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Bringing the Outdoors In

Updated: Feb 28, 2021

After a day of Zoom lectures, studying, and worrying about whether I’ve left the work for one of my classes on the back burner for too long, I can find myself so worn out that all I can think of is pulling myself away from my desk and trudging five feet to bed. Packing up my things, I gaze sleepily at the mug full of markers, water bottle, sticky notes, and finally, a tiny succulent gifted to me by a friend. At once I’m driven to stop what I’m doing to check its soil. Bone dry? I spring to my feet and rush to gently pour some water over the plant’s center. Mesmerized, I watch droplets form and slowly seep away to the soil.

Houseplants have numerous psychological and physiological benefits. These plants purify the air by removing pollutants and toxins from the atmosphere. As many associate nature and the color green with a calm feeling, their presence is known to have a soothing effect. Directly interacting with plants through smell or touch often relieves stress and anxiety.

It may seem like taking care of a plant at this point in your life just isn’t realistic. That feeling may stem from a lack of space, time, or environment with consistent light. Believe me, every time I pass by the potted plants at Trader Joe’s, I have to remind myself that my bedroom simply doesn’t get enough natural sunlight for me to properly care for a basil plant. Whatever your circumstances, there are plenty of options for plants requiring minimal care and few environmental specifications. Here are three to keep in mind for your next trip to the grocery store or garden center:

1. Nerve plant - The nerve plant is a small plant perfectly suited for low-light environments. There are several varieties of nerve plant, and you may notice that the colors of these plants brighten in more direct light. They are fairly compact, and as much as nerve plants aren’t particularly picky in the level of light they receive, they do require consistent watering.

2. Pothos - These plants are particularly low-maintenance. They thrive with very little watering, and like their soil to dry before being watered again. Pothos perform well in a broad range of light levels, and can even be grown without soil in a vase of water. These plants’ draping vines are beautiful, but take care to keep them away from pets and curious children - pothos is toxic if consumed.

3. Aloe vera - If you’re finding yourself in a space with very bright light, aloe vera is a great option. This succulent is stemless with long and fleshy leaves, and it’s tolerant of inconsistent watering but tends to do best with consistently moist soil. You can incorporate the gel from cuttings of this plant into your skincare routine by using it in a face mask, and as if you needed any more reasons to love it, aloe can also be used in a variety of recipes.

If all else fails and you just can’t see yourself maintaining a plant any time soon, I would recommend downloading an app that can mimic the calming effect of houseplants. With Viridi, you get the satisfaction of caring for another being without nearly as much responsibility. This app is a simulation in which you can customize a terrarium with a set of succulents and watch them grow in real time. I’ve been enjoying watching my own terrarium develop, opening the app once or twice each week to water my plants and add my free weekly seedling to the terrarium. I find the background music really relaxing, and caring for these virtual plants is a great way to decompress.

With the amount of affection I give to my own tiny succulent, I sometimes wish that it was able to express some form of appreciation. Whatever your living situation or level of experience with gardening, I highly recommend you invest in a plant or two, virtual or real.

Houseplants are such simple things. From the surface, we see them as just additional household decorations, but they are living things that draw you in. They routinely complete so many complex processes while we marvel at their ability to foster meditative and paternal feelings.

After tending to my succulent, I’m filled with a sense of accomplishment. Especially at the beginning of the semester, it can be so stressful trying to keep track of what’s due and when. When so many tasks are completed virtually, it’s refreshing to have something tangible to see your impact on. Now more than ever, I find it important to find a way to get outside, but if that isn’t possible, the next best thing is to bring the outdoors in. I know that in the morning, while my biology quiz may not be graded, my succulent will be in a better state than it was the previous day.

- Chloë

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