A Guide to Giving Plants as (Lovely, Long-Lasting) Gifts

December 27, 2016

Day 29 of 30 Days of Thoughtful Giving: Give plants!

The person who has everything—your best friend, your mom, your person, your boss, your yoga teacher, your roommate—doesn’t have enough plants.

No one has enough plants: big plants, spiky plants, leafy plants, spiny plants, frothy plants, teeny dinosaur-looking succulents. The more there are, the happier a room feels, and the happier the people who spend time in that room feel. (This is more or less scientifically proven.) Plants are inexpensive, they always fit, they don’t need any more wrapping than a bow around the pot. And you’re giving the lucky recipient a tiny living green thing! Even if you don’t live in a place where the winters are grey on grey on grey, it’s just about the sweetest thing you can do for someone—and they’ll think of you every time they see it.

Photo by James Ransom

Onto the main event: some recommendations for which exact plant to give, depending on who's getting the present.

For a friend with a big empty corner:

  • Monstera deliciosa
  • Rubber plant (Ficus elastica)

You’ve seen these guys before. Both are big, jolly plants—easy to care for, happy with medium light, quick to fill out whatever corner you put them in, and always seemings as though they might just reach out and try to hold your hand. Pick a friend who will give you clippings of their Monstera later.

For the friend whose warmth you like to bask in:

  • Cactus of all sorts
  • A couple of succulents

Sun-lovers of all shapes—squat or leggy, purple or green, fire hydrant-dimensioned, undeniably cheery. Just think of the moon cactus, with its bright, fat moon (red! orange! wine-colored! fuschia!) balancing pom-pom-like on top. Or the tall, thin cacti, spare and gentle, which would look very sweet with a bow tied around its waist. Or a collection of little aloes or jade plants or other succulents. (These are also good for friends who tend to be forgetful or travel often—they need almost no water.)

For the cook in your life:

  • Sweet bay leaf tree (Laurus nobilis!)
  • Rosemary
  • Meyer lemon tree

No one expects to receive a living (!) bay leaf tree—and no one doubts that a fresh bay leaf makes a pot of beans sing in a way that a dried one simply can’t. All the more reason to give one; they’re small (often trimmed like bonsai) and manageable, liking full sun and relatively dry soil. (Alternatively, you could track down a bouquet of fresh bay leaves and give that instead.)

Meyer lemon trees, similarly, like a warm, sunny spot, and bring a glassy solarium feeling (and fragrance!) to wherever they’re placed. (And you get Meyer lemons!!!) For something a little smaller, rosemary plants, which look very much like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, are happy gifts now and can be planted come spring.

For the project lover:

  • Kumquat tree or kaffir lime tree
  • Seeds

Take a cue from Food52 community member em-i-lis and give the gift of candied kumquats (or roasted kumquats, or kumquat marmelade)-to-be. (And there’s something magical about a nightstand-sized, fruit-bearing tree growing inside.)

My kumquats are almost ready!!! 🍊🍊🍊 ❤️ #emilis #emilisfood #garden #gardeninginpots #kumquat

A photo posted by Emily Nichols Grossi (@em_i_lis) on

Seeds make a good everyday gift (or a pretty thing to slip under the ribbon of a bigger package)—and promise a future herb box or carrot patch.

For the very busy human:

  • Air plants (Tillandsia)
  • Heart leaf philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum)

As long as it’s got some sun and the occasional misting (bring it into the shower with you and set it on a ledge!), the airplant, like a cactus, can be almost completely neglected—a thoughtful gift for your crazy-busiest friend, especially if you gift it in a little glass nest.

Or, for someone who might like something a bit leafier, the heart leaf philodendron, which is probably almost as busy as they are. Heart leafs grow incredibly quickly, are downright hard to kill, and will spill over fireplace mantels, window sills, side tables, and hanging planters faster than you’d think possible. Truly the gift that keeps on giving, they also are completely indifferent to having their arms snipped off now and then; those arms, placed in a glass of water, will grow roots and be happy to live their lives out in that glass or be planted.

For kids:

Give a plant-happy kid a terrarium, a mossy, glass-enclosed personal world, with a little figure to live inside it—or even offer to build it with them. You could also task them with the job of growing an herb garden—or just give them a leg of bamboo, a good luck charm for the new year.

What have been the best plants you've received as gifts? Share in the comments!


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1 Comment

Smaug December 28, 2016
Do the plant a favor and don't give it to someone who won't- or can't- take care of it. People who know plants generally prefer to pick their own; those who don't are likely to see a gift plant as a burden or to ignore it entirely. Bay trees, by the way, grow rather rapidly (in a benign climate) to 25' and more, so not all that small. Kafir limes are among the tenderest of citrus.