Green wave in the Flower City
Local houseplant enthusiasts find comfort in collecting and community
Collecting houseplants has become more than a hobby—it’s now considered a lifestyle. Rochester’s notoriously long and gray winters combined with quarantine guidelines have caused a boom in houseplant popularity over the past year. Unlike baking bread and whipped instant coffee, collecting indoor plants has created a community of like-minded Rochestarians who are committed to the hobby long term.
The community that has grown around houseplants in Rochester existed far before the pandemic boom and is saturated with millennials. Shelby Beyler, known locally as a plant educator and caretaker with her business the Botanist, reflects on the start of her business in 2018:
“When I started the Botanist, the goal was to bring my love of botanicals creating an energetic zest in others for houseplant care and knowledge to our community. It was greatly lacking at that time. There was no connection between people for the sake of nurturing plant life. I felt if I wanted to connect with like-minded people in my community rather than the internet, I needed to begin this process in Rochester. Since starting meetings, classes, and events, people have come in droves! It’s been mind blowing the amount of people that have gathered around this hobby. Since then, there have been multiple clubs, Facebook pages, and now plant stores popping up left and right! It’s been such a joy to watch the evolution of this industry in our small city.”
Watching the community pop up in Rochester over the past few years I’ve begun to see a trend forming: the plant collecting groups and clubs were made up of a surprising number of young adults between the ages twenty-three and thirty-five. When I, biased from years of working with plants and flowers, thought of people who were interested in plants a decade ago I would probably name older women who had a passion for gardening. However, these millennials are seeking out more than just houseplants; they are interested in educating themselves about how to better their plant husbandry. Between the Rochester-based plant share Facebook groups and the multiple houseplant clubs popping up, it’s clear that these young adults are committed to educating themselves about their hobby and not just frivolously filling their homes with the color green.
Catt Hsu, local business owner and steward of probiotics at Happy Gut Sanctuary, is one of the most passionate plant people I’ve ever met. She hasn’t monetized her green thumb by building a business around houseplants but is extremely active in all of the local plant-related groups.
“The plant community is well known for the love of sharing. We’re teaching each other about pest control and prevention, potting substrates, helping each other find the right grow light, troubleshooting struggling plants, and more. We are helping each other grow, and I absolutely love that. Not only that, but we also spotlight local and small nurseries. That’s so important to support our own community.”
The local nurseries and plant stores have noticed this booming interest in indoor plants as well. The Plant Share Rochester page on Facebook is a hive mind of plant collectors constantly posting about what they have seen at the different local greenhouses, even figuring their restock schedule so that they can shop from the best selection. I reached out to Bristol’s Garden Center in Victor, which is known for both its indoor and outdoor selection, to see if they have had to shift the business due to expanding interest in houseplants.
“We too are seeing that rare houseplants are in demand, and that has affected our stock. If our community is looking for high-end, hard-to-find houseplants, then we want to have them in our greenhouse. Just recently we posted a very rare plant on our social media, asking our customers to make the call. It’s a high price point to get some of these things in, but it turns out that they want it, and now we have a waiting list of people to call when the plants arrive. Being in touch with our customers is paramount so that we have the right plants for everyone,” says Rachel Banko of Bristol’s.
What’s the connection between millennials and the care and keeping of houseplants? There are a few theories. Achieving a picture-perfect Instagram lifestyle is more relevant than ever for people who have grown up in an Internet age. Houseplants have been used as a set dressing for interior design for decades, but it’s easier than ever to curate an online feed that surrounds the viewer in a plant-filled wonderland twenty-four–seven. I’ve found that the more people tend to educate themselves on the care and keeping of houseplants, the deeper they dive into wanting more rare and high-maintenance plants. The sudden demand for a pink princess philodendron or a variegated monstera has grown for online retailers who ship cuttings on a hope and a prayer. For collectors, all they can do is cross their fingers and pray that their plants arrive alive and in good shape.
Another, weightier suspicion as to why millennials are so invested in indoor plants has to do with their need to nurture in a time when the economy does not satiate our biological compulsion to grow up. Young people are getting married, buying houses, and having children later and later in life, and the grim outlook of the pandemic has only magnified how out of reach these goals are for most of us.
“I am no sociologist; however, I can say from my own experience that the political and economic climates in our country have forced millennials into a barrage of unfortunate circumstances and tough decision making. The uncertainties of the future have caused us to change our focus from traditional adulthood practices like starting families, purchasing homes, and committing to one career path. However, our biological desires to nurture have not been hindered. Houseplants are the perfect way to continue to nurture and stay grounded while still having to work multiple jobs, move from apartment to apartment, and know that if you accidentally kill (or neglect) a plant due to lack of resources, you won’t go to jail,” says Beyler.
The passion for plants has brought together a group of people looking for different things: something to collect, something to take care of, something nice to look at. Gathering plants is a low-risk, high-reward indulgence during the dark winter of Rochester and the even darker age of coronavirus. Less time and commitment than adopting a pet and more instant gratification than learning to make your own jam, collecting plants brings joy to those who need a bit of solace with little hazard. Yes, I’ve seen many collectors freak out online about spider mites or missing the latest restock at their favorite greenhouse, but the community built in Rochester around a mutual love and respect for plants has soothed the part of us that needs social interaction during this difficult time.
Not only are the collectors thriving, but the online community of Rochester plant people has opened doors for local plant businesses new and old. Stem Rochester, a new plant store specializing in rare and hard-to-find houseplants, recently opened its doors on Alexander and Park to bated breath from local plant enthusiasts. Surrounded by Rochester’s trendiest bars and restaurants, this plant store has blossomed due to the demand for fresh meat in the industry. The tried-and-true garden centers have also noticed a boon in their houseplant sales, and their time and experience in the industry has provided guidance to collectors new and old.
When asked how she feels about the indoor plant boom in Rochester, Beyler revels in the community it has brought to this area. “It’s been such a joy to watch the evolution of this industry in our small city.”
Any way that people can find solace these days is a blessing, and collecting houseplants has become a two-for-one deal. Not only can people find respite in their hobby, but they also have a community of plant fanatics in Rochester just waiting to watch them grow.