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More than Just Plants, Being Our Friends: Pet Plants

Have you ever seen the movie Leon? In the movie, the protagonist treasures his plant by preparing a flowerpot and placing it in the sun every morning while bringing it back inside every night. He regards his plant as his best friend. Likewise, as the number of single households increases at an exponential rate, more and more people have started to seek comfort from growing their own plants called “pet plants” in a bid to escape from the boredom of their daily lives. To meet this increasing demand, the Gwacheon City Council promoted the “Growing Pet Plants Movement” this September. The Sungkyun Times (SKT) introduces the advent of pet plants, their characteristics, and related businesses to give a better understanding on their potential future development.

ezday.co.kr/Leon, Taking Care of His Plant.

Past and Future of Houseplants

The first surge in horticultural sales happened in 2014, but it was not the result of the popularity of pet plants. Now, as lifestyles and social structure in Korea have changed, people are becoming interested in buying houseplants to improve their quality of life.

March, 2014

Lotte Mart saw an increase in garden goods sales by 49.6% compared to 2013. Flower businesses also experienced an increase in sales by 20%. The sales increase was partly due to people’s growing concern on yellow dust and fine dust, which allowed their interest in gardening to rise. For instance, in order to reflect this trend, the Rural Development Administration established a “bio wall” consisting of air purifying plants as well as mechanic air purifiers. In addition, Haatz, a company that specializes in appliances, released its “Vertical Gardening,” which is a planting system that attaches vegetation and soil to the wall to help purify the indoor air.

March, 2015

The horticultural industry increased its sales by 79% compared to 2014. Sales of vegetable seeds in particular shot up by 408% as a growing number of people became aware of the fact that conventional farming methods had caused soil deterioration and water pollution by overusing chemical fertilizers. As such, people grew their own vegetables at home to eat safe food. A merchant who works in the related business said, “In the past, most people who tended to gardens used to be the elderly, but young people are beginning to take interest in organic farming.”

July, 2016

According to data from a Korean online shopping mall, 11st, sales of horticultural goods increased. It proved that concern for houseplants expanded to the younger generation because most customers of online shopping malls are of young age. Contrary to the past when animals were considered the norm for pets, people nowadays are moving on to plants, as they cost less and require less attention. Moreover, houseplants are establishing a solid foothold in welfare programs for the aged single households in Korea, one of the world’s fastest aging societies, as they help senior citizens overcome depression and reduce suicide rate.

Appearance of Pet Plants

The purposes of raising houseplants have mostly been air cleaning, organic farming, and decorating the house. However, there is a new demand for “pet plants” as a companion or even family because of the increase in the number of single households and busy lifestyles in the city. Pet plants are now considered healing items that give people psychological stability. The Journal of Exceptional Experience Psychology also demonstrated the benefits of pet plants by showing a positive correlation between the number of plants and people’s happiness and productivity.

Pet Plants in Daily Life

As houseplants are starting to be regarded as the owner’s companion, more and more people are caring for them. As a result, daily services for caring and observing pet plants have been created.

The Most Popular Pet Plant, “Moss Ball”

A moss ball is an aggregation of green algae in the shape of a ball. It has gained huge popularity, because of its small and cute appearance. To provide an optimal environment for the moss ball, the water should be kept at a temperature lower than 35 degrees Celsius and be frequently renewed. The moss ball also needs be washed to maintain its cleanliness. Although moss balls require a great deal of care, people are fond of them because they can experience a sense of raising an animal due to its fluffy appearance.

Plant Fairy

Five university students in Taiwan released an Internet of Things (IoT) service called “Plant Fairy” this May. This service detects the conditions of pet plants including temperature, humidity, and nutrition, and delivers them to the data center through computing modules. The owner of the pet plant is able to check the information via the smartphone communication application LINE. In this application, a chatterbot stands in for the pet plant and chats with the owner. Whenever the owner asks for the state of the pet plant, Plant Fairy immediately sends the information to the owner by identifying the conditions of the plant.

Planty

iotcommunity.co.kr/Planty

An IoT business, n.thing, developed a special flowerpot that enables people to observe their pet plants almost in real time by using embedded sensors. It also sends notifications to the owner’s smartphone if the conditions of their pet plants fall short of the standards. In addition, people are able to water them remotely with water bottles and motors that receive signals from their smartphones. Moreover, people can share the growth process of their pet plants with others by utilizing Planty’s Social Network Service (SNS).

Torynet

On August 29, a company called The Well had a trial performance for a plant-based community called Torynet at schools in Busan to help children grow their own pet plants. Students who grew plants could interact with experts and solve problems related to their pet plants through this community. The children also recorded their feelings and experiences in the form of audio or video clips after attaching a U-tag, which is an IoT product, to their pet plants. Teachers expect their students to be interested in their pet plants and have passion for them by participating in Torynet as a school program.

