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Succulents are the plant Tampa Bay (and the rest of the country) are going crazy over

St. Petersburg's Jamie O'Berry, 34, has made a business of selling succulents, the latest must-have plant, in obscure and funny planters. One of her most popular sellers is succulents in plastic dinosaurs. [SARA DiNATALE | Times]
Published May 5, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG — Jamie O'Berry's favorite book as a child was The Secret Garden. As an adult living in a small blue house with a big back yard, she has a secret garden of her own.

Inside reside about 3,000 succulents and cacti.

There are succulents growing inside plastic dinosaurs and unicorns. Succulents hanging from a line that stretches the length of the yard. Succulents in teacups, in wine corks. There are ones in a glass Dutch shoe, a porcelain cat, a lantern, and a tiny dolphin.

There are some filling large pots and some with months left to grow out. There's the prickly ones, the purple ones and the ones that resemble a string of pearls. There are the ones you should keep outside and the ones you can keep on your office desk.

There are so many that O'Berry, 34, loses track of her inventory. What started as a side project in 2010 eventually became a full-time job: People love succulents, and O'Berry, along with help from her father, delivers.

But now their business is really, well, blooming. Turns out, in a culture that loves anything with an Instagram-worthy aesthetic, succulents are having a moment.

"When Office Depot starts carrying succulents," O'Berry said, "you know they're trending."

Succulents have become the "it" plant, sought-after decor for coffee shops, homes and boutique display windows. They're beloved by many — often women — across generations. And in the last few years, they've blown up. But why?

"Honestly," O'Berry starts, "they're really cute."

It's not like they're a new plant, or even a new hobby. Aloe has been grown and used as a medicine since ancient times. The Cactus & Succulent Society of America was born in 1929 in California. In 2007, a book called Designing with Succulents spent 19 weeks as the best-selling gardening book on Amazon.

But then came the popularly of social media — specifically, Pinterest.

That's when O'Berry said she and her father noticed a rise in sales for their year-and-a-half-old business: around 2012 when photos of the precious plants started attracting attention on the image-sharing and do-it-yourself craft and recipe site. Suddenly, the plants were being embraced as shower and wedding favors.

Kim Hutton, the event planner for the University of South Florida Botanical Gardens on the Tampa campus, noticed the growing interest in succulents about two years ago. The garden has had a popular succulent display for nearly two decades now.

"They've definitely become like one of the 'in' plants," Hutton said. "Plants are like any other fad." Different kinds come in an out of fashion, she said. Now, the garden sells a lot of the must-have plants.

"The students are just crazy for the succulents," she said. "We're lucky to have so many of them."

O'Berry said the quirky knick-knacks she uses as planters, such as plastic dinosaurs, are beloved by her millennial clients. Etsy, an online market place for handmade goods, has several sellers similar to O'Berry, though the bulk are in California. Fans of the plants in Tampa Bay say they're perfect for Florida — especially during the recent drought.

"I've always been into plants," said Carol Reily, 34, a collector who lives in Spring Hill. "The heat and dryness here, (succulents) can survive anything. I think that's why they've become so popular. They're easy to take care of."

The plants come from the desert, so they can absorb and hold water to survive under dry conditions. But Hutton said they can also do well during Florida's rainy season.

Avid collectors like Reily trade the plants like baseball cards. A Facebook group call the "St. Petersburg Succulent Addicts" just held a swap and meetup in April — that's the closest enthusiast group to Hernando County that Reily has been able to find.

So she's thinking of starting her own.

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com or (727)893-8862. Follow @sara_dinatale.

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