Another Kind of Pet–Consider a Houseplant!

You have very little space for a dog, cat, or even parakeet. Or you travel frequently during the week. Or you have allergies that fire up like crazy in the presence of our furry friends. But you don’t like coming home to an empty space, where the only thing alive is you and an occasional fly that swooped in through an open door.

Well, what about a “roommate” that never complains about your bad habits, doesn’t snore, won’t get huffy if neglected for two or three days, and might smell nice, be a pretty ‘face’, or both?! That would be a plant, and though we may consider plant “pets” with tongue in cheek, there are advantages.

Those who already own many house plants might not start referring to them as house “pets”, but they’ve already recognized the pleasures of sharing space with the many plants that bring color, texture, fragrance, even elegance to an apartment or room. Oh, did I mention some plants also help clean the air in our offices and living areas, adding another plus to keeping them near us?

OK, the concept of plant as pet isn’t as strange as a few sentences ago, so what are basic requirements to keeping them? What would a cat, dog, parakeet or hamster need as compared to a plant?

  • They both need food – check.
  • And water (the majority of them) – check.
  • An environment that allows them to thrive – check.
  • Need to take to doctor on regular basis – maybe.
  • Need to adjust living conditions or growth requirements – maybe.
  • A place to potty and/or exercise – no.
  • Interaction with owner/human/master – no.
  • Obedience training – no.
  • Need to limit reproductive activities – no.
  • Respond to voice commands – no.
  • Topic of conversation – check.
  • Picture in wallet – check.
  • Cute name for Facebook friends – check.

With the same consideration used in choosing a puppy or kitty, choose the plant you want and that reflects your personality. “Wandering jew” (Tradescantia var) or Spiderwort, Peperomias, Chinese evergreens, Pothos, Spiderplants, Ficus (weeping fig), Peace lily, Snake plant or Mother-in-law’s tongue, and Aloe vera are tough, handle neglect, and offer a calming green presence in return.

buying houseplants

This rubber tree plant’s name is “Penny” ‘cause leaves are shiny like pennies. Photo courtesy of Sallie Lee

You can start your plant from seed, cuttings, or by purchasing one already rooted in a pot. For most beginners to this ‘plant as pet’ thing, it’s easier to get one already up and growing but hey, if it dies, you aren’t out a lot of money and there’s minimal guilt!

Naming your plant can be omitted, but if this is a special, sentimental green pet, names are nice! In addition, research some years back suggested plants respond to humans talking to them because of that carbon dioxide we release, but regardless, a name wouldn’t hurt.

So add another dimension to your life and living space, or just grow with it!

By Sallie Lee, Urban Regional Extension Agent, Alabama Cooperative Extension System.  Contact Sallie at

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) operates as the primary outreach organization for the land-grant functions of Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. ACES is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity and the diversity of its workforce.  Educational programs of ACES serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or national origin.

Alabama Extension

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System operates as the primary outreach organization for the land-grant functions of Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities and answers home-gardeners' questions each week on Birmingham Gardening Today.

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