The Greenthumb Guide

Want something to keep you accountable for your good daily habits? Perhaps getting a plant might be the way!

And we’re off! 2024 is well underway and whether you’re clinging along ambitiously to your new year’s resolutions or like me, you’ve fallen back on old habits, it’s never too late to regroup, re-centre and restart with something new! And let’s make this one achievable. One you couldn’t give up if you tried. Habits and routine are innate principles that all organisms understand. For example, we hear a lot about circadian rhythms, routine of rest and internal body clocks in the human or more broadly, the animal kingdom, but across the 5 kingdoms of life; plant, animal, protist, fungi and monera, circadian rhythms are everywhere to be found. All that is to say that if you want something to keep you accountable for your good daily or weekly habits, perhaps getting a plant might be the way. 

In many regards, becoming a plant parent is only as hard as you want it to be. The type of plant you decide to adopt can make or break your parental commitment. But how do you know which to get? Lucky for you, you’ve come to exactly the right place!

The perfect plants for low commitment plant parents

We can’t exude maximal effort over every area of our life, so the ideal scenario in which to take care of plants requires absolute minimal effort. When you’re picking your poison (hopefully not literally), you want a plant that doesn’t need watering often. Most indoor plants that are available to buy suit this very requirement. Often plants that need frequent watering are the really leafy plants that grow fruits or flowers (think tomato plant). Also it tends to be the case that the bigger the plant, the more it may need watering. Plants that need next to no watering would be Bunny ear cacti, Cylindrical snake plants, ZZ raven plants, the African milk trees and Burro’s tail plants. It is recommended that you water them essentially whenever the top few inches deep (2 or 3) feel dry. For each plant that looks different, but for drought-tolerant plants like those listed above, it could be between 2-3 weeks! Just remember that with most cacti you want to water from the bottom and not from the top (i.e. pop some water in your plant pot and then add the plastic plant pot with your caucus in it back in). Plants that require a bit more attention would be the ever popular Devil’s Ivy, which needs frequent hydrating top-ups in spring and summer when in its actively growing season. Having said this, a major advantage of a Devil’s ivy over one such as Burro’s tail, is its affinity for and ability to survive in darker environments. Whether that be in the winter months or in a student house that’s built as if the Window tax of the 1700s hasn’t been overturned yet, Devil’s Ivy won’t let you down. Other great plants for areas with dim light are the Swiss Cheese plant, the Mantara Silver Band and the Pink Princess Philodendron. But why is it that these plants are apt for these darker conditions? In this case, a biological response to light known as negative phototropism is what governs this trait. In a forest or jungle these plant’s lives begin on the rainforest floor, shaded under a thick canopy of tree leaves and other enormously big plants. These types of plants need something strong to latch onto, something to wrap around, something to hold onto for dear life. In our urban communities, often that’s a house or an electricity pole. But in the forest – it’s a tree. Negative phototropism accounts for their movement towards dark objects such as trees which they are reliant on to obtain the light necessary for growth and flowering.

Of course, if you want to be a more productive plant parent you could always try growing your own herbs or vegetables indoors! Among the easiest to grow is mint or basil which are sure to spice up your mighty mojitos and pesto pasta. Arguably one of the easiest ways to live a more sustainable life is to move towards self sufficiency with plants. With herbs and small vegetable plants such as tomatoes or spinach, you can avoid the incessant packaging and inevitable waste! The future of sustainability is intricately wound with plant biology like vines around a tree.  

In 2018, Science published an article on the potential role of genetically modified plants as indoor biosensors. These plants could detect certain indoor microbiomic changes, such as fungal VOCs (volatile organic compounds) which are characteristic of mould growth that can worsen respiratory and overall health. The authors even imagine the potential of this technology to identify viruses or radon gas. Of course this is only one isolated paper and more research into the practicality, logistics and mere possibility of these is evitable, but nonetheless it is an interesting thought and certainly from a public health perspective, an appealing scenario to imagine. There is no doubt that we are, and have always been, more reliant on plant life than we can ever fully begin to understand. Embracing, appreciating and partaking in such staggering symbiosis is at least a conscious effort on our part to realise that very fact.