Why Succulents Have Become The Hippest Plants On The Market

Dr Allan ArmitageI’ll be the first to admit that I’m the least hip person I know. I’m probably the least hip person you know. I have worn the same dad jeans and navy-blue sweaters for the last 30 years (yes, they are washed occasionally). All I know about social media is that I should spend hours on it, even though I am exhausted when I tweet or Facebook for more than five minutes.

My knowledge of popular music is limited to Canadian folk artists, all of whom belong in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Perhaps Gordon Lightfoot is passé, but not Neil Young. Neil is eternal, bless his Shakey little heart.

So it should come to no one’s surprise that I totally missed the current succulent fad.

From Easily Forgotten To Mainstream

It was not so long ago that succulents were relegated to the far end of the display bench, where they were unfailingly overwatered and underlit, resulting in soggy messes that eventually decomposed in the pots until an employee was ordered to throw them out.

They weren’t even given the dignity of being classified as succulents. They were just a collection of oddball species like Echeveria and Crassula, with a few euphorbias mistakenly labeled (if anything was labeled) as cactus, and maybe some hens and chicks.

Today, they are ubiquitous: they’re for sale at garden centers, nurseries, and botanical gardens. They’re all over the big box stores where I go to stock up on my navy-blue sweaters once every four years. They decorate wedding receptions, and are given away as guest favors. They fill stone planters, spill from antiqued garden clogs and cowboy boots, and are essential to another trend I confess I also missed — miniature gardens.

Low Maintenance Adds To Succulents’ Appeal

When did this happen? Has the public been studying up on the beauty and properties of this forgotten flora? What has caused this coming out party?

As I scroll through the thousands of photos of succulents on Google, I see marvelous wreaths and colorful planters, potted combinations, and entire green roofs. I see them painted, tie-dyed, glittered, and bedazzled.

Floral designers incorporate them into arrangements for everything from holiday tabletops to poinsettia combinations. Good grief, brides even carry them down the aisle in their bouquets. Like Christmas fruitcake, they will last forever. It leaves me awestruck.

I expect that explains the emergence of succulents. That people have enjoyed such exquisite lemonade from seeming lemons was a surprise, but these plants have always had something few other plants have — a virtual absence of maintenance.

Decorative value has always been an important part of the gardening/landscaping conversation, but today, low (no) maintenance is the main topic. This is good for everyone, even that misunderstood group we know as Millennials. Since it seems that they know of nothing but their smartphones, plants that take care of themselves may sneak into the blogosphere of their minds.

Versatile Succulents Offer Something For Everyone

While I may have missed the revolution, I do understand the charm of succulents. There are so many different kinds of succulents that “real” gardeners can collect them forever and designers will never run out of ideas for how to use them. And they are so tough, anyone can be successful.

Like any trend (tillandsias at the Oscars, anyone?), who knows how long this fascination will last? But God bless those growers and retailers who are savvy enough to recognize how easy they are to grow and how quickly they’re flying off the bench.

As for me, I am content. As long as we excite buyers, I applaud. And there yet remains a fabulous group of succulents for everyone, the sedums. The plantsman in me will celebrate them in another column, but for now, well, I am just happy my daughters are already married.

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2 comments on “Why Succulents Have Become The Hippest Plants On The Market

  1. I’ve always had a soft spot for the exquisite shapes and textures of succulents. I am thrilled that they have gained in popularity as it has greatly expanded the selection available – particularly when I lose a few over the winter (intentionally or unintentionally). These days I’m working more with hardy sedums and sempervivums. After all, there are so many, and overwintering crassula, aloe and echeveria under lights in my basement is not my favorite winter task. They’re usually not too happy about it either.

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