We love plants over here, but we had to bring a scholar to give us a great summary about the history of our love of plants. Enjoy! If you are interested in religious history, or would like to read more of her work, you can head to her Facebook page or visit her Instagram page.
Thank you for contributing to our blog Princess!
The Origins of Houseplants by Princess O’Nika Auguste
Have you ever wondered why some people are obsessed with houseplants; yes, houseplants provide cleaner air and lift your mood and make you happy! Well, I think I made that up! Houseplants or indoor plants can be traced back to the early history of humankind. The origins of indoor plants are so long that I will provide a highly annotated house plant history.
But first, what are those plants that humans are so obsessed with that we use them to decorate our houses and fill our homes with oxygen. Houseplants are any plant grown indoors. Usually, they are tropical plants that are easier to grow indoors in colder climates. The best indoor plants are those that can adjust to the dry and warm environments of houses and apartments (Perrot 2020).
Now, that we know what houseplants are; let's get to the shortened form of their lengthy history. Ancient humans were just like us; they wanted their houses to look beautiful and smell fresh like the outdoors.
Some say we can thank the ancient Greeks and Romans for the conception of plants in our homes. You see, the ancient Greeks and Romans grew plants in pots and most likely brought these pots of plants into their homes (Perot 2020).
There is evidence, though, that the origins of houseplants go further than the ancient Greeks and Romans. It is possible that as early as 1000 BCE, the ancient Chinese used penjing trees and other plants as ornamental decor in their homes.
Indoor plants were a sign of wealth and the ancient Chinese wanted to try their hand at indoor planting to practice the art of gardening all year round (Harlow 2014). Humans are a creative and intelligent bunch. Even in 1000 BCE, we looked for ways to use plants to decorate our homes and practice our art.
We seem to enjoy growing plants in pots, whether it be indoors or outdoors. The ancient Egyptians and Indians grew plants in pots; however, this was done in outdoor situations (Perrot 2020). There is even an indoor and outdoor garden that is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and is the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, created this garden in 610 BCE because his wife missed her native land.
The garden was an indoor/outdoor garden made up of various plants (Harlow 2014). Humanity is so romantic, creating gardens for our spouses!
We lose our romantic streak when we get into the Middle Ages, where indoor plants for decor are restricted to monasteries (Janick 50,2010). As the centuries passed, humanity also became more practical growing kitchen gardens. In medieval kitchen gardens, plants that grew in these indoor gardens were leeks, cabbage, onions, garlic and other vegetables. Medieval gardens grew gillyflowers in containers (Castle Life, Medieval Gardens 2010 -2014).
There is little evidence of indoor plants during the 15th to 18th centuries. However, the creeping groundsel or Senecio angulatus was introduced to the Maltese and Europe in the 15th century as a decorative or ornamental plant (Mifsud 2010).
Indoor plant breeding came with the 17th and 18th centuries when researchers and botanists brought over 5000 species of plants from Australia, Asia, Africa, and South America (Janick 50-51 2010).
It is interesting to see that the revival of interest in indoor plants came with European colonization. Since 1492 when Columbus made landfall in the Bahamas and saw all the tropical flora, tropical plants were included in living spaces (Harlow 2014). Shocking! Colonization and tropical houseplants are connected! Go figure!
When Queen Victoria became queen, she brought many changes with her, including the white dress, India becoming a British colony, and yes indoor gardening. The middle class first used house plants to symbolize status and moral value (Old House Journal 2011).
Plants that were exotic and hardy became very popular because they tolerated the Victorian period’s gloomy and smug environment (Gutterman 2013). In the 19th and 20th centuries, indoor plants were trendy, perhaps due to the era’s gloomy climate.
In the early 20th century, however, houseplants became dated because of their popularity in the Victorian period, although some plants like cactus and Chinese evergreen trees remained popular. It was after World War II that houseplants regained popularity (The Scotsman 2008).
Finally, we had come to the modern era when Houseplants regained their popularity in the 1950s and never stopped being popular. Plant care labels were introduced in the 1960s. In the 1970s, garden centers began to appear everywhere. Snake plants, weeping plants, Boston fern, spider plants, umbrella plants were widely sought after in that decade (The Middle-Sized Garden 2017).
As the 1980s began living rooms only had two botanical plants, it was considered fashionable. The yucca was one of such plants. However, the shopping centers were decorated with lush plants (Chapman 2019). As we know, I think trends came with the 90s because everything just started to become trendy. Hence indoor plants became the “it” thing. Orchids (moth) and golden photos became a trend.
In the 00s, lucky bamboos were sought after and were very popular (Chapman 2019). As the 20th century ended and a new millennium began, houseplants revitalized. Plants from previous decades and centuries became fashionable again.
Social media websites such as Instagram made the revival of houseplants desired and sought after by a new generation of plant lovers (Chapman 2019, Vincent 2020). Houseplants are almost as old as humanity itself are here to stay, and they will not be subsidizing anytime soon.
As much as I would like to give a long, detailed history of houseplants, I cannot because the origins of houseplants will take more than pages than a blog post can provide. Thus, I hope this post will lead you to explore why we as humans are fascinated with these beauties. Get a plant; it might make you happier and less bored.
Chapman, Gary. “Millennials Didn’t Invent House Plants. “Apartment Therapy, June 18, 2019 https://www.apartmenttherapy.com/indoor-plant-trends-1970s-1980s-1990s-2000s-36614952
Gutterman , Amanda . “5 Houseplants That Changed History.” Gardenista, November 11, 2013 https://www.gardenista.com/posts/5-houseplants-that-changed-history/
Harlow, Morgan Cate. “A Brief History of the Houseplant.” Build Direct, May15, 2014.https://www.builddirect.com/blog/a-brief-history-of-the-houseplant/
Jules Janick (6 April 2010). Horticultural Reviews. John Wiley & Sons
Mifsud, S. (Oct-2010) Senecio angulatus retrieved from MaltaWildPlants.com on 2021-Apr-02. http://www.maltawildplants.com/ASTR/Senecio_angulatus.php
Perrott, R. and Graf,. Alfred Byrd. "Houseplant." Encyclopedia Britannica, June 1, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/science/houseplant. Old House Online Journal. “How To Decorate a Victorian House with Plants – A brief history of the Victorian obsession with houseplants, which turned parlors into bowers”.June 21, 2011. https://www.oldhouseonline.com/interiors-and-decor/how-to-decorate-victorian-house-with-plants/
The Scotsman . “Our fascination with indoor potted plants has a long and colorful history” 3rd January 2008.
The Middle Sized Garden. “Join the 1970s house plants revolution” November 5th, 2017. https://www.themiddlesizedgarden.co.uk/join-the-1970s-house-plants-revolution/
Vincent, Alice. “The retro plants to fill your home with right now. “Stylist, June 8, 2020. https://www.stylist.co.uk/home/plants/interiors-trends-retro-indoor-houseplants/257994