Plant lovers have long gotten together to trade seeds and growing advice, and the latest generation is following suit with modern plant swaps.
The swaps (sometimes called plant exchanges) for amateur horticulturalists are popping up in homes, parking lots, trendy gardening stores and online. They're about exchanging advice and meeting like-minded people, says 35-year-old Ana Carlson, who has attended several plant swaps in New York City and Los Angeles, where she lives.
"People just talk, and it is fun," she said. "I don't go looking for plants because I have more than enough."
Carlson, who owns an online "plant decor" shop, Sill Appeal, and has nearly 200 houseplants, initially learned about the swaps through social media a few years ago, when plants became a hobby.
"They're very social events," she said. "Every time I go, I meet people."
While plant swaps can include outdoor varieties, many people trade houseplants, which are back in style thanks in part to social media. Instagram has been flooded with "Plantstagrammers" or "plant influencers," who post daily photos of houseplants under a variety of hashtags, including #plantcommunity (559,000 posts) and #houseplantlove (118,000 posts). On Pinterest, plant devotees display a plethora of photos, blog posts and articles chronicling unusual, colorful and pet-friendly houseplants.
"Right now, the plant world is kind of insane," says Sue Eggen, the creative director at Urban Jungle, a plant shop in Philadelphia. "It's like the 1970s all over again - the coolest thing millennials can do is care for plants."
Last month, Eggen and the Urban Jungle team organized a plant swap for some 50 customers who purchased tickets. There were snacks and beverages, and attendees listened to a live recording of Bloom and Grow radio, a podcast from Broadway actress Maria Failla that's all about houseplants.
Some plant lovers come to swaps for expensive and rare finds. A full-size pink princess philodendron or a variegated monstera, two fashionable plants not readily found in gardening stores, can cost upward of $150 retail. At a plant swap, however, someone might bring in a cutting that can be propagated.
"People blew me away with what they brought in," Eggen said.
Bala Rathinasabapathi, a professor in the horticultural sciences department at University of Florida, says the produce found in grocery stores today is a result of ancient plant swaps.
"Humans domesticated plants about 10,000 years ago, and plant exchanges followed shortly after," Rathinasabapathi said. "People used plants like currency."
Today, however, swaps are mostly characteristic of urban areas, he said.
Philadelphia resident Christina Tessaro, 37, learned of a local plant exchange group on Facebook with more than 7,000 members. She originally joined the group to learn more about plants after she took a job at the Philadelphia Horticultural Society. Soon, houseplants became a hobby.
A couple members of the group have organized plant pop-up nights throughout Philadelphia for people to meet in person and socialize.
"I got to meet a few people I recognized online," Tessaro said. "It's been really nice to put a face to a name."
Online swaps have also expanded social circles for long-time plant lovers.
"We started out swapping plants as teens," said Stan Miklis, 62, of Dallas, who studied horticulture in high school in Texas. He said he attended plant parties as a teen and young man.
Now, as a farmer, he learns of new plant swaps via the Internet.
"My whole life is and has always been plants," Miklis said. "All my friends are from the plant circle."
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