plant parenthood

Originally shot and written for Washington Square News.

They’re easier than pets, a pop of nature in the big city or just plain pretty. Whatever the reason — and there are many — plants have become increasingly popular as part indoor aesthetic, part child-pet mix in recent years. Plant ladies are the new cat ladies, cry the Wall Street Journal and Refinery 29.

And sure, these NYU students might not live on their own just yet, but dorm living isn’t going to stop them from living their plant dreams. The plant bug bit Steinhardt sophomore Maria-Jose Soto in her first year at NYU — prior to coming to the city, she wasn’t all that interested.

“My grandpa was really big into plants, the family usually had a garden and it was super cute,” Soto said, “But I couldn’t take care of a plant to save my life.”

In her freshman year, she lived near the Union Square Greenmarket, and bought two succulents, because she figured she couldn’t kill a succulent. From there, it snowballed. Her roommate, CAS sophomore Michelle Xu, also picked up some succulents, and Soto was hooked by the aesthetic. She has four plants she calls her children now, but is saving up for a larger one she wants.

Xu also recently got into plants, finding herself invested after getting those succulents.

“I never thought I would be good at maintaining them, because I always killed them in high school,” Xu said, and continued, “I kept eventually getting more plants and I was surprised at how they’re all alive and growing.”

On the other hand, Gallatin junior Mercer Malakoff has always been a little obsessed with plants. Her great grandmother was a florist, and in Dallas, her family had always kept plants before she moved to New York City. She got plants here because she said it was nice to have greenery in her everyday life.

“The first thing I did, even before I moved into my freshman dorm, was I got two plants and moved them on my windowsill,” Malakoff said, continuing, “I cannot go into a store and not be like, I have to get a plant.”

Malakoff has noticed the rise in popularity of plants and plant parents for a while now. She says a few years after she started collecting plants she noticed cacti and plants on everything, from phone cases to posters. Then people would buy and kill the plants, because they didn’t know how to take care of them. Though she welcomes new plant caretakers with open arms, she has a small warning.

“I think it’s good that people are getting plants and having them in their homes, I just think it’s important to remember that they’re alive,” Malakoff said.


Some of Gallatin junior Mercer Malakoff’s succulents line her window at Broome Residence Hall. The googly eyes in the background come from Popup Florist, a flower and plant shop where Malakoff works.


When her plants grow too big, as some inevitably do, Malakoff will repot them. Although she sometimes gives them away, other times she keeps them. It’s one reason she’s accumulated so many plants. By her own estimation, there are about 25 to 27 plants in her dorm.


Five more of Malakoff’s plants soak up the sun on her windowsill.


Malakoff’s dorm isn’t filled with just plants — she has various plant-related decorations too. Malakoff says her mom bought her the cactus sheets, along with the cactus socks she was wearing (not pictured).


Malakoff, who concentrates in storytelling and multimedia at Gallatin, created a plant Instagram account (@stuckbehindaplant) to understand engagement and what media people consume. She posts pictures of her own plants and others that she finds cool. Malakoff has also found a community through Instagram called Plant Mamas of NYC, a group of about 20 people. “I’ll go to these plant swaps with these women and we’ll swap plants or we’ll talk about rare plants,” Malakoff said. “It’s really weird but it’s totally cool.”


One of Steinhardt sophomore Maria-Jose Soto’s plants sits on her table at University Hall. Soto has four plants total, and says that she got more attached to them as they began growing. “When you see life prospering inside your residence hall, it makes you feel happy,” Soto said. She names all of her plants: this particular neon plant is named Leon, because it rhymes. One of her others, a zz plant, is called Jay-zz, after the rapper. Soto’s two succulents are named Coco and Mario.


CAS sophomore Michelle Xu poses with her prayer plant, one of her six total, in her dorm room in Palladium Residence Hall.


Some of Xu’s plants, including a money tree in the background, on the windowsill in her room. Plants are easy to take care of, she says, especially when you’re a busy student.


LS sophomore Lila Jacobs, who is Xu’s roommate, holds her rubber tree named Rita. Jacobs has had houseplants since she was little, but moving to New York has made them especially important to her. “I live in New Hampshire, where I’m constantly surrounded by nature,” Jacobs said. “And then I moved here and I was like, there’s no nature anywhere, I need to make my own.”


Jacobs waters her plant, which she does every so often. “It’s nice to have something to take care of, to have something depending on you, because a lot of stuff isn’t depending on you when you’re just a student,” she said.