In the heat of early August, a friend and I went to Home Depot, ostensibly looking to buy a couple of pots and trays. Really we were there for the plant department’s debris, fallen bits of succulent plants that were destined for the garbage bin. The plan was to gather healthy leaves that had been left for dead on the floor, take them home, and see if we could get them to start growing into new plants.
We dropped to our knees and started retrieving loose leaves from beneath a tower of succulents; I grabbed a tangled jade plant, delighted at my beginner’s luck, only to discover that half of it was black and rotting. Later I found some more suitable specimens that had been swept into a small pile of trash, a broom and dustpan resting nearby.
We were practicing an unusual but quickly growing pastime known as “proplifting,” or scavenging stray plant clippings and bringing them back to life. “Proplifting” is a portmanteau that combines “propagating” — the technical term for growing new plants from seeds or cuttings — and “shoplifting.” The name, while clever, is misleading. The subreddit group dedicated to proplifting has a strict, communally enforced policy against theft — defined in this case as snipping off pieces of a live plant without explicit permission. With its anti-consumerist bent, proplifting brings to mind radical acts of landscaping like seed bombing and guerilla gardening, in which people take the greening of urban spaces into their own hands. But proplifting isn’t rooted in such a rebellious spirit. Members often ask nursery employees before taking plant parts, even when the sample is clearly detached from its parent plant.
Reddit’s proplifting group, which now has nearly 53,000 subscribers, is the rarest thing on the internet: An international community of faceless strangers where manners and ethics are paramount, and where the tone of the conversation skews almost entirely positive. Photos of prop hauls are met with earnest delight; calls for advice with detailed suggestions. If you want to believe the internet can still be good — for our mental health, for fostering constructive conversations…