Earlier this month, Coral Barreto-Costa bought herself a houseplant. The Portland, Oregon, resident had spent weeks searching her local nurseries for the right kind of pothos, a low-maintenance, glossy vine species that thrives almost anywhere. When she finally found a genus with darker leaves, inspiration struck. The 33-year-old brought the plant home, put it in a nice pot, snapped a photo, and immediately made it an Instagram account. “Introducing Polly Pothos,” her first post’s caption read. She topped the announcement off with a heart-eyes emoji and five plant-related hashtags.
“It mostly started as a joke,” Barreto-Costa told me. “And suddenly people were liking my pictures — people I’d never met — and I started following the hashtag trail. It made me feel like there were other plant people in the world.”
Barreto-Costa had unwittingly tapped into Plantstagram — a popular hashtag on Instagram and, lately, an online movement. If you hadn’t yet heard, houseplants are newly popular among millennials. The National Gardening Survey counted 6 million Americans who took up plant-related hobbies in 2015 — 5 million of whom landed between the ages of 18 and 34. The theories behind the sudden craze has everything to do with millennial lifestyle clichés: plants add color to their sad, small apartments; they’re a noncommittal version of a kid that you can’t get in trouble for neglecting; and, most importantly, they make for nice photo subjects.
The social media element is particularly helpful in tracking the craze. Photogenic monsteras, pothos, and aroids have driven the growth of an active hobbyist community that swaps care tips and debates genus types with equal fervor. The global reach of Instagram’s platform has made it easier than ever for collectors, interior designers, and hipsters from France to Florida to unite over their love for one simple thing: pretty green things. And as is the case with every online community of hobbyists, Plantstagram has formed its own set of influencers, trends, rituals, unlikely internet friendships, and controversies.
As co-owners and posters of the popular Instagram account @houseplantclub, Morgan Doane and Erin Harding have watched the many facets of the Planstagram community unfurl in real time. The two bonded over their love of plants on the social network more than a year ago and began texting, talking on the phone, and sending each other cuts of their rare houseplants back and forth between their home states of Florida and Oregon. Eventually they joined forces to create a curated feed of Instagram’s most aesthetically pleasing plant porn that allows followers to submit photos via the hashtag #houseplantclub. As they approach the one-year anniversary of the account, they have begun selling a signature Houseplant Club tote and collected over 160,000 followers, joining the ranks of a handful of foliage tastemakers who help set trends and boost less visible accounts.
“There are definitely categories of plant lovers,” Harding told me. “Some people might not know a thing about plants, but they know it looks good next to their shibori tie-dyed blanket. And on the other side of the spectrum there are people who are really into taxonomy. But mostly I think that when people see the beauty of plants, they say: ‘Oh I need that in my home.’”
On the interior-design end, accounts like Justina Blakeney’s @thejungalow have pushed bohemian greenery-soaked tablescapes into the spotlight. Her feed, which has over 736,000 followers, can only be described as #vanlife-adjacent. It features snapshots of vintage furniture, colorful tapestries, crystal collections, and plenty of thriving tropical wildlife. As Blakeney has become a darling of the home-interior set, her designs have made their way from the covers of Sunset to the most hyped bars of Brooklyn. Offshoots of her signature aesthetic live under the hashtags like #urbanjungle, and show up on a handful of Scandinavian design accounts featuring minimalist tropical snapshots from within people’s apartments.
Whether the plants in these photos exist as accents to a cozy living room or as child surrogates for single millennials, they have begun to perpetuate trends within the buyer community. “Aroids, for instance, are really fashionable right now,” says Melanie Jaurdon, a 36-year-old resident of Paris who does not have a Facebook account, but runs an Instagram feed dedicated to plants. “They are big plants, they have these huge leaves with lots of textures, they’re velvety and bright. So I guess they are really good-looking plants.” Some aroid plants have become such beloved mascots of the community that they’ve earned their own hashtags, like #monsteramonday. (Other weekly hashtags include #taxonomytuesday, #pholodendronfriday, and #sansevieriasunday.) Another favorite at the moment is Tradescantia tricolor — a plant whose hue can best be described as “millennial pink.”
Occasionally, novices who are eager to celebrate their plant’s attractiveness can annoy more seasoned taxonomy experts. As monstera obliquas have become more in-demand, users have begun to misidentify them in posts. According to Doane, a small group of experts have taken it upon themselves to vehemently correct this common error.
“There are factions who will all jump on people if they call a plant the wrong thing,” she said. “And just get really shouty. So there’s an insider joke about that one particular plant. If somebody’s calling it the wrong thing, within 10 minutes the hounds are going to come and say: ‘No, you gotta call it this!’”
For the most part, however, Doane and Harding describe the Planstagram community as a kind of social media oasis. There, collectors can offer advice, form friendships, and celebrate the life and death of their plants as if they were pets — or even people. Blogs like HousePlantJournal discuss plant care in the same tone of a mommy blog. (Sample headline: “Plant Parenthood: Setting Expectations.”) Some will film time-lapse videos of their fauna to show their evolution throughout the day. The account @fictitiousarchive is known for artistically arranging dead plant leaves and posting photos under the hashtag #culledleaves. The most dedicated users employ Instagram’s Stories feature to check in on their plants twice a day, narrating new developments and dramas in their lives.
“With plants, many things can happen,” Jaurdon said. “Like pests, or a new leaf. People take all these shots of their new leaves unfurling and say: ‘Let’s watch it unfurl.’ These are small things that you could only see if you look at your plant quite often and quite carefully, but there is something about appreciation in small things.”
In the same way that health food addicts and hippies exchange yeast-bacteria scobys to make kombucha, Instagram’s plant lovers swap plant cuttings in the name of #proliferation. Jaurdon, for instance, once met a stranger in a coffee shop to give her a piece of her caladium, and both Harding and Doane have formed friendships with users over the same practice. The two plan to meet in person for the first time in St. Louis this year, to check out a botanical garden that has one of the biggest collections of aroids in the country.
“It’s always a little awkward at first because you have to refer to yourself as an @ name instead of your real name,” Doane said. “But then it ends up being fine.”
Though Barreto-Costa has yet to get that intimate with her fellow plant lovers, it’s this very sense of community that has motivated her to keep posting.
“There’s a weird sense of responsibility,” she said. “Now I have an account, I have to make it worthwhile.”