In case you haven’t noticed, house plants are having a major moment right now.

They’ve been trending as elements of interior design for years, but thanks to stay-at-home orders, more people are adopting and loving plant babies in 2020 than ever before. Plants give life to a room and for some, meaning to life. Just a few years ago you might be hard-pressed to find any plants in the windows of your local distillery, tavern, bottle shop, or frat house – but not today. This begs the question – what’s up with all the plants?

Mix of house plants

Mix of house plants

Photo by Vadim Kaipov

A brief history of indoor plants

We humans have been domesticating wild plants since the dawn of civilization. In fact, it’s thanks to the domestication of wheat that we even have a civilization at all. Records show that the ancient Chinese, Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians all brought plants indoors as luxury items. Potted plants were a status symbol back then; only the filthy rich could afford them.

Fast forward a few thousand years and house plants are finally making their way into middle-class Victorian homes. Heating systems, big sunny windows, and access to horticultural literature made this possible. The most popular indoor plants of this time are still around today: Cast Iron Plants, English Ivy, Parlor Palms, and Sword Ferns.

The modern relationship we have with indoor plants began in the mid-20th century. Some say our renewed interest in house plants was due to the rise in housewives going to work – women decorated those sparse office spaces up with potted plants, many of which ultimately ended up in employee’s homes. Some believe it was the science of the time that brought potted plants into our homes; biologists were breeding plants to grow faster, tolerate lower light, and cost less than ever before. Still, others argue that it was simply the hippy movement, on par with recycling and bare feet.

Whatever the reason, it seems indoor plants are here to stay. They are more popular now than ever before. Lucky for us, the benefits of being around all this green go well beyond its aesthetic value.

Why we Love Plants

Psychologists have studied the relationship people have with house plants for decades. Studies show that being around leafy green plants has many positive effects, including:

  • Elevated mood
  • Reduced stress and anxiety
  • Enhanced creative thinking

Basically, whether or not we even pay attention to plants around us, our brains still have a positive reaction in their presence. This is especially true if we have Active Interaction with plants – touching them and caring for them. Active Interaction has shown to have even more dramatic effects on our mood. This could be the reason why we all turned to care for houseplants when everything else went crazy this year. Interacting with plants is extremely calming, and gives us feelings of satisfaction, accomplishment, and pride.

Of course, more plants don’t always lead to more happiness. Too many plants to take care of can be overwhelming! Too much green in an office or bar is chaotic for some people. It’s important to have a thoughtful design for indoor plants, providing them with enough light and space to grow while they beautify the room.

Plant filled restaurant

Plant filled restaurant

Photo by Louis Hansel @ShotsOfLouis

Plants at the Bar

Some bars, like Death and Company in New York City and the Bluebird Cocktail Room in Baltimore have found that perfect, elegant balance that allows plants to have their best effect on people.

The psychological effects that plants have on us are beneficial to bar staff and guests alike. With better moods all around, service is guaranteed to be smoother. Plants put off an air of luxury, which lets people know (usually subconsciously) that they’re in for a treat – and they probably will be because the bartender will be more calm and creative while working in the presence of live plants.

Potted herbs like mint a sage provide the bartender with the freshest flavors possible, and their fragrance will fill the air when they’re touched, adding to the overall experience. This also gives the bartender a moment of that Active Interaction we talked about earlier.

We wouldn’t even have the bar without plants. Alcohol comes from plants. As soon as we started cultivating wheat, we immediately fermented it into beer. Grapes give us wine and brandy. Juniper bushes flavor our gin and tequila is made from the agave plant. Every herb, spice, and fruit we use to make drinks are plants. Having live plants behind at the bar reminds us of that connection to the earth’s resources.

When it comes down to it, plants are just plain cool. They make us happy and they look pretty. They purify our air and make oxygen for us. They give us life, literally and hyperbolically, and we love them for it. So, next time you’re sipping a drink, whether at your house or at your favorite bar, raise a glass to the nearest plant you see. Cheers!