The hoya plant represents how despite the green exterior, ornamental plants are a silent contributor to gas emissions resulting in pollution.

hidden truth of a greenwashed trend

A Hoya Kerii ||courtesy of S. Candrian via

This object of the collection, a small indoor plant shaped like a heart, helps us reflect on our hobbies, what they entrail and what hides in the chain of production. This specimen in particular is a Hoya Kerii, an evergreen climber native to Indo-China, Indonesia, and Australasia (Houseplants/RHS Gardening, n.d.). As most things, plants are not safe from trends, and the Hoya Kerii has enjoyed a lot of popularity in the last few years, especially around Valentine’s day (so much so that another informal name for the plant is Valentine Plant).

When the first Covid lockdown hit, many were left to spend most, if not all, their time in their houses. Living in this new reality led many people to develop new habits, from fitness to reading to cooking and also, (indoor) gardening (Sullivan, 2021). This particular hobby soared amidst the lockdown and both new and old partakers increased their collection by significant numbers. Many in the ornamental plants’ industry around the world saw a considerable increase in their business, from orchid sales nearly doubling in the US to Australian plant nurseries registering a total value of $2.6 billion in the period of 2019–2020 against the $2.47 billion of the 2018–2019 period (Johnson, 2021), to the American ornamental horticulture industry, which experienced an 8% increase in revenues for plant and landscape items in the period between January 2020 to July 2020 compared to the same period in the previous year. This increase is likely linked to the mental health benefits that indoor plants bring to owners, as well as their decorative aspect, now more pressing as more time is spent in the same environment. Studies suggest that gardening has positive effects on anxiety and depression, and can help reduce stress, all conditions that were heightened by the global pandemic and forced isolation. 

Youtuber Nick Pileggi discusses plant trends

However, despite the apparent benefits that this hobby carries, it is not without flaws. The increased demand for ornamental plants meant that the production had to go into overdrive, with all the negative impact that carries. For starters, while plants are considered, and to an extent are, beneficial to the environment, their production requires high amounts of water, soil, chemicals, and sometimes electricity too (Lazzerini et al., 2014). The high consumption of water and land is problematic in it of itself,  from deforestation to diverting resources from communities that need it, although it’s the use of pesticides and fertilizer that reaps the most long-lasting damages to ecosystem and habitats: the high toxicity of pesticides can poison water sources, soils and negatively impact the wildlife that comes into contact with it. Oftentimes, due to the high demand, farmers rely on the use of pesticides to ensure a higher and flawless harvest, contaminating both the soil and any nearby water source (Lazzerini et al., 2014). Sadly, the damages of pesticides are not limited to the area where they are used but can spread great lengths through water sources and impact huge portions of the ecosystem, from marine fauna to insect population, proving to be one of the biggest threats to biodiversity. Then, there is the greenhouse gas and CO2 emission, which, according to studies, are also significant (Salehpour et al., 2020). From production to delivery, this industry is responsible for a significant number of emissions, rivaling (and at times surpassing) that of greenhouse horticultural crops just in production. Again for delivery, the CO2 emissions are very high, mainly due to the trendiness of “foreign” plants in the west, such as tropical plants (think of the monsteras or the pothos), which are an export of southeast Asia, the succulents, a product of South Africa, and cacti, from the Americas.

example of spray-painted succulent || courtesy of T. Floersch via

Ironically, even though the production of ornamental plants is an intensive and invasive one, many plants sold today are “packaged” in a way that kills their lifespan, fundamentally designing them to die. The most common example of this practice are “moon” cacti, where an albino cactus is grafted onto a healthy one. In the span of one to two years, because the albino cactus is not able to feed itself due to lack of chlorophyll, if the cacti are not separated they will die. If separated, the healthy cactus will survive, but the albino cactus, which has been specifically bred to appear a certain color, will die. Another common example is the single hoya leaf (as shown on the model), which, despite being a perfectly viable and healthy leaf does not possess the necessary nodes to produce roots and stems to grow a new plant but will die once the leaf has reached the end of its life cycle (again one to two years).  And finally, perhaps the most appalling consumeristic trend there is in the plant community, some store spray-painted succulents, which leads them to suffocate to death in the spawn of a few weeks, contributing to the consumer loop.

