Paris Jewell, 19, a UF forest resources and conservation sophomore, sells her plants and paintings at Sitting Swan Market at 4th Ave Food Park Tuesday, February 23, 2021. It was her second time selling at a market since starting her business. (Julia Coin/WUFT News)

Florida Plant Nursery Businesses Grow During Stifling Pandemic

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When Yazmin Almaraz and Nadia Mourad saw COVID coming just months after they opened their own plant business, they didn’t know what would happen. Now they’re regular vendors at local markets and will open their first permanent greenhouse nursery in March.

As the pandemic shut some small businesses’ doors, it kept many plant nurseries not just open, but thriving. The industry’s typical slow winter season never came and sales continued to climb.

Almaraz, 31, and Mourad, 25, co-owners of Tropical Roots Plant Co., had perfect timing without knowing it. They started their business at the end of 2019 and saw it grow as people became more and more interested in owning plants while confined in their homes.

“It blew up,” Mourad said. “It blew up when COVID started and didn’t stop. Everyone was still stuck in their houses and I guess wanted plants.”

Jewell’s passion for succulents sprouted from a trip to a market in St. Petersburg, and that turned into a journey of learning how to propagate and expand her collection.

According to Riley Blitch, Garden Gate Nursery’s owner, revenue increased 28% since last year. He’s used that money to do things he said he wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.

The nursery, located at 406 NW 43rd Street, across from Thornebrook Village Shopping Center in Gainesville, is renovating its greenhouse and repaving walkways all while maintaining a larger staff. This is atypical for the offseason.

Blitch noticed a specific increased interest in growing fruits and vegetables.

“I don’t know if it’s survivalism,” he said, “but it’s an interest. If you’re going to be planting, it’s fun to plant something you can eat.”

For Paris Jewell, 19, a UF forest resources and conservation sophomore, a passion for succulents, which sprouted from a trip to a market in St. Petersburg, turned into a journey of learning how to propagate and expand her collection.

The pandemic gave her time to grow her setup and foster an idea that’s always been in the back of her mind. She now propagates plants in her backyard and pots them in unique thrifted containers or trinkets to be sold at local markets like Sitting Swan at 4th Ave Food Park and Samurai Skateshop’s night markets.

Whether it’s for food, the aesthetic or to feel a connection to nature, plant pals also have health benefits.

Taylor Clem, the environmental horticulture agent for the county’s UF Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences extension office, said plants have long been known to cleanse air of harmful chemicals, reduce dust and increase oxygen within a home.

He also said that the psychological benefits of access to plants have been shown in medical studies observing outpatient recovery when greenery is visible through a window or, even better, when plants are inside.

Almaraz says she wanted to start Tropical Roots Plant Co. because of the mental health benefits she knew it could have. She intentionally focused on supplying houseplants to their customers so people, namely college students who may not have a backyard, could still enjoy those benefits.

“It’s part of their wellness routine now,” Mourad said. “Everyone’s talking about wellness and self-love; plants, taking care of a plant, have been proven to improve your mental state.”

She thinks social media influences their interest, particularly on house plants.

“You started to see these plant influencers,” Mourad said. “They started to show off pictures on Instagram, like how they’re decorating their houses. I think that really employs people to be like ‘Wow, yeah, I want my home to feel like a jungle.’”

Blitch also noticed this uptick at his nursery.

“Because people aren’t traveling as much, I think they’re kind of feathering their nest and making things nicer around their house instead,” he said.

About Julia Coin

Julia is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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