People Who Grow Pet Plants

Ms. Min (20), Ms. Kim (50)

Q1. Could you introduce your pet plants for us, please?

A1. I currently grow chrysanthemums, succulents, and rose moss. I named them as Child One, Two, and Three, in order. Contrary to chrysanthemums and succulents, I think most people do not know about rose moss. I would like to show its flowers to others because it is very beautiful when it blooms, even though its flower quickly withers.

A2. I have a special pet plant that I have grown for 25 years from the day my son was born. It is called a Kaffir lily and it is a plant of amaryllidaceae family, unlike its name suggests. It also blooms gorgeous orange flowers in the spring once a year.

Q2. What kind of special efforts did you make for your pet plants?

A1. My children were infested with noxious insects this summer. I made a pesticide by myself and exposed the soil and gravel to direct sunlight during the middle of the day to solve this problem. Fortunately, I was able to save them and now my album is full of their pictures that show my efforts. The reason I made such a great effort is that my children are not only beautiful, but also precious to me. I was grateful to them for being healthy.

A2. Well, plants grow well if they receive our attention and care. My pet plant almost froze to death in winter because I was unfamiliar with adjusting temperature at the beginning. Now, I am used to checking its conditions every morning to not make mistakes again. I heard that there are services sending the growing environments of pet plants to owners in real-time, and I think it will provide great help to those who are just beginning to grow their pet plants.

Q3. What kind of changes did you feel after growing your pet plants?

A1. My children help me to cheer up after I feel exhausted from work life and many relationships. The moment I see them after returning from work is the happiest time of the day, and I often smile unconsciously. My sense of responsibility especially grew and I felt successful by taking care of Child One, who has gone through a lot of trouble. Now they are considered my children, being more than just friends. This is why I named them “children.”

A2. My pet plant is also like a child to me. My son went off to college in a different region five years ago, so I cannot see him often. Due to the fact that I raised a pet plant along with my son, and its large and stretched leaves looking like a strong man, it reminds me of my son whenever I see it. It stays by my side instead of my son, through rain or shine. I am comforted by my pet plant when I really miss my son or sometimes feel lonely.

Businesses Related to Pet Plants

In addition to the increase of individuals who grow pet plants in their house, there are many businesses using pet plants. Especially, welfare businesses for senior citizens, or plant businesses for lonely modern people have emerged these days. This phenomenon shows that the application range of pet plants will expand in the near future.

Pet Plants Supply Business for Single Elderly Household

asiae.co.kr/“Whenever you happily smile with your green friends, blessings will come your way.”

The Dongjak District Office has started to supply pet plants to low-income senior citizens who live alone starting from this July. This welfare business will be conducted until this October and will include 500 more senior citizens. Social workers offered consultations to the elderly and checked their health by combining this business with the Community Service Center activities. The Gwangjin Office, the district of which the elderly population takes up about 11% of the total population, also conducted this business starting this August. The elderly who were diagnosed with depression were provided with pet plants to determine the health effects. The head of the Gwangjin District, Ki- Dong Kim, said, “We supply pet plants to senior citizens to protect against depression and lonely death, and we will also expand this business to the neglected class of people.”

Slow Pharmacy

Slow Pharmacy is a flower shop located in Banpo-dong, Seocho District, and it also has a pop-up store in Yongin City. The reason the representative of Slow Pharmacy, Gurum Lee, opened the store was to pass on the happiness he gained in the past from his pet plants while busy working as a graphic designer. The name originated from his idea of plants as a type of medicine that helps recover people’s composure. He recommended pet plants to customers after considering people’s residential environment, characteristics, and living habits. He also designed carefully, so that the young generation could pursue ornamental purposes in addition to emotional comfort. Moss terrariums and beaker cactuses are the most popular because they are relatively easy to manage compared to animals or even other plants. Among 300 people who visited the store on the weekend were the young who live alone and want to relieve their loneliness by growing pet plants.

designhouse.co.kr/Moss Terrarium
designhouse.co.kr/Beaker Catuses

People originally lived together with nature, and used to grow plants in their houses commencing from a long time ago. Now, people are starting to regard plants as their friends or companions rather than mere ornamental components. Moreover, many daily services and businesses related to pet plants have emerged to follow this trend. If there are any Kingos who would like to gain peace of mind, how about growing green pet plants at your house as well?

석소은  sou2146@naver.com

<저작권자 © THE SUNGKYUN TIMES, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>

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