by Lindsay McMillan
Along the windowsill, a line of hand thrown ceramic pots sits facing the hot Orange County sun. Inside them, the small desert plants called succulents are planted amongst moss and clovers. Cuttings of leaves and stems lay in a pile of dirt beside the house until they can be potted. For some Chapman students, succulent growing has become a favorite hobby.
“I have around 30 right now,” said junior graphic design major Val Geiger, “One day I skipped class just to plant my babies.”
Succulents are any fleshy plants that belong to one of many diverse families, among them species of cactus, aloe, stonecrop, houseleek, agave, and yucca. Since they are extremely drought-tolerant, low-maintenance and easy to replant, succulents have introduced college students to an easy care garden and a healthy habit.
“I love that they refuse to die,” said Geiger, “You can pull a leaf off, throw it in the dirt, and a root will just spring out of it. I basically just stare at them, its therapeutic.”
For some, gardening may serve a relaxing escape to life’s responsibilities, as it has been shown to reduce stress, decreasing the cortisol hormone that plays a major role in the stress response. However the plants themselves possess beneficial healing qualities, such as the aloe vera plant.
“I grow three aloe vera plants in my backyard,” said sophomore theatre performance major Natasha Gualy, “The gooey inside treats sunburnt skin and enhances its skin cell renewing properties. Having it available to me 24/7 has been really helpful for my friends and me after spending hours in the sun.”
While succulents may be used as décor or remedy, they also serve as a water conscience substitute to lawn heavy, drought-intolerant gardens. Typically, the plants have far fewer leaves with a hard and heavily cutinized outer surface. This minimizes evaporation from the inner tissue that can retain and store water over long periods of time.
Needing water just about every other week, succulents adapted to survive arid conditions throughout the world, from Africa to the deserts in North America. In the West today, drought has called attention to careless water use.
“Succulents are tough-as-nail plants, that’s a big part of why I love them,” said sophomore studio art major Lily Strandberg, “I really appreciate nature and it seems like people don’t really recognize the drought we’re in.”
In the last few years, the drought that has swept California is reportedly the driest in 130 years. After Los Angeles saw no rainfall in January for only the fifth time since 1878, state officials began moving to put emergency plans into action.
The New York Times reported that a worst-case scenario would mean drinking water being brought by truck into parched communities and additional wells being drilled to draw on groundwater.
“I hadn’t really recognized the drought,” said Strandberg, “But when I learned about succulents, I saw that any kind of water conservation is needed.”
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the average American household uses 320 gallons of water per day, about 30 percent of which is used for outdoor purposes. Nationwide, landscape irrigation is estimated to account for nearly one-third of all residential water use, totaling at about nine billion gallons per day.
“Succulents may have started as a hobby,” said Strandberg, “but I see how they serve a greater purpose.”
In fact, beyond needing about two-thirds less water than a typical lawn, succulents may be fire-retardant enough to protect Southern California homes from wildfire. With the climate’s dryness, fire hazards are high and in need of attention.
As landscape plants, succulents could hold off the flames long enough to extinguish a growing fire. The fire may cook the water laden exterior leaves but not enough to dry and burn them. Thus, without fuel, the fire stops.
This state of dryness calls for a bigger audience and more active participation in the attempt to control water usage. For college students, it may be as simple as starting a succulent green thumb to raise water awareness and a deeper appreciation for nature.