Style statements, a sense of wellbeing, even cleaner air. Yes, plants rock. Unless of course, like us, you’re not sure what you’re doing with them or exactly where to put them. Enter Steward, a start-up that takes the angst out of plant parenting. They’ve married some smart tech with friendly guidance to create personalized plant maps according to the differing light levels in your home. Smart, huh? We asked co-founders, Alexi and Brendan, to shed some light (sorry, couldn’t resist) on how it works, as well as their new plans to partner with plant shops around the country.
Let’s dive straight in: Why plants? Why tech? Why you? Give us a potted history.
Nature and plants have played an important theme in both of our lives. Looking back, Steward gives us the superpowers we both wished for as kids. Alexi has been fascinated by how nature impacts our health. Brendan has been fascinated by how we can partner with nature and technology to grow the environments we live in. We came together at NASA Ames Research Center at a program focused on Climate Change. We were looking at the plant space and where the main friction points were in enabling us to grow. People love plants but turns out we’re not the best at caring for them. After researching thousands of deceased plants, we discovered that 90% of plants die because of where they are placed and how this location impacts their care. Then it occurred to us that there was no way to measure or communicate how these conditions change every few feet in our homes. So, we created Steward to take the guesswork out of growing.
How does Steward differ from just doing a bit of research on Google?
Steward is like a one-stop-shop/search engine for your home’s plant potential. We’ve created a new way to measure your home’s environment and show you exactly which plants can grow.
Using the Steward app, you quickly scan your room and we create your custom Plant Maps. These make matching the right plants with your light and environment simple and caring for them easy. With your custom Plant Maps, you’ll see how each indoor zone is ideal for different plants and that just a few feet can mean the difference between withering and thriving! As the seasons’ change, your Plant Maps adapt and update along with them. Your entire experience is tailored to you, your plants, and your home’s environment. When you have questions, one of our Plant Experts can use this unique data to get to the root cause.
Any other innovations in the Steward pipeline?
Yes! We’ll keep innovating until partnering with nature is easy for everyone. There are so many friction points throughout the plant parenting journey, so we don’t anticipate stopping anytime soon.
We haven’t announced anything yet, but for anyone interested in their outdoor spaces, please say hello.
What’s your favorite app, aside from Steward?
For learning about nature: Seek or iNaturalist from the Academy of Sciences
For thinking big: Star Walk
For health: Calm & Zero: Fasting App
Plant buying. How can you tell if a plant is healthy?
Look out for new growth! This is a positive sign that the plant has been kept in aligned growing conditions. We love shopping for plants in-person when possible. Local shops often have some of the healthiest plants.
Look for and be wary of any pests. If you see signs, it’s best to hold off. Even if this plant is resilient to them, you may bring unwanted visitors to your plants at home.
As a Steward member, you can always snap a photo while you are shopping, and we’ll let you know the plant’s health and what to look for. Good initial plant health makes plant parenting easier.
Gifting. Plant or flowers?
Have to go with gift plants (including flowering plants) with a Steward membership so you know your gift will keep growing. Also nice to know that you’re not gifting any anxiety or guilt if your plant begins to struggle and starts to become a metaphor for your relationship. We’ve been there!
What’s your favorite Latin plant name?
Sansevieria cylindrica (say it several times slowly. Very relaxing) The new scientific name is Dracaena angolensis, but we can’t stop saying the former.
Any plant trends for 2021 we should know about, so we can get ahead of the curve?
Everyone is talking about Hoyas and we have to admit, they are fun plants. Diverse, fragrant, and flowering, these are rare combos for indoor plants.
Plants with purpose are what we’re getting behind this year (and decade). Whether an indoor plant for wellness, edible plants for dinner, or native plants for biodiversity, planting gives us all a way to actively grow the environments we live, work, and play in.
Do you ever talk to your plants? Or sing to them? Give them names? Take them on vacation?
Definitely yes to giving them names. We tend to hold off naming them after friends and family as we still run many experiments to test the extremes that plants can endure and thrive within.
Brendan brings air plants with him when traveling (locally, don’t worry TSA) and likes to wear them on his jacket/suit. In case this comes into vogue, air plants don’t like direct sunlight, so they are best matched for evening attire or a cloudy day.
What marvelous mistakes have you learned from?
We got a stunning and rare begonia. Came home and put it aside for a few hours (without checking our Plant Map!). The plant burnt in direct sunlight that first afternoon it came home. It was so painful. A mistake that reminded us, light is quick to take effect. Just like sunbathing can burn us, some plants can burn in minutes.
If you wanted someone to remember just one thing about plant care, what would that one thing be?
Where we place a plant is the single most important decision we make as a plant parent. Light changes dramatically every few feet indoors. Don’t take it lightly.
Christmas tree. Real or artificial?
We love real trees! No doubt that they both have their benefits, but we love supporting a local tree farm that uses sustainable practices.
If you’re looking for something especially sustainable (and fun), check out Norfolk Pines as they can be grown in your home year-round, or think about getting a live tree. That’s right, you can get a live tree and then plant it as the ground warms up in spring. In both these cases, Steward can help you place and care for them.
If someone sent you a plant you didn’t like, where would you put it?
To clarify, we’ve yet to meet a plant we haven’t liked or appreciated in some way. But when someone gives us a plant that won’t thrive in our home’s environment. We say thank you and then plant swap with someone who does have the ideal conditions for it. Nothing is quite as painful as watching a plant quietly struggle in a place you know they could never thrive.
Leave us with a nugget of plant trivia.
Take two breaths, the first comes from plants on land, the next from our oceans.
“Plants with purpose are what we’re getting behind this year (and decade). Whether an indoor plant for wellness, edible plants for dinner, or native plants for biodiversity, planting gives us all a way to actively grow the environments we live, work, and play in.”
“Where we place a plant is the single most important decision we make as a plant parent. Light changes dramatically every few feet indoors. Don’t take it lightly. “