South LA

Plant care and self care: How students are finding botanical calm amidst college chaos

To help navigate the stresses and responsibilities, cultivating house plants can help students feel less overwhelmed.

A photograph of plants

With the full return of in-person classes, internship applications and the anticipation of final exams looming ahead, many college students have grown used to self-care falling by the wayside.

How can students combat this?

One way is to spruce up their space with plants.

By cultivating a living space that’s alive itself, students can reap a variety of mental benefits, and by caring for a living organism, they can even learn to prioritize their own care in the process. Plants need care: water, fresh air and sunlight.

Without it, they wilt. Slowing down and taking the time to tend to another organism’s life has the potential to teach students a valuable truth: we do too.

Senior theater major Callahan Teceno considers himself a plant parent. During the pandemic he began buying plants periodically; some of them would die. With time and practice, however, his parenting improved, and he has now successfully cared for ten plants. His apartment is bursting with plant life and, what he described as, “a whole new vibe.”

“It’s kind of a routine I get every other day when I wake up and water them,” Teceno said.

Teceno typically purchases his plants at Trader Joes, located in the USC Village across from campus. He plans to expand his collection by shopping at local plant stores in South L.A.

“I’m also definitely an outdoors and nature person, and I feel like that’s really hard to come by in LA, so plants give me a good way to accentuate that in my apartment,” he said.

USC Associate Professor of Clinical Occupational Therapy Camille Dieterle said the environment we create around us impacts how we go about our days.

“People really react to their environments,” Dieterle said. “Wherever you are, if you’re in a classroom, if you’re in a home…if you’re out on a hike. All of the stimuli of our environment completely affects us.”

House plants can help with that sensory overload caused by our increasingly human-made environment. They allow the brain to rest and engage with nature in a space devoid of the stressful stimuli of daily life.

Andrew Bawiec, a freshman majoring in environmental studies, is a member of The Sustainability Project, a member organization under the Environmental Student Assembly.

The Sustainability Project aims to promote environmental consciousness through business, hoping to increase the planting of native plants on and around campus.

“Native plants require much less water than imported plants,” Bawiec said. “We have a lot of tropical species here that require lots of water. California doesn’t have a lot of water, so they have to use irrigation systems rather than cultivating to the natural environment of species already here.”

Jaqueline Weeger, a senior majoring in business administration, began purchasing plants in an effort to amp up the design aspect of her space and build a comforting environment.

“With my Fiddle Fig plant, I have to wipe down the leaves to let them breathe… It’s kind of therapeutic,” Weeger said. “Some people might think it’s tedious, but I like to do it.”

Weeger has shopped for plants at Costco and Home Depot, where plants are often cheaper.

“They’re too expensive, especially because they can be so finicky and they die,” she said.

Both Teceno and Weeger plan to seek out hanging plants as the next addition to their collection.

Dieterle said that people report greater life satisfaction from simply having plants in their workspace as well as greater overall health when they have access to nearby nature. Viewable green spaces have also shown to improve recovery and decrease the need for pain medication.

Senior anthropology major, Alaina Vivian, grew up surrounded by plants in her home, so when she began her college career, plants were a necessity wherever she lived.

“I’ve always loved nature and plants, and my mom always had a lot of plants in our house when I was growing up,” she said. “She loves gardening and tending to her indoor plants, so I always made it important to myself to have a plant in my room at school.”

While her passion for plants has remained stagnant, her collection is regenerated with each year.

“I generally do get new ones every year, because ultimately they die or I have to give them away to people when I move somewhere for an extended period of time and no one wants to take care of my plants the way I do,” Vivian said.

Though the upkeep, and regeneration of plants for Vivian, can be expensive, the responsibility and cost are worthwhile. “It’s just a small responsibility that makes me feel good. It honestly feels really good to watch them change and grow,” she said. Once she has a consistent living environment after graduation, she plans on expanding her collection rather than restarting each year.