How do you greet a new houseplant? Just say “aloe.”

Weak joke aside, I’ve been curious why there’s a whole new wave of houseplant fever, especially with millennials.

I grew up with houseplants, as Mom grew plants in every south-facing window of our Lisbon, N.D., home. And her mother had similar sunny windows filled with houseplants at their farm between Alice and Fingal, N.D. The plants weren’t exotic; mostly staples like geranium, coleus, ivy, snake plant and kinds that could be passed along by cuttings referred to as “slips.”

I caught the houseplant bug early on, and have enjoyed the fever ever since.

Interest in houseplants has proven cyclical. Indoor plants can trace their beginnings to Ancient China and Babylon, but it wasn’t until the 1800s, with the development of central heat in homes, that houseplants became easy to grow, and interest thrived in Victorian times.

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Houseplants with colorful foliage such as this bromeliad are trending among millennial plant enthusiasts. David Samson / The Forum
Houseplants with colorful foliage such as this bromeliad are trending among millennial plant enthusiasts. David Samson / The Forum

Activity ebbed and flowed in the following decades, and revived strongly with the hippie movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s, when houseplants were in high demand to fill the macramé plant hangers that were suspended from most living room ceilings. Bottle cutting became fashionable, and homemade glass terrariums created plant demand.

Now comes another surge in houseplant activity, with an intensity that hasn’t been seen in a generation or two, and millennials are to thank. They’ve been blamed for dooming all sorts of things, like beer and golf, but they’re credited with reviving a slagging U.S. houseplant market that has surged 50% in the last three years to over $1.7 billion annually, according to the National Gardening Association.

Why the houseplant fever? I’m a generation or so beyond millennial, so I’m depending on what’s being said by others who have assessed the situation.

It’s well-known that millennials are delaying major milestones like marriage, buying a home and having children, largely for financial reasons, and home prices keep millennials renting. Because connections with other living things seems a natural human instinct, millennials seem to be turning to plants for part of that connection.

Plants usually require less immediate attention than other living things, such as pets. In fact, plants are becoming substitutes, at least temporarily, for both pets and kids. Houseplants don’t die or soil the rug if you’re gone for several days.

Renters don’t have to worry about their landlord’s pet policies, and having indoor plants is usually a non-issue.

But there’s a greater force driving the current craze. Millennials’ desire for houseplants has collided with their engrossment in social media. Plant photos and care tips are everywhere, especially Instagram and Facebook. Never has a generation had such a wealth of information at their fingertips.

New friends are made, and new terms coined, like “plant parent” and “plant coach.” Social media has introduced houseplants to an entire generation, and they’re sharing what they learn.

ARCHIVE: Read more of Don Kinzler's Growing Together columns

Although social media creates the spark and fans the flames, millennials are taking it a step further and seeking in-person plant gatherings, cutting swaps and houseplant seminars. Like-minded plant enthusiasts feel they have a support community, sharing knowledge and experiences.

Houseplants also mesh well with the health philosophies of the millennial group, which is nicknamed the “wellness generation.” They value the physical and mental health benefits that plants provide.

What types of houseplants are trending with millennials? For their plant purchases, millennials would rather visit locally owned garden centers than national chains. Houseplants with colorful foliage are popular, as are succulents with unique shapes and textures.

Rare, collector-type houseplants like this variegated monstera have piqued the interest of millennials. David Samson / The Forum
Rare, collector-type houseplants like this variegated monstera have piqued the interest of millennials. David Samson / The Forum

Rare, collector-type houseplant varieties are becoming sought after, often fetching premium prices. Such plants are displayed and enjoyed as one might splurge on a higher-priced piece of art.

How long will the current houseplant popularity cycle last? Time will tell, but speaking from personal experience, once the bug bites, you’re bitten.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at kinzlerd@casscountynd.gov or call 701-241-5707.