An investigation into the lives of dorm plants

Pictures courtesy of Kai Speirs

One day back in freshman orientation, I found myself hauling around a large bamboo plant. While I bought it from Dollar One Yard around 3 p.m., I wasn’t able to put it down until I finally got back to my dorm after dinner. Throughout Benny the Bamboo’s long journey across campus, he became somewhat of a micro-celeb, instantly loved by all who laid their eyes on him. Perhaps it was his lush green leaves or his sturdy, tall stem that made him so attractive, but I’m more inclined to believe that many Vassar students simply love plants that come in all shapes and sizes. 


Our little green friends are, in many ways, dorm room essentials. Along with our bamboo plant, my roommate and I have around a dozen small plants that are displayed on various windowsills, shelves and desks. To me, plants breathe life into the room, add pops of color in contrast to the stark white walls and look great in photos. I could have probably written an ode to each of my plants and told you why they’re so amazing, but instead I wanted to embark on a journey. I decided to explore other dorms to discover what plants other students own and ask them why they believe plants to be a worthy investment. Thus, here is a mini tour of campus with a theme: plant perusing. 

Pictures courtesy of Kai Speirs


My first visit was to a dorm room described by a friend as a jungle. Cai Hellman ’25 and Simon Lewis’s ’25 room in Cushing did more than meet my expectations; it blew me away. They shared a large window that yields an impressive amount of natural light. Flanking this window were two identical shelves that curved into a moon-like shape. Fairy lights dangled from pipes that ran across the ceiling and their 15 or so plants gathered around the window, their silhouettes illuminated by the backlight. Between Boy Scout credentials, experience working in a nursery and a keen eye for design, they fashioned this tiny Cushing double into a sanctuary that elicits all the greatest feelings one can experience. To me, it struck a perfect balance between the excitement of jungle exploration and the warmth of a familiar home.  

Pictures courtesy of Kai Speirs:

Hellman and Lewis’s collection of plants ranged from spider plants that grew in old soda bottles to Solidagos they found at Vassar’s ecological preserve. Lewis also showed me the mini terrarium that he had built in a Mason jar. Even though he claimed that he’s not an artist, this was undeniably a work of art. For those who’d like a mini terrarium of their own, he recommended foraging for moss in the wintertime to ensure the moss will stay green year-round. 


Pictures courtesy of Kai Speirs

The roommates emphasized the amount of fun they had incorporating plants and personal aesthetics into their space. “To be able to put plants together in a space and make it look good… It’s a way you can have living art,” Hellman noted. The two also explained how caring for plants can show the passage of time. As Hellman said sentimentally, “It’s so rewarding… You can look back and see, look at all these new leaves.” It really makes the first few weeks at Vassar seem even longer. 


Since Lewis and Hellman’s plants are growing so fast, they plan to start propagating cuttings and gifting the new plants to friends and family. Propagation, or the act of growing new plants from the cuttings or seeds of old ones, means that a single plant with a specific genetic code can be regrown over and over again. In particular, Lewis was enamored with how his African Violet’s genetic properties are maintained after propagation. “So my grandma and one of my best friends have an exact genetic replica of that plant right now,” he noted. For Lewis, plant propagation can create a connection between people even when they are far away.


For Hellman and Lewis, plants serve many purposes. “They literally bring life into a space… I can have my art wall, I can have my bright, colorful, whatever. But it doesn’t look homey without plants,” Hellman concluded.


Next I visited Elinor Kops ’25 in Noyes where I set my eyes on, in my opinion, what appeared to be the greatest plant pot ever. The pot was a bright white ass—excuse my language—with a plant growing from the torso up. We both agreed that a beautiful plant requires a great pot, hence the ass pot. Another eye-catching pot was the shape of a mini snowman with a red and grey scarf, a gift from Kop’s grandmother upon her acceptance to Vassar. I was moved by the fact that most of Kops’s plants were gifts from friends and family who knew of Kops’ fondness for plants. Kops also expressed how grateful she was to her plants for brightening up her space. “Otherwise, if I didn’t have the plants here, if I didn’t have a designated space for plants, it would all be schoolwork stuff. And that’s depressing,” she said. Similar to Hellman and Lewis, Kops explained how the act of tending to a live plant is important. “It gives me a sense of routine,” Kops admitted.

Pictures courtesy of Elinor Kops


Bella Mccray ’25 in Raymond had a similar philosophy towards her dorm room plants. She proudly stated that green was her favorite color while emphasizing the importance of bringing a little color into our dorm spaces which are, at least at first, quite mute. “They make my room feel like a safe and happy place,” she noted. Although her arsenal of plants was relatively small, she explained how even a few plants can really light up a space. Her selection of plants, all of which were gifts, displayed a wide range of leaf sizes from the small, white accented leaves of a nerve plant to the larger-leafed and lighter green Camille. While her humble plants sit on a windowsill that looks down on a much grander plant—the sex tree—they nonetheless have found a space to thrive. 


I hope, dear reader, that I have convinced you of the many benefits of owning dorm plants. From the psychological benefits involved in taking care of and living around plants to the aesthetic payoff, plants eclipse all other dorm decor by a longshot. I guarantee they appear more attractive than paint-chipped white walls and are better for your psyche than that pile of scattered homework on your desks. In the end, this did become a sort of ode to our little green friends of all shapes and sizes. It’s a spotlight on the little guys that make our dingy little rooms just a little bit more homey.   

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