Want the next hot houseplant? Better get to the garden center fast

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

        

Pilea peperomioides is the next contender for the hip houseplant of the moment. Will it steal the crown from the fiddle leaf ficus?

Spring is my houseplant-buying season.

Buying houseplants is my way of striking back after being made the brunt of a particularly mean, ugly joke by Chicago weather.

Quick confession: Spring is also my houseplant-buying season because I routinely kill houseplants in the winter (and at other times, but mostly in winter.) Whatever my reasons, come early spring, youíll find me cruising the aisles of the garden center and scrolling Instagram, looking for green. And Iím not alone.

In fact, houseplants have become so trendy in the photo-centric universe of social media that plant stores, always on high alert this time of year to meet demand on their biggest day of the year, Motherís Day, are racing to stay ahead of the curve.

"Weíll start to get requests for one kind of plant," says Chicago- and Brooklyn-based houseplant guru Tara Heibel, "and itíll come on like wildfire. Weíll be wondering what is going on, and itís all because the plant has been on Instagram, and they make for a lovely photo shoot."

Heibel and her staff at Sprout Home have learned to map the curve: "Weíll see the magazines are catching on to it, and now itís a craze. Then we are having trouble getting it from our growers." Not that she minds. "If anythingís going to be trendy, Iím glad itís plants. It has been a long time coming."

Not since the 1970s have houseplants been such a sought-after part of interior design. As surely as your motherís macrame and hippy vibes crept back into the decorating zeitgeist, her dangling, sprawling houseplants followed. But in the second coming of the plant craze, not all plants are created equal. Those that can take a photo, that get hundreds of likes, tend to take over.

"Last year," says Heibel, "was the year of the fiddle leaf ficus." The ficus showed up so often in interior design shots that it got a little overgrown. Trend verging into clichť territory. Writers on the interiors blog apartmenttherapy.com debated about which plant would launch the next craze, alternately championing the monstera or the rubber plant as the new fiddle leaf. Neither, says Heibel. Her pick for the next "it" houseplant is Pilea peperomioides, sometimes called Chinese money plant.

Meanwhile, another trend was emerging ó the houseplant jungle or, simply, more plants, everywhere. Instagram accounts, such as @hiltoncarter (the account of Baltimore filmmaker Hilton Carter), documented rooms overrun with green. In Carterís photos, plants (including fiddle leaf ficus, monstera and pilea) spill from walls, crowd hallways, cluster around furniture. On her Instagram account and website, Winnipeg, Ontario, interior designer Cara Anderson enthusiastically espouses the virtues of plants as decoration and shows off a robust collection of well-cared-for green friends.

Like most internet-driven movements, thereís a layer of intensely superficial appeal to it all. Decorating with plants feels a little bit like organizing your books by color, except that it has the implied virtue of good health (plants provide oxygen and stress relief!) and eco-consciousness to sanctify it. Iím deeply skeptical about the color-coded books thing, but Iím guilty of trying to get plants to tough it out in places like bookcases, of dropping them where my eye says something green should go and letting God sort out the details.

And those seductive social media photos have tempted me, more than once, to go looking for a particular plant. "There have been numerous occasions where someone comes in with a picture," says Heibel, "and says ĎI want this.í "

She doesnít judge. But she and her staff do remind customers that plants are, um, alive. "We start explaining what the plant needs," she says, "and they donít understand because thatís not what the picture dictates." This problem, fortunately, has an easy solution.

"We work really hard to educate people, because we do have a lot of new plant parents coming in because of social media," Heibel says. If thereís a particular plant youíre dying to call your own, youíll need to place it where it can get the light it needs. And if thereís a particular spot you want to fill, youíll need to match the plant to the atmosphere of that spot. Canít wait to shoot your #plantshelfie? "There are some plants that will tolerate (living on a bookshelf) and others that will not," says Heibel. "We have to reinforce the education for some first-time plant owners. Because they are obsessed over that graphic, that social media frenzy, and they need to understand that it is a living thing and that it has certain specific requirements."

Lately, Heibel has been pointing people toward a couple of her favorites for Chicago apartments: hoya plants (theyíve already made social media inroads because some of them sport heart-shaped leaves and others have flowers that look as if theyíre from outer space) and angel-wing begonias ("the colors on their leaves are just spectacular," she says). Both plants can tolerate a little less light, a standard problem for apartment dwellers, and both like to dry out between waterings.

"In an urban environment," she says, "I feel like you should go for something a little less fussy. I have hoyas I have abused for years, and they bloom for me." In the end, whatever your urban jungle fantasies, the right match of place, person and plant is the goal.

"Thatís what we want," says Heibel, "happy plant, happy plant parent."