banishments. There is nothing quite as vicious as a slandered vegan. Itâs quite funny.
At the moment, variegated foliage is all the rage. Scratches, spots and spots; leaves that are half white and half green, or resplendent with pink, purple and cream. People will pay thousands of dollars for a stained monstera that looks like it was finger painted by a toddler using toothpaste. No one seems to care about flowers except those die-hard orchid growers who refuse to face the fact that there are around 27,000 species of orchids in the world, which makes them not so special. .
Cacti and succulents are always in fashion. They are easy to propagate and maintain, and grow best when you forget them altogether. Anxious people caught up in uncontrollable world events either want plants that take care of themselves – or on the contrary – need needy dependents, like these humidity-loving, flaming rainforest natives. if given just a grain of natural sunshine and dramatically collapse into a pile of sobs when accidentally watered from the tap instead of being gently sprayed at dawn with filtered water collected by nubile virgins from the ancient mountain springs of Terralee.
The vines are large too. Post a photo of a COH (that’s a chain of hearts, noob) or SOD (a string of dolphins, hello) hanging on your neatly preserved shelf and you’ll get so many likes you’ll feel like a celebrity yourself.
My dirty baby in need is a golden pothos. I tried growing a rooted cutting in my aquarium, so that I could stand it up against the wall and create a kind of 3D natural river landscape vibe in my kitchen. I didn’t realize that because it started in the ground, it wanted to stay in the ground, and the moment it hit the water, the roots rotted quickly. So I put it back in the earth where it rotted a bit more, until I had a yellowing leaf rolled up on a stalk. But to my surprise, the rod was still firm. I felt like there was life somewhere. I cut off half the leaf and carefully put the leftovers back into a wine glass filled with water. And two days later there was a root. The feeling of accomplishment was overwhelming.
Can’t wait to post a photo.
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