At the peak of the coronavirus in New York City, I let two strangers into my home to help me kickstart my houseplant habitat (virtually, of course). They looked around, then drew me a map of my living room and bedroom. The tutorial was for Steward, a new app that uses your phone's camera to create a map that shows variations in light distribution within your home, the end goal being light- and heat-appropriate homes for houseplants.
Married couple Alexi and Brendan Coffey started Steward at NASA’s Ames Research Center through the Global Solutions Program, which lends entrepreneurs a space to ideate and execute plans to address climate change.
The app works on a subscription basis: $13 a month billed every three months, or $10 a month billed annually. Users then take a scan of the room where they'd like to place plants, and the app analyzes it to generate a map that shows how light impacts them. The map takes into account doors, walls and even radiators and other obstructions.
Plant maps are divided into zones — up to nine — with one being the area with the most direct light to zone nine having the least amount of direct light. Steward has a database of plant species, with each type having a designated range of zones where the plants will flourish. Trying to place a plant in a less-than-ideal spot? The app will warn you before you place it in an area that may jeopardize its life.
Steward does not sell plants directly, but it does connect users to local flower shops. As part of my trial with Steward, they connected me with Tula, a plant store in Brooklyn. My first two plants were a calathea ornata (sometimes called prayer plants) and a rubber tree, both of which were assigned their respective home in my room dependent on Steward's recommendation. After following a recommended watering cadence, I found my plants were alive and kicking (literally for the calathea, which I dubbed Cacio, since its leaves shift throughout the day) after a couple weeks. The encouraging results led me to bringing two more plants into the mix, both of which continue to thrive.
Steward's subscription package also includes access to the company's team of botanists, horticulturists, and other experienced plant owners. Through an in-app messaging service, users can ask for tips and advice on their plants whether they're looking a little dry (give 'em some water!) or yellow (too much sun tanning). Essentially, it's like having a plant expert on speed dial.
People are continuing ways to bring new life into their homes during shelter-in-place orders. If you're not ready to adopt a furry friend, houseplants are the next best thing. Though they don't require as much care, they do need to be nurtured. Steward takes the guesswork out of plant parenting, and they help urban dwellings turn into flourishing green oases.
Steward provided this product for review.