The ultimate Calgary houseplant mom: Alyssa Ellis

Alyssa Ellis cares for plants and works to find them a good home when she's not performing with them.

Alyssa Ellis stands with one of her plant family members. PHOTO COURTESY OF CHELSEA YANG-SMITH

If you see someone dressed in plant-like outfits, wandering Calgary with her houseplants, it’s not Poison Ivy come to life.

It’s Alyssa Ellis.

Ellis, 27, immediately clarified that her plants are not a part of a collection, but a part of a family. 

Ellis said it’s impossible to tell how many members of her plant family there are because they’re constantly transitioning out of her home. She runs a plant adoption while also working at a ceramic studio, and doing performance art with her house plants. 

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Currently, she said, she has about 300 house plants in her living room and 100 in her studio. 

How it all began

It all starts with just one, said Ellis. At least that’s what happened with her. 

“You always go back to your parents having plants in the house and then once you move out, you’re like, man, I don’t want anything to really take care of anything because I can barely take care of myself as a millennial,” said Ellis

“And then it just kind of escalates by you getting one.”

Her journey into plant care and collaboration began by finding houseplants on sites like Facebook and Kijiji. According to Ellis, before the current houseplant craze took off, plants were being given away for free on these sites. 

These plants, she said, were what she liked to call heirloom plants: House plants that were in someone’s family for many years before being given away. 

In one instance, Ellis picked up a Hoya plant from a family who had recently put their grandmother in a home. The family wasn’t sure what to do with the plant. When Ellis offered to adopt it to her plant family the Hoya’s original family were very grateful. 

“So building that connection with those people and learning about the story kind of turned into another story and another one and another one,” Ellis said.

“And then now you’ve got, you know, like no furniture and plants everywhere.”

Collaborating with the plants

Ellis said she enjoyed learning these stories and connecting with people, but that the plants always came first for her. 

As a houseplant performance artist everything must be an equal partnership with her and the plants, she said. 

“They’re basically my collaborators: So I hear their stories and then I hear about the stories that travel with the people who grew with them,” Ellis said. 

“So it becomes this really amazing relationship where I can look at any of the plants that have come into my plant family, and I know exactly where they came.”

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After graduating from the Alberta College of Art and Design in 2014 with a degree in painting, Ellis said her work shifted from being about plants, to working with plants. One example is her houseplant vacations as she calls them. 

These plant vacations, she explained, means walking plants around Calgary and exposing them to new sights. 

“So these plants got to experience all these different sites they wouldn’t normally see if they were trapped at home or in their office. And so in a way they were cultured.”

Alyssa Ellis brings her plants through the city with her to help them get “cultured”, she said. PHOTO COURTESY OF CHELSEA YANG-SMITH

Ellis said her work with houseplants even influences her fashion choices. Most days she likes to dress up in plant themed clothing so she doesn’t scare the plants. This allows her to work more closely with them, she said.

“So they think I’m like their mother plant,” Ellis said.

Houseplant Consciousness

Plants are conscious beings, said Ellis.

According to Ellis, the research to prove this has really taken off in recent years. She said a lot of the time when you think of plant consciousness you think of 1950s sci-fi movies. In reality, she said, it’s much more simple. 

Looking at how plants respond to predators, how they communicate with each other, and even their movement, she said, is very convincing.

Ellis stands with her plants in one of her plant themed outfits. These, she said, help the plants feel comfortable around her. PHOTO COURTESY OF CHELSEA YANG-SMITH

The first time she saw a plant move, she said, was crazy. She recalls she was sitting in her office and watched her hoya vines swing across her window: Seeking light. 

“It was terrifying, but also an amazing experience because, I just remember it, I’m in this room with 300 of them and they are all living breathing creatures.” 

Ellis currently has a show at Vivian Art Gallery until August 29; people can also find her work on her Instagram page. She adopts house plants out to good homes and never accepts money for her plants.

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