The California Academy of Sciences on poaching

If that wasn’t enough, the ornamental plant industry is threatening the wildlife also through poaching. The act of poaching can be defined as any act that contravenes local laws and regulations for the protection of wildlife. Although usually associated with animals, poaching is increasingly a flora issue too (Manel et al, 2002), with studies estimating the illegal plant trade of rare plants such as orchids and cacti to be around 10 million a year (Hemley, 1994). One of the most threatened species is that of cacti, as the pressure from the international market far outweighs what is possible to produce ethically, and has gravely influenced many species, such as Mammillaria Guillauminiana, now extinct in the wild (Santos-Díaz et al., 2011). To understand the scale of this trade, just between the years of 1996 and 2000 the Mexican and Dutch governments have seized 5,100 cacti specimens belonging to 75 species, supposedly coming from the Chihuahuan Desert Region and destined for the European market (Santos-Díaz et al., 2011). The situation has only been acerbated by the COVID-19 lockdown and its “indoor jungle” trend, so much so that amidst lockdown the Philippines’ Government had to tighten regulations and reinforce awareness of the issue, claiming that because of the negative effect the pandemic has had on the economy, many impoverished rural communities have turned to poaching to supply the increased western market (Miguel, 2020).

Gary Duke explains how to shop responsibly

Despite the bleak tone of this post, this element of the collection was not included to discourage everyone from ever buying ornamental plants again, but it is rather to encourage a more ethical consumption (within the limits that our time imposes) and conscious practices of the hobby. Oftentimes, the inherent nature of ornamental plants presents them as a guilt-free and sustainable hobby, hiding behind the industry greenwashing. In reality, the most sustainable way to engage in this hobby is what is always is: buy local, native, and research your suppliers to check that their products are ethically sourced or grown. Ideally, many of the “exotic” plants mentioned above can be sourced from cuttings, which don’t endanger wild species through poaching and don’t depend on pesticides and fertilizer to grow. Fundamentally, we shouldn’t let the consumerism that denotes our time take a hold of us, in hobbies as in life, and we should encourage a new way to engage which is communal and based on conscious consumption, quality over quantity.


Name: Hoya Plant

3D Model

Creator: Viola Gasparini

Date: 27-01-2022

Place: Maastricht, The Netherlands

Themes: Environmentalism 

Captured with Nikon D750 camera (40mm) on a tripod, lightbox, lazy Susan 

Processed with Agisoft Metashape Professional Software on Windows 64


Physical Object

Size: 15 x 5 x 10 cm 

Weight: 50 gr

Material: PVC plastics (vase), organic material 


Gary Duke: Ethical Plant shopping; How to avoid buying poached plants #ariocarpus #copiapoa. (2020, November 14). YouTube.

Hoya kerrii | Houseplants/RHS Gardening. (n.d.). Royal Horticultural Society.

Johnson, K. (2021, May 11). Indoor plant sales boom due to COVID-19, says nursery industry. ABC News.

Lazzerini, Lucchetti, & Nicese. (2014, January 1). Analysis of greenhouse gas emissions from ornamental plant production: A nursery level approach. ScienceDirect.,1%20of%20CO2eq

Manel, S., Berthier, P. and Luikart, G. (2002), Detecting Wildlife Poaching: Identifying the Origin of Individuals with Bayesian Assignment Tests and Multilocus Genotypes. Conservation Biology, 16: 650-659.

Miguel, M. (2020, October 7). Public urged to report poachers, collectors of illegal wildlife plants. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Nadzifah, N. (2022, January 26). The Impact of Covid-19 Pandemic on Consumer’s Interest in Purchasing Orchids (Orchidaceae) | KAPITA: Jurnal Agribisnis & Pembangunan Pertanian. Mori Publishing.

Pileggi, N. (2021, January 15). Houseplant Trends That Are Already Over (2021). YouTube.

The Price of Plant Poaching | California Academy of Sciences. (2017, July 19). YouTube.

Salehpour, Rajabipour, & Khanali. (2020, November 1). Environmental impact assessment for ornamental plant greenhouse: Life cycle assessment approach for primrose production. ScienceDirect.

Santos-Díaz, Pérez-Molphe, E., Ramírez-Malagón, R., Núñez-Palenius, H. G., & Ochoa-Alejo, N. (2011, January 1). Mexican threatened cacti: Current status and strategies for their conservation. ResearchGate.

Sullivan, E. J. (2021, January 30). Covid lockdowns turned buying plants into the next big pandemic trend — for good reason. NBC News.