Some people are quarantining with roommates, others with spouses and children. Many millennials, however, have quarantine partners who can't speak to them, cook for them or clean up after themselves. Their partners can't even move around all that much. These are their "plant babies," the fiercely loved photosynthetic companions of the youngest adult generation.
Scroll through any Instagram account dedicated to design and home decor and the ideal apartment quickly becomes apparent: a white, cozy space packed as tightly as possible with succulents, fiddle-leaf figs and ferns. While the rich and famous embrace extreme minimalism, as best exemplified by the bare expanse of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West's $20 million mansion, young plebeians gravitate instead toward the warmth and comfort of plants.
Given the lack of available information on plant ownership by age, it's impossible to quantifiably say that millennials buy more plants than their parents. All I have as my sources are years of seeing gardens and flowering windowsills on my Instagram feed, scrolling past botanical threads on my Twitter timeline and hearing my friends and acquaintances rave about their newest leafy additions.
This boom in plant sales among the forty and under age bracket unexpectedly parallels other significant events for these generations. Households headed by millennials make about $8,200 less than comparably educated households headed by boomers, a reflection of stagnant wages and skyrocketing student debt. The collapse of the housing bubble during the Great Recession has meant that 15% of millennials currently live with their parents, compared to 8% of boomers in 1982.
As a result of these insufficient salaries and insecure housing, millennials are marrying later and having fewer children. For millennials who are financially unable to raise a child but want to nurture something, plants are the ideal alternative. They're cheaper to raise and require less upkeep, yet they respond to attention and grow with the proper care.
Plants seem like an unlikely obsession for a generation that grew up in disproportionately urban environments and has been exposed to digital technology for a lifetime. However, as the planet heats up and politicians, mostly boomers, are frustratingly reticent in addressing the issue, younger generations have been confronted with the impermanence of natural life. As forests are razed to make way for new strip malls and neighborhoods change from green to gray and brown, a lush houseplant or two can bring some much needed freshness and oxygen to an urban home.
The First Agricultural Revolution was over 10,000 years ago, so in no way is having plants at home a radical concept. This new fixation on plants as companions, however, shows that plants today hold more than the aesthetic and utilitarian value they held for our ancestors. Younger generations are desperate to maintain any kind of stable connection to nature within a world of financial and climatic uncertainty. Plants may not be able to hold a conversation or share a meal, but they can offer comfort to people who need it most.
Cécile Girard is a 20-year-old psychology sophomore from Lake Charles, Louisiana.