What's So Bad About Artificial Plants?

Houseplants have an archrival and it isn’t root rot or white mold or even your missed waterings. It’s fake plants—those unfortunate byproducts of our human obsession with greenery and the despair we have at taking care of it.

Fake plants are more than synthetic eyesores collecting dust in office windows and hotel lobbies. Like most artificial creations, faux foliage is a stagnant, uniform replica of something better—something curious, imperfect and alive.

Consider the Houseplant 

Have you ever thought about the unpredictable way your plants creep down bookshelves or wrap themselves around posts, twisting their stems and cocking their leaves up toward the sun? In contrast, artificial plants are lifeless, unmoving illusions of something else—always noticeably out of place in their environment because their natural habitat is a factory with molds, dyes and conveyor belts—not the comfort of your home.

Faux greenery doesn’t need soil or water or sunlight to survive because it was never alive to begin with. But once they're potted and placed in a corner, their presence feels like a taxidermied wild animal with glass eyes and empty lungs.

But the replication of plant life isn't all bad. The use of paper and textiles to depict nature is a human activity that dates back thousands of years: Egyptians painted reeds onto linen, Romans shaped leaves from metal, South Americans transformed feathers and shells into life-like botanical replicas and the Chinese folded rice paper and spun silk into flowers for the elites to decorate their hair. But those pieces were artful interpretations of nature and used in ways that real petals and twisted branches could not have withstood.

Not Every Form of Plant Imitation is Created Equal

Everything changed in the twentieth century when our fascination with plastic and the desire to wrap our interior lives in it took hold. The beginning of modern synthetic foliage took off in the 1960s with plastic and polyester production. One of the first mass-produced plant adjacent products was a nylon-based grass that mimicked a neatly clipped lawn. It was originally called ChemGrass then renamed AstroTurf in honor of the Houston stadium where it was first rolled out, before it was further developed by a company called Monsanto. Maybe you've heard of them.

In some ways, AstroTurf seems like a distant memory of a bygone era found on the front lawns of untouched 1970s residences, but its fake prickly blades still exist, ironically in public outdoor spaces like Domino Park in Williamsburg, where stunted, scratchy patches of green lie fixed between living shrubs and flowers lining the sidewalk beside the lapping waves of the East River.

Poser Plants Will Never Be Hip

In an age of deforestation and a worsening climate, it's time for plastic plants to disappear altogether. We need all of the living green we can get, not more imitations. Yet new startups are emerging that hawks custom-made wilted fake ferns and sagging succulents with nearly believable sun-crisped edges—as if artificial plants’ inability to fool the naked eye was their sole flaw and not something more fundamental.

Plants are more than cheap aesthetics manufactured in China from petroleum products that smell weird and are zombified to never decompose. If you think about the ideology behind fake plants, it’s one that values appearance over nurtured growth. Buying into this belief ignores why we’re drawn to plants in the first place—because they matter to our lives. They form the foundation of ecosystems on land and underwater and they create the air we breathe.

Plants Change Slowly Just Like Us

Plants grow in stages and achieve milestones like we do. Instead of birth and death, college graduation and moving into a first home, their accomplishments are measured in sprouts and vines, colorful blooms and fresh shoots. Living plants can be plucked from the soil, rooted in water and potted many times over, whereas artificial plants are expensive and cannot give back. They stand in their pots forever, unblinking and unfeeling—until they eventually get thrown in the garbage.

We love the aesthetics of plant life but that isn’t all that matters. Plants should be safe for the environment, for your home and your furry companions. Knowing where your plants came from and how they got to you matters to us and we hope it matters to you.

In a world of fake and seemingly perfect (or fake and slightly browning) things, that which is alive and a little wild bring us joy. Learning how plants look when they’re content and healthy versus when they’re thirsty or overexposed is a wealth of knowledge, but it isn’t rocket science—it just means that you take time to nurture the small, living things. The things that really matter.