It’s said that it takes around 700 houseplants to supply enough oxygen for one person. Without plants, that person (in the classic sci-fi setup of a heroic astronaut trapped on a broken ship in outer space), would survive about three days before carbon dioxide levels become fatal. But, back on Earth—in Brooklyn, specifically—Christopher Griffin, also known as Plant Kween on Instagram, believes you only need one to reap the benefits of summoning nature indoors. He has 224 houseplants in his apartment, to be exact. But, like most journeys of self-discovery, it all started with one.
In 2016, Griffin bought his first marble queen pothos. To this day, it sits amongst his collection at nine feet long adjacent a south-facing window. And, though some might call him a “plant person” or someone with a particularly green thumb (which, as Griffin would offer in our conversation, is apparently more of a fallacy than a fable), he possess the essence of a true queen: someone who cares for his “green gurls” as if they were real, everyday constituents of his 850-square foot commonwealth of cacti, ferns, succulents, and more. He even calls them by their royal, scientific names: as unwieldy as Ms. Monstera Pinnatipartita and Ms. Euphorbia Lactea—or simply, little Ms. RattleSnake. (They remind him of pun-laden drag queen monikers.)
But it’s on Instagram where Griffin’s self-made jungle truly comes to life. On #MonsteraMondays, Griffin starts each week sharing plant care tips—from how to cure frustrating maladies like yellowing or browning leaves to how to conduct the proper research to ensure you give a plant the environment it deserves to thrive. Sprinkled throughout are videos of Griffin strutting through nurseries to Beyoncé and Mariah Carey as he shops for plants to add to his collection. And, sometimes, Griffin will show you the secrets from the roads less traveled of the journey through plant parenthood: how to propagate, how to foster localized humidity, and even how to make your own soil.
Though he’s been collecting plants for five years, he insists his outlook on horticulture hasn’t changed. If, for some, houseplant care can feel overwatered with cis white women, like an Instagram aesthetic, a waste of money, or nothing but a losing game—then it is. But, for Griffin—who considers his apartment to be his very own classroom—then it’s also a way to connect with local shop owners, revive family traditions of his mother and grandmother to foster his green garden of joy, and a way to exhale from the blues of real life (pardon the carbon dioxide).
Even at 313k followers, Plant Kween is incredibly down-to-earth. In our interview, Griffin gets to the root of the plant industry, how sustainable a hobby homebound horticulture can be, and just what he’d say to anyone who thinks living amongst several hundred plants is more of a fire hazard than a sanctuary.
To start off, I need to know: How many plants do you have?
I’m a little over the 200 mark in my current space. On the other side of this wall, I have a whole plant nook that’s just dedicated to my plants. So, a little over 200.
How long did that take?
I got my first plant about five years ago, so 2016. It turned into a journey and it was really fun. I found myself building community and learning new things. And then when the pandemic hit, I really dove into it. I had also just moved into a new space and it was much larger than my old space. I was like Oh my God, so much room. And then what did I fill it with? Plants.
How do you come up with their names?
I truly appreciate their scientific names. It actually reminds me of drag queen names. But all of my plants are called my green gurls. I have way too many to name each and every one.
And which plant started it all?
My grandmother was the person who introduced me to gardening. I grew up in Philly and when I was younger, she would take me on little trips to nurseries; gardening was, like, her thing. She had the best garden on the block. She shared those experiences with me as a child, her spaces of joy. And that was really powerful for me to see the light that shined from her when she was in that space. Then, fast forward, my mother was also into gardening [but] she was more of an outdoor gardener and my grandmother did outdoor and indoor. So, it was like a combination of their influences.
When I got my first plant [a marble queen pothos], I had just moved into a new space with a roommate. It was my second apartment in Brooklyn. The first place that I had wasn’t really the greatest for plants. It was a bit of a mess. So, when I moved into this space, the apartment had high ceilings, skylights, and a south facing window. And I was like, Oh, I can do something with this. So I thought of my grandmother and I felt ready. I wanted to make sure that I was doing my grandmother justice and not just buying a plant and wind up not being able to take care of her. So, I waited for the right time where I was ready to dive into this journey.
I have always identified as a student and during that time, it was my first school year working full-time. So I think I was struggling not having that student identity. And I was like, Well, I want to create my own classroom. How could I dive into something and learn something just for the sake of learning?
