The concept of plants “with purpose” is not a new thing, but thanks to the magic of social media and a younger generation eager to share, word is getting out. Fast.

And again, thanks to that younger generation of socially and ecologically aware consumers, plants are expected to do more. More than just look pretty. More than exist to be mowed. More than something Grandma spends her time nurturing.

There’s a marvelous line in a “Washington Post” article about “young urbanites” filling their homes with houseplants: “Greenery has been a motif among the achingly hip for at least three years … ” apparently influenced by fashion designers who featured floral fabrics galore in their runways shows.

“Suddenly,” the article goes on to say, “tropicalia is finding its way indoors. Even in drab gray concrete jungles such as Baltimore and New York, young people are turning their apartments into ‘house jungles.’

“Others prefer the term ‘urban rain forest” or the cutesy ‘jungalow.’ In this aspirational landscape, outlandishly and photographically lush is ideal, and filling your home with plants is ‘urban wilding.’ In less enlightened times, we probably would have just called it ‘decorating.'”

Whatever they choose to call it, younger generations are tuning in to the value of plants in a big way. From urban jungalow dwellers to grow-your-own food practitioners, the achingly hip and just plain folks alike are looking for plants. And not just plants, but plants with purpose.

NASA demonstrated the health benefits of indoor plants a couple of decades ago, with its groundbreaking research into ways to purify – or at least detoxify – the air in its space stations. This clean air study resulted in the identification of common houseplants that are capable of filtering such nasty things as formaldehyde, benzene, xylene and ammonia, simply by being plants. It’s safe to say that most of us will never ride that rocket, but we all have access to miraculous little air purifiers.

Plants clean more than just air: Many have the ability to remove heavy metals from soil and to filter particulates and toxins from groundwater.

Take a look at our article on Carex (“The Right Time for Sedges”), for example. As authors Shannon Currey and Zika Wolfe point out, sedges provide services well beyond the obvious ornamental benefits. Several species of sedge tolerate fluctuating moisture conditions so well that they’ve become the go-to plant for green infrastructure projects.

Then there’s the edible ornamental group – or ornamental edibles? From berries to leafy vegetables, plant purchases are increasingly based on the question, “What can it do for me?” Whether it’s feeding the family or feeding the flickers, a desirable plant these days has to provide a service.

Wondering which plants can perform what tasks? Or wondering how to help the gardening public understand – and make the right choices? Check out The Western trade show in January. The 2018 Western (held in Kansas City January 17 to 19) celebrates Plants With Purpose with a special emphasis during its opening reception on Wednesday evening. Throughout 2017, the Western Nursery & Landscape Association has presented a Plants with Purpose Education Series of webinars. You can catch the next one on November 15, then plan to attend the show to continue the discussion.

Consumers are asking a lot of their plants, but the plants are up to it. We just have to be a little better at communicating that.