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Houseplant Therapy in the Era of COVID

Updated: Jul 22, 2021

Explore the positive effects of houseplant gardening on mental health and well-being.

Succulent plants potted in vintage tin cans from arial view.

Image Source: / Photographer: unknown

Have you noticed? Houseplants—particularly succulents—have been taking up more space in grocery stores, garden centers, and general merchandise retailers. In fact, in a poll conducted by Garden Center Magazine and reported in April 2021, sales of houseplants in the U.S. increased by 15 percent in 2020; during a pandemic, no less! Is there a correlation? This therapist believes there is, undoubtedly.

Human beings are hard-wired to care for other living things. Whether nurturing people, animal companions, or vegetable gardens, feel-good hormones such as serotonin and dopamine are released in the process. Thus, when COVID-19 prevented millions of people in the U.S. from nurturing family, friends, and neighbors, many got their needs met by redirecting caretaking urges to house plants. Folks who believed they were cursed with "a black thumb" began to stick their timid toes in the water with spider plants and philodendrons. Others began to accumulate mini succulents, give them witty names, photo-bomb Instagram, and create a nationwide phenomenon. "Why?", you might ask.

As reported by Affinity Health in January 2021, "it is a scientific fact that exposure to the natural world can improve mood, reduce stress, enhance cognitive skills, and promote overall well-being in people of all ages." This statement was in response to a 2015 randomized crossover study that was conducted in Japan to determine "how the interaction with indoor plants may reduce psychological and physiological stress by suppressing autonomic nervous system activity...”. The results showed research participants felt more happy and peaceful after engaging in the plant care tasks. Additionally, each subject's blood pressure had lowered considerably as a result of "suppression of sympathetic nervous system activity and diastolic blood pressure.

Check out 6 ways houseplants may enhance mental and physical health:

1. Reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression: Mycobacterium vaccae, a bacterium in plant soil, fosters the release of serotonin: reducing anxiety and lifting mood.

2. Increase work productivity and creativity: Studies have demonstrated more employee creativity, productivity, and job satisfaction in workplaces with interior plantscaping.

3. Boost air quality inside the house: Specific species of indoor plants have been shown to improve air quality by purifying the air and increasing humidity in the interior environment.

4. Improve recovery from illness: A 2002 review of research studies indicated surgery patients whose hospital rooms displayed indoor plants or views of nature requested less pain medication and were discharged sooner.

5. Improve memory and concentration: A University of Michigan study concluded that time spent immersed in nature can increase focus and memory function by up to 20 percent.

6. Nurturing houseplants can be therapeutic: For people living in inpatient hospitalization or senior care settings, horticulture therapy can help reduce some mental health symptoms and increase a sense of overall well-being.

* Please take caution to choose indoor plant varieties that are safe for your animal companions. Review the online information provided by the ASPCA:


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