And then plants became that avenue. I have no background in horticulture at all—no certificates, no degrees, nothing like that. This is purely self-taught and community taught. But it became a space where I dove into horticulture, indoor gardening, self-care, and community building. I feel like it’s allowed me a bunch of different classrooms to learn in. So, I’ve created my own little university of exploration.
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I think last year saw a moment of reckoning for many industries. Do you think the plant industry needs that same type of wake-up call for a more inclusive environment?
There are definitely conversations around diversity inclusion and representation within horticulture—as a profession, definitely. In terms of social media, when I first started out with documenting my journey, it was all about the plants. I was like, Oh, I don’t need to show myself. I’m not going to put myself in front of the camera. I don’t need to do that.
And that’s when I realized, like, Oh, there are people online that do this! Like, plant people are a thing. And I noticed a lot of like cis white folks, mostly cis white women. I’m like… I know we out there! So, I started putting myself in front of the camera. I was experiencing joy from what I was doing so why not share that joy? But I ain’t changed.
In what ways would you consider your work with plants a sustainable hobby?
It’s been a journey.
There are a lot of plants that come in plastic nursery pots, so I try to repurpose or recycle them in different ways. If there is a situation where there’s a particular plant that needs a lot of moisture, for example, I’ll place them in a plastic pot that I already have so I’m not buying new plastic pots or anything like that. I also try to compost as many dead plants and food scraps as much as possible. But that’s a whole other conversation, in terms of access to composting, which can depend on what neighborhood you live in and what the people there look like.
We can learn so much from these creatures, about their resiliency and their adaptability.
How did the pandemic affect the plant business?
I don’t own a plant shop or anything like that but I’m connected to plant shops and things. And, at one point, there was actually a shortage because the demand was so high that growers couldn’t keep up with it. But there’s also been a lot of plant bidding of rare plants. Because there’s this heightened visibility and conversation around bringing plants into your home, and how they’re good for your health and give you something to do. I think people are paying more attention to plants now, which means there are going to be some folks who are going to take advantage of it. I heard of a particular plant that sold for like $15,000. I was like, Girl, there’s not a plant in the world for that amount of money.
For me, it’s not about having the rarest plant. Like, I have 25 snake plants and they are my pride and joy but they are one of the most basic plants. But I love them! It’s just really interesting that folks are paying all this money for plants that probably won’t survive that long in their space.
I’m interested in having conversations about how rooted—pun intended—the plant industry is in capitalism. You want people to buy, buy, buy. So if you’re setting people up for failure and you know, not providing folks with the proper education on how to take care of plants or providing them with a poorly rooted plant, they’re going to have to buy more. It’s this model of continuing to buy plants over and over again. I’m like, Girl, propagate your plant. If you got a couple plants, you can make a jungle—right? But you have to take the time and invest in learning how to propagate and finding the best tools. Sometimes folks are more about the aesthetic and that’s fine. But I’m more interested in, Oh, I have a struggling plant. Let me see if there’s a way that I can bring her back or Let me propagate her so I can save a piece of her and start a new plant. Everybody has their different motivations and starting points so I try not to judge.
What has surprised you along this journey?
Do you know what the “green thumb” tale originates from?
There was a king back in the day of kings and queens who enjoyed a fruit. And in order to harvest this fruit, you had to peel back something and it would leave green residue on your finger. So, his subjects would collect this fruit for him and they would be rewarded if they collected the most of this fruit. So, it was said that having green fingers or a green thumb meant that you had the most of the fruits—which means that you were rewarded by the king.
It had nothing to do with taking care of the plants.
Wow—that is hilarious. You have so many followers but it still feels like you’re just getting started. What do the next five years look like for you?
Honestly, I really didn’t have any intentions when I started this. I truly was just being myself and I think folks just enjoy following along. I feel like this is one of the spaces where I can just truly, fully be present in the now. It’s really just an open flow of opportunities. Let’s see where it takes me. In an ideal world, it’d be nice to reach a larger audience. I think that would be really fun. How do I get there? We’ll see.
This is a journey that I’m allowing myself to have fun with. I’m blessed to be able to have a full-time job that I love and then use Plant Kween as more of a creative, exploratory classroom. I didn’t have any intention on being where I am right now and it’s fun and fabulous. I’m like, Let’s just stick with that—enjoy the surprises, enjoy the adventure, and enjoy the folks and things I learn along the way.
Last question: What would you say to someone who says 200-something plants is too much?
It’s never too much, darling. That’s exactly what I would say. It’s never too much.