KALAMAZOO, Mich.—If you’ve ever searched online to find out why the leaves on your Calathea orbifolia are turning brown or if you should really spend $40 on that fiddle leaf fig tree at Costco (you shouldn’t), chances are you’ve been treated to the delightful wisdom of undergraduate Jacob Soule.
Known by his social handle @theplantprodigy, Soule started sharing his obsession with house plants on TikTok in 2020, posting videos about his own plants and answering people’s questions about how to properly care for theirs. Today, Soule’s plant-powered TikTok is one of the most beloved on social media, with nearly 27 million likes and one million followers. He was one of Mashable’s “5 TikTok accounts to follow for houseplants” in 2021.
Several elements contribute to his unique online presence: his unbridled affection for Nepenthes, which are pitcher plants, and his instructional yet soothing “plant shower” posts being two standouts. But the plant prodigy’s key to success might very well be his authenticity. Diagnosed with autism when he was 3 years old, Soule routinely reminds viewers that his self-described obsession with plants stems from his neurodivergence—and he’s proud of that.
“I’d like to remind everyone that if it wasn’t for my autism, I wouldn’t be obsessed with plants. And if I wasn’t obsessed with plants, I would have never made a plant TikTok and I wouldn’t be here,” as he explains in one of his videos.
The topic of neurodivergence—atypical cognitive functioning that serves as the hallmark trait in people diagnosed with conditions like autism or dyslexia—surfaces in Soule’s hashtags and encouraging comments from followers. It’s the unique combination of his exceptional thinking, subtle humor and self care disguised as plant care that make so many of his videos worth watching.
A first-year student currently majoring in environmental sustainability, Soule has been taking classes like biology that speak to his love of the natural world and is keeping an open mind when it comes to his academic focus. “I don’t know if that will be the major that I end college with, but I think I’ll definitely do something with plants,” he notes.
Outside of class, Soule often can be found wandering around campus with his phone, identifying the abundance of plants thriving in the common areas for his viewers or working part
time at Western’s Finch Greenhouse. He envisions starting his own exotic plant nursery with a collection of greenhouses on his grandfather’s 210-acre property near Grayling, Michigan.
Soule remembers drawing and collecting plants since he was young, but a book he read in second grade hooked him on carnivorous plants, in particular.
“My parents gave me a copy of Peter D’Amato’s ‘The Savage Garden’ and that’s what inspired me to buy my first carnivorous plant.”
California Carnivores, the largest and oldest carnivorous plant nursery in the U.S. and founded by D’Amato, holds a special place in Soule’s heart.
“I’ve known about them for years,” he explains. “When I got on TikTok, I started promoting them because they do everything well and they breed amazing plants. The owner had already been following me on Instagram, and now I’m an affiliate for them.”
He even secured a handful of free replacement plants from California Carnivores for Finch Greenhouse, after a power outage in winter killed several of the plants.
Soule’s carnivorous plant knowledge is showcased in some of his most popular videos, which answer common questions like, “How do I get rid of fungus gnats?” The plant prodigy’s answer: Get a Pygmy sundew. One particular post featuring this miniature gnat-devouring plant garnered more than 11.1 million views and 1.6 million likes. And his video montage of what to do and not do with your venus fly trap has a not-so-modest 15.5 million views.
Soule loves reminding viewers that “the No. 1 cause of plant mortality is overwatering” and plant hacks like putting ice cubes in your orchids or using mayonnaise to make your plant leaves shine are everything that’s wrong with the plant-owning world. From videos of succulents nestled in the bottom of the bathtub under a running shower to plant tours around his room at Western, Soule’s brand of plant advice is refreshingly straightforward and relatable.
Also a huge fan of interior design, Soule follows a number of design influencers on social media, including Arvin Olano.
“A lot of designers I really like actually don’t like a lot of plants in their living spaces,” he notes. One of Soule’s posts shows him reacting directly to a video in which Olano playfully asserts that “there is no reason to have 50 plants in your living room.”
“Actually, there is,” explains Soule, “because plants help with mental health and stress. But I still love you (Olano) and respect your opinion.”
The key to Soule’s success both on and off social media is his ability to recognize people and plants as individuals with their own specific interests and needs. As he likes to remind us at the end of his posts, we just need to “keep on growing.” ■