Baking, painting, drawing, reflecting, fasting, grieving, gardening. 

Among the quarantine hobbies that she has picked up in the past months, art and design junior Lauryn Sugai has been adding to her personal garden of succulents, orchids and mums. 

Since the start of quarantine, many other students at Cal Poly have been starting and adding to their own plant collections, along with Sugai. 

According to Jared Smith, a teaching assistant for the horticulture unit at Cal Poly, sales across the horticulture industry are up at least 100% or doubled, with most large nurseries almost entirely sold out of plants. 

Smith has had to deal with this first hand as the Cal Poly Plant Shop has been busier than ever, and employees have been scrambling to find plants from local greenhouses. Every plant shop has been struggling to keep up with the demand. 

“I think it has a lot to do with people being locked up inside and wanting something to do, plants are really fun, and anybody can grow a plant,” Smith said.

Smith also believes that the plant shop’s popularity is due in part to the fact that this year’s freshmen all have single rooms, with more empty space that can be filled by plants.

Audio by Jezzia Smith 

According to Smith, everything produced at the plant shop is 100% student grown. They do not buy plants to re-sell, everything from cuttings to final stock is grown by Cal Poly students. 

Curator for the Cal Poly Plant Conservatory Gage Willey believes that people turn to plants as a form of therapy during a very anxiety-ridden year.

“As society starts recognizing mental health, people start asking, What do I actually enjoy in life? And what makes me feel good?” Willey said. “And plants are usually a good answer for that.”

Willey also hopes that the plant craze will spark more students’ appreciation for plants and the natural world in general. 

“Because people and plants belong together,” Willey said.

Plant biology professor Nishanta Rajakaruna shares in Willey’s sentiments about students getting excited about plants.

“If you can get people living in a city, in a dorm to suddenly connect with plants through this crisis, then that’s the silver lining of this pandemic,” Rajakaruna said.  

“If this is really a trend then perhaps students are seeking out connections with and looking for comfort in plants that they may have previously thought of as lifeless or as boring,” Rajakaruna said

Sugai, a junior art and design major, lost two loved ones during high school, as well as her grandmother earlier this year. Recently, she found that her plant collection has played into her comfort. 

“There’s this whole idea of like this life cycle that goes on with plant life that I’ve been exploring,” Sugai said.

In light of her grief, she said that the comforting quarantine activities that she started doing more frequently, such as gardening were the same ones that her grandmother had done so often before. 

Communications studies sophomore M.W. Kap began gardening as a form of therapy in high school by founding a horticulture club.

“I’d always been interested in growing plants, I was just historically really bad at it,” Kap said.

Much like how plants have become ignored in society, Kap said they started naming their plants after ignored figures in history — many of whom tend to be women of color in stem. Their six-foot-tall tomato plant is named Roots Bader Ginsberg.

Kap’s advice for beginners? Get plants that are hard to kill.

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