Houseplants were once a status symbol for the wealthy

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Lawn & Garden

An Edwardian-era family is pictured with their aspidistra. English Heritage/Heritage Images/Getty Images

It is difficult to imagine that there was a time when houseplants were only accessible to the wealthy as they were considered a status symbol. “When Europeans began exploring the world and bringing back plants in the 1600s, the elite started building conservatories to display these plants and their wealth,” explains Sean James, the President of Fern Ridge Landscaping & Eco-consulting. Before then, people were too practical to indulge in luxuries that had no practical use.

The popularity of exotics like ferns and palms grew during the Victorian era and owning plants became a sign of wealth. The Aspidistraelatior, also known as the “cast iron plant,” was a popular choice among Victorian households as it could withstand the fumes from coal fires and gas lanterns.

The modern houseplant era began to flourish in the 1970s, fitting in with the back-to-nature decor trend. Growers responded by offering new varieties of plants to the public. However, live plants saw a decline in popularity during the 80s, but since 2005, there has been a resurgence of interest.

Despite economic downturns, houseplants remain popular as they offer a way to connect with nature. “The more someone stares at a screen, the more they crave some kind of natural interaction— hearing the trees rustle or watering their house plant,” says Rebecca Bullene, from Greenery NYC.

The easiest houseplants to grow

If reading about houseplants has sparked an interest in you, here are some easy-to-care-for options:

Low-maintenance varieties, such as the corn plant, Chinese evergreen, and Benjamin fig, are ideal for people who travel frequently or forget to care for their plants. Sean James recommends the alii fig (ficus alii) tree and the cast iron plant, which are both “practically bomb-proof.”

Moth orchids have become more popular due to their affordability, and are known for their unique and colorful blooms. While they are hardier than many other types of orchids, they still require some care and attention. For those new to houseplants, Lee recommends starting with popular options such as golden pothos, spider plant, snake plant, peace lily, rubber tree, bamboo palm, herbs, and aloe. These plants are easy to care for, do not need constant sunlight, and come with health benefits such as air purification. The Ponytail palm is predicted to be the next popular plant due to its resilience and interesting shape. Indoor plants have been shown to have health benefits, including removing pollutants and reducing stress. This article was originally published in January 2016.


1. Why were houseplants historically considered a luxury item?

Houseplants were considered a luxury item because they were originally brought to Europe from exotic locations such as Asia and Africa, and only the wealthy could afford to import and care for them. In addition, before modern heating and lighting systems, houseplants were difficult to maintain in colder climates, which made them even more of a status symbol.

2. When did houseplants become more accessible to the general public?

Houseplants became more accessible to the general public in the 19th century with the development of greenhouses and nurseries that could mass-produce plants. As the middle class grew, more people had disposable income to spend on decorative items such as houseplants. In addition, advances in technology such as central heating and indoor lighting made it easier for people to care for plants in their homes.

3. What types of houseplants were popular in the past?

In the past, popular houseplants included ferns, palms, and rubber plants. These plants were chosen for their exotic appearance and ability to thrive indoors. However, they were also difficult to care for and required a lot of attention, which only added to their exclusivity.

4. How did houseplants become more mainstream?

Houseplants became more mainstream as they began to be marketed as a way to improve indoor air quality and promote relaxation. The popularity of indoor gardening also increased, with people using houseplants to bring a touch of nature into their homes. In addition, social media has played a role in the resurgence of houseplants, with people sharing photos and tips on caring for their plants.

5. What are some benefits of having houseplants in your home?

Houseplants have been shown to improve indoor air quality by removing toxins from the air. They also have a calming effect and can help reduce stress levels. In addition, studies have found that having plants in your home can boost your mood and improve cognitive function.

6. Are there any downsides to having houseplants?

The main downside to having houseplants is the potential for them to attract pests such as spider mites and mealybugs. Overwatering can also lead to root rot and other issues. Additionally, some plants can be toxic to pets and young children if ingested.

7. What are some low-maintenance houseplants for beginners?

Some low-maintenance houseplants for beginners include snake plants, pothos, and spider plants. These plants are easy to care for and can tolerate a range of lighting conditions and watering schedules.

8. How can I care for my houseplants properly?

The care requirements for houseplants vary depending on the type of plant, but some general tips include providing adequate sunlight, watering as needed, and fertilizing regularly. It’s also important to monitor for pests and diseases and take action if necessary.

9. Can houseplants improve productivity in the workplace?

Yes, studies have shown that having plants in the workplace can improve productivity and reduce stress levels among employees. Plants can also help improve indoor air quality, which can lead to fewer sick days and a healthier work environment.

10. How can I incorporate houseplants into my home décor?

There are many ways to incorporate houseplants into your home décor, such as using hanging planters, grouping plants together on a shelf, or using a large plant as a focal point in a room. It’s important to choose plants that complement your existing décor and to consider the lighting and humidity levels in your home.

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