I grew up on a hill, constantly surrounded by jungle-like vegetation and was appalled by the lack of greenery in Rochester – particularly during winter. So, I developed a borderline obsession with growing plants of my own. If nothing looked alive outside, I’d make the inside teem with life. My dorm was henceforth referred to as “the Greenhouse” by everyone on my floor, and despite the occasional side-eye, I loved it.
When quarantine hit, it seemed lots of college kids who previously couldn’t understand my love of plants were suddenly cultivating plants of their own. They’d post their new plant on social media and show off every new leaf it sprouted. It’s now been a while since I’ve seen any updates on their plant journeys, and since college students aren’t known to be the most responsible group, I began to wonder… what happened to those previously prized pandemic plants? Armed with a burning curiosity and my personal meeting ID, I set off to find out where all those poor plants are now.
Thanks to the magic of Zoom, I was able to interview Lowestoft-born James Crowther in England. At 22, James had never had a plant for long before killing it off. During lockdown, as his father ate an avocado, James was struck with the realisation that “it would be really cool to have a big avocado tree and eventually lots of avocados.”
So he germinated this seed in a fish tank until the avocado seedling, which he named Señor Avokadoo, sprouted. “I didn't expect this emotional connection,” he divulged. “I’ve become really attached to him.”
His joy was short-lived.
“Avocado trees are meant to be kept warm or inside during cold weather,” James informed me. “Earlier this year, I forgot about the existence of Señor Avokadoo and it snowed. On the last day of the snow being there, I remembered his existence and I felt really bad because I completely forgot to give him a little blanket.”
“I was very upset. Nearly cried,” he said. “I’ll never forgive myself.”
Luckily, Señor Avokadoo has since recovered, but James suffered another emotional blow soon after. It turns out Señor Avokadoo is a male tree and will never produce avocados. James won’t quit on him, though. “It’s almost like I’ve raised him from a baby and he’s my child.” James is determined to be a more responsible plant parent now, and will ensure Señor Avokadoo is always well-blanketed as he continues to grow.
Not all inexperienced new plant owners were this lucky after they screwed up, though.
21-year-old Shannon Murty from Buffalo, NY is currently caring for a succulent by the name of Janthony II.
I asked her why she’d chosen to name him “the Second.”
“He’s Janthony II because Janthony I died.”
Now I was curious what exactly had happened to Janthony I.
“It was just downhill since I first got him. It was a very slow death until he lost all his leaves and shrivelled up.”
It turns out Shannon had condemned Janthony I to a tiny pot that dehydrated him to death. She insists, though, that Janthony II is carrying on Janthony I’s legacy.
We’ll hope his fate is less tragic.
Bradley Martin, 21, from Fulton, was feeling sad during quarantine, so in an effort “to feel something more out of life,” he bought a bonsai kit off Amazon.
“There’s the entertainment aspect of very slowly watching it grow and high-fiving the branch when it grows a new leaf!”
I was fairly certain young plants didn’t appreciate high-fives, and unfortunately, Bradley confirmed my belief.
“He fell over and died,” Bradley admitted.
But Bradley is determined not to let this failure discourage him from future bonsai-growing.
“One day I shall try again,” he declared. “If I tried enough times, eventually I might be able to do it. That might cause a whole bunch of death in my wake to learn but it’s okay.”
Since his first son’s death, Bradley has proclaimed himself a plant-father, and while telling me about his two new sons, Barry the Bonsai and Cactus the Cactus, I asked after the potted succulent he’d had sitting behind him this whole time.
“I completely forgot about it!” was his response.
I wish all his future plant sons luck.
19-year-old Christin Lee from Trinidad couldn’t decide between a pandemic pet or a pandemic plant — so she got both. She’d had both James Bonsai, a 6-year-old Chinese Elm, and her puppy Rafiki for about 3 months before The Incident.
James and Rafiki had shared everything: the same sitting area, Christin’s love and even the same water. That’s right. Whenever Christin remembered, she would pour water from Rafiki’s water-bowl into James’ pot.
One day, Christin says, she chained Rafiki up, and two minutes later, heard the chain rattling, followed by a loud thud. On investigating, she found James Bonsai on the floor, snapped in half, and Rafiki’s dirty paws betraying the innocence in his eyes. Distressed, Christin ran to James, scooping up as much dirt as she could. She then proceeded to “basically perform surgery on James, suturing him back together with twine and tape.”
Unfortunately, the top half of James Bonsai now lives in a shot glass filled with water while his bottom half stands headless in his original pot.
Rafiki, Christin reports, has shown no remorse.
20-year-old New Jersey resident Julia Granato hasn’t a single plant in sight in her room. That’s probably a good thing considering she exploded her last one.
Julia told me she found it “hard being indoors most of the time” and that she liked “the idea of plants,” so, she got herself a pretty big coral cactus.
“I genuinely thought it was doing fine, because it looked fine, from the outside, until it burst and then you could tell from the inside it was goo.”
When asked about her care routine, Julia divulged that she had practically been drowning the unnamed cactus in water multiple times a week.
“I woke up one day and it was everywhere. It was as if it had exploded on my shelf. I felt it and it was soggy and looked like it was rotting. It literally looked like it had been shot with a pistol. It was traumatising.”
Julia has since realised plants are not the answer to her quarantine blues and will be steering clear of cacti from now on — much to their relief, I’m sure.
Finally, 21-year-old self-proclaimed plant-mom, Vanessa Acevedo, actually did have plants before the pandemic, but decided to add to her collection of ivy, dumb cane, succulents, pothos, aloe, a swiss-cheese plant, a peacock fern and her cacti, Sunny and Beatrice. Vanessa’s viney pothos could be seen hanging down her wall, trailing across her bright, sunny window. She told me she’s now “obsessed with the cottagecore aesthetic” and “wants it to look like there’s a plant monster growing under [her] house and overtaking it and drowning [her], but it’s not; [they’re] best friends.”
Unfortunately, Vanessa got her wish with her newest addition, lovingly dubbed “The Evil One.”
Vanessa described The Evil One as “tiny, gorgeous, dainty” and “baby pink with polka-dots” when she first got it from Walmart at the beginning of lockdown. As it grew, its leaves turned “deep red and scary-looking.” The Evil One grew upwards, to a startling 3 feet, rather than bushing out as it was supposed to. She tried trimming to contain it, but it would not be contained. It creeped her out so much, she always “forgot” to water it, yet it never died.
Deciding that the plant now gave her “creepy evil vibes,” she put it outside where it was cold, got barely any sunlight and no water at all, yet it still wouldn't die.
One day, her cousin was weed-whacking and “completely chopped its head off.” She thought this was the end; she would finally rid herself of this possessed plant, but it kept growing up tall.
“I kinda want to burn it or something,” she remarked. “It’s evil.”
So, it would seem the answer to this reporter’s question is simple: most of those previously flaunted pandemic plants are in the composting pile now. But it may be that the plant killers are the fortunate ones compared to green-thumbed Vanessa, whose pandemic plant may someday kill her…