Miami Plant Swap Allows the Foliage-Obsessed to Continue Growing Their Collections

Paula Amezquita works at her parents' nursery, Perfect Choice, in Southwest Ranches.
Paula Amezquita works at her parents' nursery, Perfect Choice, in Southwest Ranches.
Photo courtesy of Paula Amezquita
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Perhaps it's because millennials often rent their homes and apartments, usually with strict pet rules. Or maybe it's because millennials are waiting to have children later in life than previous generations — if they choose to have them at all. Whatever the reason, just scroll through your Instagram feed and you'll see that millennials are plant-obsessed.

And they're not just any houseplants, but the kind that rarely or never bloom but are still striking thanks to bold patterns, loud colors, and perfect geometric shapes. More often than not, they tend to be of the tropical variety, the kind that seem relatively commonplace to those who grew up in South Florida.

Our mothers and grandmothers had philodendrons cascading to the floor, aloe vera plants ready to be sliced open when we had a burn, and staghorn ferns nailed to the tree on the front lawn.

These are familiar memories for Paula Amezquita and Vanessa Borroto, South Florida natives who have been surrounded by foliage their entire lives. Borroto grew up in a Cuban household filled with greenery. Amezquita says her family started a nursery around the time she was 9 years old on the whim of her mother, who simply wanted to procure more flowers for her garden. Eventually, that hobby morphed into her parents' full-time business, Perfect Choice Nursery, located in Southwest Ranches.

"At first, my dad bought a trailer, and from there he started to do more research," Amezquita recalls. "First, he started just selling pottery and then got into landscaping, and just a couple years ago, we started to grow our own plants as well."

Amezquita says it was a move to Orlando that spurred her to take plants from her parents' nursery to her apartment so she could feel closer to home. "That's when I learned how to take care of them," she says. She eventually moved back to South Florida to work in the family business and soon began growing Perfect Choice's presence on social media. She quickly built a following of local plant lovers.

Vanessa Borroto is part of a growing local plant community whose members share their love of greenery on social media.
Vanessa Borroto is part of a growing local plant community whose members share their love of greenery on social media.
Photo courtesy of @theplantnecessities

"Because of Instagram, I realized how big the plant community is in Miami," Amezquita says. "It's crazy how big the community is here, and they know all of their stuff. I know all of my plant information because I work with my parents every day, but the South Florida community have acquired their knowledge not because it's their job, but because they love it."

Vanessa Borroto easily qualifies as one of those locals who are so enthusiastic about plants you'd almost expect them to have a degree in horticulture. However, her love for greenery naturally evolved out of her local surroundings. South Florida's humid climate is a perfect environment for the trendy plants often touted by countless YouTube vloggers, including Brooklyn's Summer Rayne Oakes and landscape designer Amanda Switzer, AKA Planterina. This obsession on social media has placed South Florida at the epicenter of the tropical houseplant trend, where plants that locals consider common, such as pothos and monsteras, are being collected by hobbyists the world over.

"[Last year], I made a point to start exploring our local gardens," Borroto says, "and I always liked taking pictures of plants but always saved them on my camera roll, thinking, Who on my Instagram wants me to spam them with all these plant pictures?"

However, after snapping shots of the lush grounds at the Kampong in Coconut Grove after a yoga class, Borroto felt compelled to share her photos and started an Instagram account dedicated to plants, @theplantnecessities. The account has connected her to not only local plant fiends but also people as far away as Australia and Finland.

Paula Amezquita (right) will debut her mobile nursery, Petals, at Sunday's plant swap.
Paula Amezquita (right) will debut her mobile nursery, Petals, at Sunday's plant swap.
Photo courtesy of Paula Amezquita

Social media also brought Almezquita and Borroto together. Borroto says she discovered Perfect Choice online and was impressed by the nursery's selection. They formed a friendship over their love of plants, and they eventually met in person when Borroto needed some landscaping advice. Borroto says she eventually mentioned hosting a plant swap together.

Plant swaps have become relatively common across the nation. Enthusiasts and the plant-curious come together to swap clippings that can be propagated into larger plants. There's no money exchanged — just the satisfaction of helping another plant person grow their collection.

Amezquita and Borroto will host their first plant swap this Sunday, September 29, at Proper Studio in Allapattah. Everyone is welcome to attend, even if you don't have anything to swap or are a novice plant parent. The event will also serve as the debut of Amezquita's newest project, the mobile nursery truck Petals. In addition to the plant swap area, Petals will sell a wide variety of plants, including indoor, outdoor, and succulents, requiring different levels of care.

If you're new to the plant game, Amezquita recommends starting with an easy-to-care-for plant like a sansevieria or a pothos, which are a bit more forgiving if you forget to water them.

"Having plants is very rewarding," Borroto says. "When you know you've kept them happy and growing, it's super-rewarding. I sit in an office all day and have a long commute, so having a bit of greenery helps."

Petals and Friends Plant Swap. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, September 29, at Proper Studio, 3406 NW Seventh St., Miami; 786-584-7782; byproper.com. Admission is free.

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