In 2017, Carl, a 28-year-old in Philadelphia, unintentionally welcomed a new life into his own when he was gifted a small assortment of rootless succulent cuttings from Etsy. Slowly, one little succ fought for life beyond the bouquet.
“Three years and lots of TLC later, he’s become a full-fledged plant,” Carl says, a glint in his eye. “However, forever ungrateful, he went on to become a rebellious, antisocial teenager. He doesn’t play nice with his aloe and Kalanchoe siblings.”
Clearly, his plant needed some public shaming.
To knock his “sociopathic succulent down a peg,” Carl enlisted the help of a subreddit dedicated to just that: r/SuccShaming. Despite being just three months old, r/SuccShaming has resonated with nearly 10,000 frustrated plant owners, many of whom, working remotely in quarantine, invested in at-home greenery. They’re sick of the lies on Pinterest and Instagram — and eager to share the truth about how much raising succulents actually sucks.
To that end, the subreddit advises that the best way to get an unruly succulent to behave is by “blasting their shame on Reddit.”
Succulents Are Selfish Motherfuckers
When 21-year-old Milli welcomed “Unnamed Succulent 8” into her life last August, “he was all beautiful white, pink and yellow pigments from sun stressing.”
But once she brought the succulent home, the trouble began. “I was a bit dismayed to see the color of the new growth didn’t match the existing growth; it was much more blue and regular-looking,” she says. Then her succulent narrowly escaped death after a bad bout of mealybugs.
All of this left Unnamed Succulent 8 with “super-compact growth, which is normally a good thing,” Milli says, “but instead of keeping his bottom-most leaves, which he needs to support his own weight, he decided to reabsorb them.” Now, because he’s too top-heavy, Unnamed Succulent 8 requires “the support of a rock crutch to stand up straight.”
Milli tried to reason with her plant, but it wasn’t enough for him to smarten up. “His ego needed to be taken down a notch,” she tells me. “Why not post him to r/SuccShaming and let the sharks have at him!”
Notably, there is more to the subreddit than cyberbullying plants. “While most of the regular subreddits appreciate the perfection and beauty of a succulent, this page rightfully critiques a plant who deserves it,” Milli explains.
The brutal honesty of r/SuccShaming is what turned Carl to the subreddit as well. Over the course of quarantine, he’d gotten to know and love his houseplants more than he had before, so he joined Reddit to delve deeper into plant parenthood. But as parents of all living creatures can attest, what’s posted on social media doesn’t always reflect real life — particularly in regards to a sociopathic succulent.
#PlantLife Instagram vs. Reality
“Succulents are the quintessential ‘Instagram vs. reality’ version of houseplants,” he tells me. “They’re marketed as easy plants because you don’t have to water them often, but I think they’re actually much harder to keep happy than many of my other plants.”
According to Carl, people who boastfully post pictures of their beautiful succulents “literally keep them inches from grow lights at all times, which there’s absolutely nothing wrong with — it’s just that they can actually be pretty high-maintenance and a lot of people don’t have time, space or resources for that.”
But when the internet is rife with beautiful succulents thriving in a sunlit, steamy bathroom, “people begin to think they’re bad with houseplants — ‘OMG, I even killed a succulent!’ — so they get discouraged. They would probably love to take care of a nice pothos, and the pothos would love them back!”
On r/SuccShaming, however, the difficulties of raising a psycho little succulent aren’t sugar-coated. The morning after Milli posted Unnamed Succulent 8 to the subreddit, she “sat next to him and scrolled through all of the comments for his post, and ensured he saw every word!”
“I think he got the message, but only time will tell now whether he takes this shame to heart or not,” she adds. “But for now he’s just my little wonky dude — not as pretty as some of my other succulents, but certainly one of my most unique!”
For people with a newfound love of and interest in houseplants, having some honesty and humor about the difficulties of maintaining succulents is important. “Succulents operate in total self-interest and absolutely DGAF about anyone else,” Carl says. “Some of mine sneak their babies into the others’ pots… like, why?” Carl tells me. “But ultimately, keeping plants is good for you, your air quality and having a sense of purpose each day.”
As for Carl’s succulent, he might require a harsher lesson. “It’s highly unlikely that the shaming worked, because I don’t think he has the capacity for positive change,” he tells me. “I might chop his head off and replant him soon. All’s well that ends well.”