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Planting Smiles: Biophilia and Indoor Plants Effects on Mental Health

Facts are from research conducted by unless otherwise stated

Just as the trees began to flower and the flowers began to blossom, a microscopic monarch found the remote under the couch cushions and paused everyone's life for months, and even years for some. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit during the spring of 2020, people reported a need for a hobby. Understandable, because we all needed something to distract ourselves from uncertainty and the fear that accompanied it. Understandable, considering many of us went from barely spending a couple hours a day at home to discovering that the walls in the basement are exactly 27 hands high. In addition to boredom, 2020 saw a rise in:

  • Home workout videos,
  • Views of Contagion,
  • Home improvement projects,
  • Use of TikTok, and (believe it or not)
  • Plant-keeping

It’s true. A recent study conducted by reports that about 6 out of every 10 people asked began plant-keeping during the early days of quarantine. This new hobby, though expensive for many, had multiple benefits and many are still reaping the rewards.

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Photo by Kal Visuals

Biophilia: What Is It?

Biophilia is a term popularized in 1984 by biologist Edward O. Wilson. The Biophilia Hypothesis essentially seeks to explain the deep desire to feel connection from other forms of life - including foliage. Wilson theorized that our “connection to nature and living things is in our DNA.”

This desire to connect is why we feel peace gazing at the stars and lounging on the beach. As humans, especially humans living in a digital world, it’s easy to forget that we are part of the earth. We need to connect outside as much as we need to connect to each other.

Man tending to his plants in his living room.
Photo by Vadim Kaipov

What the Research Says

Over the past two years, the truth that Wilson popularized has been proven again by research conducted by Of the 1000 people asked, 88% of respondents said that beginning plant-keeping as a hobby has had a positive impact on their mental health, while 67% said it even helped their physical health. The benefits to emotional wellness that people were experiencing were a result of the unconscious calming effect of touching foliage.

This was true for the majority of respondents between 35-44 years old, as 74% of people in this age group began plant-keeping as a result of quarantine caused by COVID-19. Plant-keeping may seem like something we vaguely remember our moms doing, but 73% of male respondents said they’ve developed a green thumb during the pandemic, compared to only 59% of female respondents.

young man in front of a window holding a house plant in front of his face
Photo by Nathan McDine

Being surrounded by good people is crucial to our emotional survival. Because of the pandemic and the restrictions on socialization, low-maintenance indoor plants became a refuge for many. Of the widows who began tending plants, 100% felt a positive effect on their mental health. 92% of married individuals also noticed a positive impact.

It wasn’t all good. More than a quarter of American responders fell into debt to fund their new found plant-keeping hobby. Though indoor plants are often described as quieter, low-maintenance pets, 27% of people asked said the amount of money being spent ranged from $5-2000. Nearly half of those that were affected financially were in the 18-24 year old group, while those older than that didn’t deal with this as a problem.

But it was worth it. As restrictions lifted and life began returning to a new normal, 96% of female and 98% of male respondents disclosed that they plan to continue tending to their new potted friends. All of the student-aged respondents replied that they would keep up this hobby through the ease of pandemic restrictions.

Living Room and second floor balcony with dozens of potted house plants

What This Means For You (& Me)

Around 90% of our time is spent indoors. While we’re busy changing the world in our own respective spheres, we aren’t receiving the endorphins (one of the natural feel good hormones) that are acquired from good old-fashioned time in the sun. One simple way to combat this is by incorporating indoor plants to your home, office, or even hospital decor.

It is important to seek professional help if you are struggling. Simple additions to daily life such as learning to forgive yourself and others, expressing gratitude, and journaling are often suggested by professional therapists, social workers, and psychiatrists. This study from accompanies many others, in providing yet another way we can care for ourselves more holistically.

What works for some may not work for others, but there’s little harm in trying! If you look into plant keeping and houseplants aren’t helping then at least you have a prettier space and fresher air. At the end of the day, what matters most is that we are continually seeking ways to have purpose.

For all of the conclusions from this research visit:
For more about biophilia and biophilic design visit: