Social media influencer, gardening guru and cannabis educator Cae Jones’ earliest memories of Chicago date back to his childhood. For as far back as he can remember, his family would travel from their home in the predominantly white suburbs of Rochester, N.Y., to visit his grandmother at her South Side home in Chatham each summer. 

Back then, the man now known as Jungle Cae wasn’t “The Potanist” with 200,000 followers on Tik Tok who also teaches folks to grow weed in their own cribs via Zoom or Facetime. He’s grown into this title within the past three years when he began the plant portion of his journey.

“I have memories of playing outside just on the sidewalk in my grandma’s little ass yard,” Jones said. “At that time, it wasn’t much for us to do but experience [the] outside in that backyard. That’s all that we did.”

2021 has been a year filled with major life transitions for Jones. Aside from losing his job at a local dispensary and becoming a full-time social media influencer, he’s currently rehoming some of his plants in preparation for a move to a new apartment. 

Jones has also joined forces with some homies to purchase a storefront for a plant, vintage clothing and tattoo shop. They plan to open up shop in Wicker Park in August and will offer planting workshops and classes to patrons as well. Throughout it all, though, he has maintained an unwavering commitment to making plant parenting and cannabis education accessible to all.

“With everybody being quarantined inside, people all of a sudden got really involved with plants, especially Black people with plants,” Jones said. “All I was doing was sharing this knowledge because it was making me happy.”

Photos by ANF Chicago // The TRiiBE

On July 1, we met in Bucktown at his favorite park, the one just a couple blocks from his current apartment, where he likes to do yoga, meditate and walk with his plants. He sauntered down the pathway toward his favorite spot in a sunny field with a potted plant — a rubber tree — in his grip, occasionally adjusting his neck-length locks to see more clearly. We chatted about how nice it feels to be outside, and the purpose of plant walks.

“I like going on walks myself, and I like being around my plants, so why not walk with my plants? It just kinda came to me naturally,” Jones said.

That simple explanation subtly exemplifies one of the 26-year-old’s most commonly flexed characteristics — accessibility. From getting into plant care to home growing weed to becoming a social media influencer, Jones has a tendency to break things down into the simplest terms. It’s a quality he honed in his time as a budtender, so that anyone can connect with the content he delivers.

Now before he got super deep into plants, it was music that ultimately drew a then-18-year-old Jones to Chicago from Rochester.  “I always saw myself with a music career just because it was some rockstar, fun shit to do. So I started playing guitar in the 10th grade,” he said. “I went to Columbia College in 2012 for guitar and Chicago was on fire at the time.” 

Jones released one project under Columbia’s student-run label, AEMMP Records, during a semester-long partnership. He was a junior at Columbia when the tree stimulated his mind for the first time. He and his girlfriend at the time smoked and hit a bong in Grant Park. Although he didn’t feel anything initially, he later couldn’t feel his arms. The bud had gotten to him.

“I was interested in cannabis in high school — before I started smoking — because I was a big Wiz Khalifa fan, so of course I thought it was cool,” he said. “I think everybody has two first times with weed: the very first one where you don’t get high, then the one where you actually get high.”

Plant enthusiast and social media influencer Jungle Cae is using his platform to make cannabis education more accessible. Photo by ANF Chicago // The TRiiBE

While his first time in the grass came in 2015, his journey into the cannabis industry truly began in 2019. The legal weed economy was already ramping up locally. As Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker took office that January 2019, dispensary jobs were in high demand and Jones, a then 24-year-old musician, dog-walker and pothead, was ready to apply for a job at MOCA dispensary. He already knew what energy he wanted to bring to the gig.

“When I sat down for my interview, I was like, ‘I’m here to empower Black and brown people through cannabis. Are y’all cool with that?’” he said. “They told me yes, obviously. They always do.”

From the time he started as a budtender at MOCA in January 2019, Jones was outspoken about the racism he’d seen and experienced in the legalized weed business. For example, Jones said he had conversations with MOCA’s owner about a pattern in which people of color were rarely being promoted past entry desk duty. 

In Illinois today, even after more than a year of legal weed and billions in sales at dispensaries across the state, there are still no Black-owned dispensaries here. 

“The cannabis industry is still very much run by white men right now, and that tends to lead to issues in the workplace,” Jones said. “It’s not always them going, ‘You’re a nigger. Get out.’ It’s the smaller things.”

Jones got his medical marijuana license the same year he started working at the dispensary because, in Illinois, you can grow up to five weed plants at a time at home as long as you have a medical marijuana license. His first cannabis plant was gifted to him by a friend and was already partially grown but it died. Then, he got his own seeds.

“The first time I started from scratch, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was learning along the way,” Jones said. “I ended up having one really healthy plant and the other one was kinda meh, but I ended up getting two ounces out of those first two plants.”

Throughout 2019, Jones continued amassing an arsenal of different kinds of plants and began documenting his journey on the socials he’d previously used for his music. His apartment had become a jungle. By November 2019, he found himself regularly counseling dispensary customers and his Instagram followers on the plant care practices and home growing knowledge he was learning. His plant content was doing enough numbers on Instagram to warrant its own brand — which later began Jungle Cae.

At his peak in 2020, Jones said, the total number of houseplants he had at the crib was nearly 80. 

“At the dispensary, I tried to take the extra amount of time and make sure that people understood what was on the menu, what might work for them. I tried to get an understanding of what they were looking for, what they might need, and help them out,” he said. “I was doing that to the best of my capacity at work, then I started doing it outside of work. That was what got me to where I am now.”

Enter Jungle Cae, the Potanist. Jones applied the customer service skills he’d gained at the dispensary to his innate desire to share his knowledge with others. In 2020, he began a consultation service offering digital consultations and house calls where he meets with customers to provide instruction directly. 

Then during the COVID-19 pandemic, everything shifted to digital, which wasn’t that big of a deal for a business that was mostly online anyway. But there was another shift happening during quarantine, though, that helped his following explode. 

“With everybody being quarantined inside, people all of a sudden got really involved with plants, especially Black people with plants,” he said. “All I was doing was sharing this knowledge because it was making me happy. Then I get this huge outpouring of support.”

“I like going on walks myself, and I like being around my plants, so why not walk with my plants? It just kinda came to me naturally,” Jones said. Photos by ANF Chicago // The TRiiBE

When MOCA completed its sale to East-Coast cannabis conglomerate Ascend in late 2020, they revised their employee contract in a way that would require Jones to give them the rights to all of his intellectual property, whether it was created during or after business hours. Under the contract, Ascend would own Jungle Cae.

“They told me not to worry about it because that part of the contract didn’t apply to me, only to corporate. I asked them to change it and they weren’t necessarily fond of that,” he said. “They ended up firing me after I made a mistake. They tried to suggest I was stealing from them by accidentally not scanning something for a total stranger.”

Losing his day job was all the opportunity he needed to jump full speed into social media content creation. Today, Jungle Cae has more than 17,000 followers on IG and more than 200,000 on Tik Tok. Now, with brand partnerships being secured, the social media content he creates isn’t just educating his followers, it’s paying his bills.

“I’m, like, just a billboard. All I’m doing is sharing my experience, you know? If there’s a rolling paper company that I use every day, I’m probably gonna post a story about it. That’s pretty much how it goes,” he said. “I’m trying to have the best [life] experience that I can. I want you to have the best experience that you can. Here’s what I’m doing to do this.”

is a staff writer with The TRiiBE. Email him with news tips.