As home accessories go, fake plants have among the worst reputations. Situated somewhere between waterbeds and plastic couch covers on the tackiness scale, we tend to envision them nestled in an unfortunate corner of someone’s great aunt’s house, gathering dust and looking unequivocally not alive. Most interior design experts (and non-experts, for that matter) would therefore advise you to steer clear of faux flora of any kind. That is, they would have until recently.
“I think people are more aware of the beauty plants bring into a home. Fake plants help people who do not have a green thumb enjoy the physical effect of greenery,” explains Deidre Remtema of U.S. Michigan-based interior design firm Deidre Interiors. “Fake plants got a bad rap in the past because they looked like plastic and not real at all, which is a huge turn off. The materials used to make fake plants have come a long way to tricking the eye!”
Indeed, as your own window sill may evidence, plants — both alive and otherwise — have experienced a surge in popularity, especially among millennials. An oft-cited 2016 survey from the U.S. National Gardening Association notes that of the six million Americans who took up gardening that year (apparently, occasionally remembering to water a succulent counts as gardening!) five million were between the ages of 18 and 34. Generational identity notwithstanding, houseplants can be finicky, time-consuming, and expensive. Thankfully, where there’s a trend, there’s somebody figuring out a way to get the look for less. Enter: the return of the artificial houseplant.
“I went to an Atlanta home and gift trade show last January and I saw them everywhere. They had a whole section catered to just fake plants, which is crazy. Every brand had some kind of [fake plant] product. It was such a thing,” says Taryn Tavella, associate editor of lifestyle and interior design trends at forecasting firm WGSN.
The proliferation of plant fakery might also have something to do with the popularity of plants that aren’t artificial, but can sometimes appear to be — stuff like succulents, cacti, and rubber plants. These sturdy plant varieties are popular because they’re easy to maintain and hard to kill. But if you’re going to have plants that kind of look fake anyway, well, why not go one step further?
Instead of cheap, plastic-y, and weirdly perfect (the dead giveaway of most non-living vegetation), today’s faux plants are crafted with the express purpose of looking realistic. They’re perfectly imperfect, if you will. The enterprising crew behind Slightly Browning Fake Plants, a viral Kickstarter turned legit artificial plant source, have taken this concept to its logical conclusion.
“There’s a category of people who appreciate [the plants] on a pretty sincere level,” Kurt Slawitschka, co-founder and chief “growth” officer, says of the project. “They’re people who have had plants and really struggled to take care of them and feel bad about it.”
Plastic plants are not exactly cheap either: This faux fiddle leaf fig from World Market will set you back $179 USD, while a similar one from CB2 costs $299. At $45, the Slightly Browning Fake Plants are considerably cheaper, though also smaller. While $300 seems like an awful lot of money to spend on a fake plant — especially considering you can get the real deal for about $70 at The Tree Centre — the fact that it will live forever no matter how much you neglect it is an understandable draw.
Just as fashion folk are determined to make dad sneakers and mom jeans relevant again, there’s a tendency to mine the past for things that might have been unfairly dismissed. It’s the same thing that happened to shag carpeting: Once considered a gauche relic of the ‘70s, it’s now a staple of college dorms, first apartments, and beyond. You probably even have one of those furry pillows on your couch.
Before you replace the contents of your much-toiled over plant corner with a bunch of fakes, though, Tavella cautions that there is one potential drawback. “I worry about it from a sustainability perspective,” she says of the trend. Many fake plants are made from plastic, which pollutes oceans and the environment. And unlike their living brethren, faux plants don’t help create better quality air for us to breathe. “It would be a good opportunity for a brand to come out with some that are sustainable and of that level of quality,” Tavella notes.
Indeed, judging by their presence not just at commercial design arbiters like CB2, IKEA, Target, and West Elm but also at plant stores like Terrain, it would appear fake house plants aren’t going anywhere. And that’s fine, especially if you’re mixing them with real plants, as Remtema often suggests to clients who want large arrangements (“one fake plant is easy to pass but a grouping of seven would not be convincing,” she says). Just please, remember to dust those oh-so-convincing leaves off every now and then.