How COVID-19 and Social Media has Affected the House Plant Market

Since 2013, plant sales across the UK have been rising approximately 12.5% year on year, but since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, the plant craze has truly skyrocketed.

There are a number of theories and factors that could contribute to this, but in my eyes, these are the most feasible.

- Wealth disparity, house prices, overpopulation and other social pressures are displacing parental urges in young adults, and transferring them to plants. 

Go onto any of the hundreds of Facebook plant groups, and you will find tens of thousands of ‘plant parents’ looking for advice on how to take care of their ‘babies’. These are mostly women aged between 20-30 who, at a time when home ownership at such an age is at historic lows, have chosen to not have children largely due to financial reasons.The average age of motherhood rose to over 30 back in 2013, and has been rising slowly ever since, largely credited to money. 

One of the most common sources of topics and jokes on these groups is the ‘payday plant’, when someone living month to month will spend money on a plant while they have some to spare. Birth rates in the UK have been falling over the last decade, and the global wealth gap is larger than ever. Hence, these young men and women are choosing to nurture another form of life from a tiny juvenile plant, into a mature specimen that they harbour a genuine emotional connection towards. Take the added financial woes compounded by COVID and you have an explosion of Plant Parenthood. We take calls all the time from seriously distressed individuals, disconsolate about a tiny blemish on their plant. While only a theory, there is lots of evidence to suggest that this parental, protective instinct directed at plants has led to market growth.



A few screenshots taken from briefly scrolling down a UK Facebook page.

- Social concern about climate change has led people to try and reduce their carbon footprint through owning lots of plants. 

The truth on this one is slightly inconvenient, as the oxygenation created by a house plant is microscopic compared to the carbon output of an average individual. Approximately 80% of global oxygen creation by plant life is from phytoplankton, living in the sea. Around 8% comes from the Amazon (but the atmospheric impact is zero), and the other 12% comes from the vast forests, grasslands and swamps situated around the world. As a company with tens of thousands of plants at any one time, our small team has probably offset maybe 0.1% of the effects of our own breathing on the atmosphere, and that’s being optimistic. Here are the figures behind that; humans absorb approximately 550 litres of oxygen a day, and a plant produces  roughly this same amount of oxygen for every 3.75KG of growth. This takes the average plant decades, with many not even having the potential to reach this mass in the British home. When plants are not growing, as most tropical plants do not for over half the year in the UK, they absorb oxygen and expel Co2, which further offsets the effect. While theydoremove harmful intoxicants such as formaldehyde from the air, the amounts are totally negligible. The unfiltered truth is that owning house plants does nothing for air quality compared to theexchange of air with the outside in most homes and offices.

Plants increase happiness because they are wonderful to look at and be around. It improves psychological health by imitating being around nature. They also break sound, and catch dust, improving health. They are a source of pride and a brilliant scientific path of learning. But ultimately if you want to increase the amount of oxygen available in your home, the only viable way to do this is reduce the amount of people living with you.

The overwhelming scientific evidence surrounding this topic is not something you’ll find published on many other house plant sellers’ sites. We are committed to bringing the joy of houseplants to people all over the country, but are not prepared to bend the truth while doing so. 

- Now that people are spending more time at home, they want plants to make their living space more pleasant. 

This is one I can really get behind. As more people work from home and spend time in isolated conditions, it is obvious that they are going to want to improve their personal space. There is also the factor that people in general are going through a rough time right now, and plants are increasingly a source of therapeutic relief. We have noticed a dramatic decrease in corporate orders for offices, as many of them are not in use, but this has been countered by a sharp increase in smaller domestic sales. Hospitality, leisure and holiday expenses have all completely disappeared, increasing the disposable income of middle class households to spend on plants. 

 - Social distancing measures in the pandemic means more people are spending more time on social media apps, where houseplant trends are amplified. 

 I have no doubt in my mind that ‘#plantstagram’ is one of the biggest contributing factors to the recent surge in plant ownership. There are thousands of UK based social media accounts dedicated to showing off burgeoning plant collections, offering advice on the care of plants and almost creating a competitive environment over who has the largest, rarest and healthiest indoor garden. Some of these account holders have excelled to become minor celebrities in recent months. Individual leaves are routinely shown off and the progression of growth is closely documented and published. Plants that perish are given reverence and mourning. There is also an argument to say that this has created some of the recent perfectionism towards plants, in that people expect every plant to look perfect all of the time, as with so many other facets of life projected onto social media.  

 In overview, the COVID-19 crisis has driven a rapid increase in the demand for smaller house plants and definitely spread knowledge about their care and benefits. We are grateful for this, but we are also mindful of the unhealthy idolisation of plants, anxiety that their imperfections create, and the extreme exclusivity of certain plants as well as the competitiveness of individual’s collections. At the end of the day, plants are an amazing subject to learn about and experience, but it’s important to stay rational about their benefits and impact in real terms.

The views and opinions expressed in this article or solely that of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the company.