In a greenhouse in Istanbul, Tayfun, a young Turkish man with a shaved head and a thick, black beard, sits shirtless in the sun, casually admiring a fan palm tree. Meanwhile in Bangkok, Takoyakrit, a male model, stands among bright green barringtonia flowers, showing off his pec, chiseled abs and bedhead. The images are tagged #plantdaddy, and underneath commenters share adoring sentiments — e.g., “You are a HOT and PERFECT guy” and “pure #plantporn.”
This is a mere snapshot of the hundreds of pictures collected on the instagram account Boyswithplants, showing men from all over the world posing with their plants. And while their facial expressions may be coy, the account’s prevailing sentiment is cystal clear: Plants are hot, and the guys who take care of them are even hotter.
Since launching in 2016, Boyswithplants has accumulated a near six-figure following. The page’s founder, Australia-based Scott Cain, says he now receives more than 50 submissions every day from guys all over the world who legitimately love and care for plants. In fact, the account has become such a phenomenon that next month, it’ll be releasing its first book, Boys with Plants: 50 Plants and the Boys Who Love Them.
Speaking over email, Cain explains that the project began as a private chat with friends where they’d share pictures of handsome men with plants. He attributes its growth to “a broader trend for houseplants which men are also participating in.” And while planting might still be considered a “feminine activity,” he says that 45 percent of the account’s traffic is from guys, many of whom are plant enthusiasts. “Planting definitely isn’t exclusive to men, but I do think that men are more open, now, to enjoy what they enjoy rather than what might previously have been considered a feminine trait.”
Though Cain doesn’t know the average age of the guys he features, a cursory look suggests they’re somewhere between 18 and 35, the millennial demographic for whom planting is a popular hobby. According to a 2016 U.S. gardening survey, 31 percent of all houseplant sales were made by millennials, while out of the six million people who took up gardening that year, five million were in the 18-to-34 demo. The popularity of planting has grown so much that there are apps like DRYP to help keep plants alive with real-time data, and musicians like SPEAK create entire albums dedicated to their plant collection.
Theories as to why young people are investing in plants range from the desire for “green spaces” in urban environments to being a useful, low-cost way of managing mental health. Writing in the Independent, Kashmira Gander chalks up the appeal of plants to millennials finding themselves in a “suspended childhood,” where key pillars of adulthood — buying homes, getting married and having children — are costly and out-of-reach. “We are having children later, are less likely to have secure, stable jobs or own property,” she writes. “Anything that can liven up our lives that, frankly, can feel a bit hopeless is welcome.”
This sentiment certainly resonates with some of the guys who post pictures of themselves with their plants online, usually accompanied by hashtags like #planthusband or #plantdaddy (their plants are their children). “I’ve called myself a plant dad a few times!” says Andres Merser, a 30-year-old engineer from Colombia currently living in New York City. He started looking after plants early last year when he spontaneously bought a small cactus from a market. Initially intended to brighten up his Bed-Stuy apartment, he tells me that he enjoyed the presence of the plant more than he expected and ended up buying a few more, including his favorite, the dark violet purpurea plant he keeps on his cabinet.
“My work is busy, and it’s difficult to socialize or get into a serious relationship,” he explains. “Obviously, my plants aren’t a replacement for any of that, but it’s nice to be able to look after something and see it grow over time. And with plants, that’s easy to do — especially when you have landlords that don’t allow pets. It’s a good feeling to know you’re looking after something with a life of its own.”
Yet for other guys who have been featured on Boyswithplants, planting isn’t a means of compensating for a lack of adult signifiers, but rather, a continuation of family traditions. “I come from a big gardening family,” says Ontario-based Trevor Covelli. “Both my grandfathers had massive gardens that they tended to passionately. My parents inherited that love, and we always had beautifully landscaped flower beds, vegetable gardens and some indoor plants.” @plantingtrev on Instagram, Covelli regularly posts pictures of different plants and garden designs, as well as photos of himself surrounded by plants. He began planting in his early 20s after his mother gave him some of her oxalis, a tropical flowering plant originating in Brazil, which he used to make a small garden on the balcony of his condo.
“Plants are on their own schedule,” he says. “Of course, you can rev things up with fertilizers and such, but learning about the proper growing conditions, water and light requirements and life cycles of the plants helps you realize daily that there’s so much that’s bigger than you. And that in nature, these plants have been thriving and evolving for longer than any human can truly conceptualize — making it cool that we get to be part of their history, too.”
Like most of the other men I interviewed for this piece, Covelli wouldn’t refer to himself as a “plant thot,” but he can see how guys looking to be noticed and validated on Instagram could use plants to their advantage. “Maybe the plants lend an exotic, man of the jungle, like Tarzan, feel. That whole, ‘I can control nature’ vibe,” he says. “Plants can definitely have a sensuality to them.”
Still, to keep things respectful, Cain and Boyswithplants have specific submission guidelines that ensure the plant is always put first. For example, the images have to be high quality to ensure the plants are presented in the best possible manner, and each submission has to come with details of the plant and its country of origin. More importantly, plants have to take up more than 50 percent of the shot. So while certain men can show off their abs, they have to find creative ways to do so — whether that’s physically carrying their plants or standing in the background.
Cain says the guidelines are meant to separate ego from Instagram’s larger planting community. “It’s one of the best places on the web,” Cain explains, adding that the photos featured on Boyswithplants aren’t just limited to muscular men. “The focus of the images will always be the plants so people with an interest in planting, rather than just hot guys, also follow the page. There are many, many pages on Instagram that only feature half-naked muscular guys. So while we do feature that type sometimes, we make sure to have all types of guys [featured] as well.”
Ultimately, that’s because the growing number of men who are into plants want a lot more than a huge Instagram following — i.e., taking care of plants offers them an opportunity to be themselves. As Julian Donofrio, aka Sprout Daddy, tells me, “Masculinity today is a guy who has no fear of being himself.”
Adds Covelli, “Modern masculinity is about being authentic and living with integrity. It’s understanding that gender normative behavior is mainly influenced.” Moreover: “There’s nature all around us, so if you dig plants, dig in. Don’t let limiting beliefs around things like gender norms control your life. Heck, plants often have both ‘male’ and ‘female’ parts. How is that for pushing gender norms!?!”