Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


The Gift of Plants

The importance of horticulture in mental health.

Key points

  • Plants provide a metaphor of growth and flourishing when our needs are met.
  • Taking care of a plant can reinforce mindfulness skills.
  • Horticulture is sometimes used in therapy and has been linked to a variety of positive mental health outcomes.

My colleague gifted me a small bamboo plant this week. I smiled as I placed it in the window of my office. It's pretty, but there's something more.

A Metaphor

I have seen plants as an analogy for care and well-being. Just as a flower needs water and sun, we have our own needs. Keeping up with these requirements of another living being can remind us of our own.

In the past, I have used plants in therapy. Placing a plant near some light and ritualistically watering it with clients. It's a simple, but powerful metaphor. Just as the plant needs water and light, we have needs ourselves. Navigating challenges such as arranging care for the flower during breaks reminds us of how our needs still matter when meeting these can be challenging.

Yet, if given what is needed, the plant may flourish. Watching this happen has given me joy. Just as I feel joy seeing other people thrive and moving toward my own valued goals.

Environment, Mindfulness, and Joy

Beyond metaphor, houseplants add a literal sense of life to a room. A study of eighth graders in Taiwan found that the students reported feeling more comfortable and friendly when six houseplants were added to a classroom (Han, 2009). Other research found that the presence of greenery correlated with fewer depressive symptoms among individuals in China during the COVID-19 crisis and corresponding quarantines (Zangeneh et al., 2022).

House plants also encourage wellness strategies such as mindfulness and enjoyment of one thing. The beauty of plants has a visual sensory soothing aspect to it. Also, the time taken to take care of a plant can provide practice of mindfulness skills such a a focus on a single activity of watering a flower. This can also be a practice of other emotion regulation skills in dialectical behavioral and cognitive behavioral traditions.

Horticulture has been utilized in therapy within both inpatient and outpatient settings. While research on its effectiveness is mixed, at least one meta-analysis showed many mental health benefits and no harm done through its use (Tu, 2022).

It goes without saying that plants are not the best gifts for everyone, particularly for our friends with allergies and other aversions. This said I am grateful for that little creature growing in my office.


Han, K. T. (2009). Influence of limitedly visible leafy indoor plants on the psychology, behavior, and health of students at a junior high school in Taiwan. Environment and Behavior, 41(5), 658-692.

Tu, H. M. (2022). Effect of horticultural therapy on mental health: A meta‐analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 29(4), 603-615.

Zangeneh, M., Salehi, Z., & Salehi Salmi, M. (2022). The Role of Houseplants in Reducing Depression during COVID-19 Quarantine. Flower and Ornamental Plants, 7(1), 63-76.

More from Jennifer Gerlach LCSW
More from Psychology Today