Around mid- October this year, Trader Joe’s sold little succulents in pumpkin shaped china pots. Naturally, I was enthralled by the cuteness and promptly bought one of the green ones with orange tips. By the checkout, the cashier asked me if I wanted it in the bag or out of the bag, and I answered out of the bag. She laughed and said, “You want to walk around showing everyone how beautiful it is, right?” I blushed and started laughing too, because she seemed to have read exactly what I was thinking. I have a thing for succulents. Every time I pass by an array of the colored cacti in grocery stores, nurseries, or farmer’s market stands, I can’t help but stop and buy one of these pretty plants. My roommates are always laughing at the never ending collection that gathers on my windowsill.
But it is not just me who has understood the beauty and greatness of succulents. They are everywhere now: clothing store displays, office desks, living rooms, even illustrated on greeting cards. This “succulent mania” has swept our millennial nation by storm and there is good reason for it too.
For those who aren’t properly educated, a succulent is a plant that derives from the cactus family, which stores water in its leaves to retain its moisture. The word “succulent” derives from the Latin root ‘sucus’ which refers to juice or sap—botanists call them “fat plants” for this reason.
Succulents have 57 plant families and 553 plant genera names and come in endless shades and colors ranging from deep purples to aquas to saturated oranges. They are relatively cheap, and require minimal watering, which appeals to the short patience and fast paced life that millennials surround themselves with. They can literally last weeks and even months without being watered. Out of the six succulents that I left in my dorm room over winter break, only two perished, and they were the oldest ones. Succulents win out for practicality and also appeal to millennials in more abstract ways. Many are symmetrical in appearance and display repeating shapes in a fixed manner. Psychologically, symmetry and order can bring tranquility and calmness to people with their stability. Today’s youths need it more than ever as they entrench themselves in a media crazed culture that leaves smartphones buzzing all day long with overwhelming amounts of notifications, grabbing their attention at every opportunity. These plants provide their owners with a little solace and joy from their busy lives on a daily basis. They are imaginative, and delight the artistic types with their eccentric hues that look alien and otherworldly, because why can’t plants be light blue, or turquoise, or pink? It is no wonder that today’s optimistic and confident—albeit sometimes anxiety-ridden—millennial is attracted to this chic cactus.
Although succulents in particular may only be experiencing their celebrity status now, trends in plants have existed long before these little cacti came about. Back in the early 19th century, Victorians went through pteridomania, or “fern madness.” Ferns adorned clothing and broaches, wallpaper, silverware and paper goods. The trend began with the invention of the Wardian case, which held plants alive in a glass contraption, safe from bad weather outside. Because of this invention, one botanist by the name of George Loddiges was able to keep his nursery fern plants alive through all seasons. But in order to make money, Loddiges had to convince people to buy his plants, so he started a rumor that people who collected ferns were smarter and lived longer. He got a famous botanist friend to publish those statements in his book and the plants caught fire. Fern hunting in forests became a favorite activity and caring for these ferns was seen as a healthy use of time for people in place of their negative preoccupations, gossip and novels.
Just as ferns created an escape for the Victorians from their other frivolous undertakings, succulents mimic a similar escape for today’s millennial generation and their obsessions with social media and technology. Perhaps there is even something in the nature of plants that inherently calms humans, with their smooth green color or simple curvatures. Additionally, the tremendous amount of types of species of succulents juxtaposes nicely with the broad range of races that humans on Earth possess. Just like people in the world, there are so many different unique combinations of appearances and personalities that exist. While some people and plants may exhibit strikingly similar similar traits to one another, each is a one-of-a-kind that can’t be replicated in its entirety. Succulents represent the plant utopia of beauty, intricacy, and symmetry.