Houseplant History Houseplant History

Houseplant History

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Fads come and go in American culture, and houseplants are no exception. Something new springs into popularity, is overdone, becomes passé, and is replaced with the next great thing.

However, we gardeners sometimes become attached to plants nurtured in our living rooms, and they get to stay while we add the new arrival.

Probably the oldest houseplant fad was growing citrus trees in special glass orangeries in Mediterranean climes, but how about something Illinoisans can relate to? Remember these?

Walk into any gardener’s house in the 1950s, and small pots of African violets lined north-facing window sills. They bloomed year-round and had interesting fuzzy leaves.

We yearned for the tropics in the ’60s and set about growing potted palms in the corners of both office and home. The palms thrived with the indirect light found in most homes.

Ferns, spider plants and Swedish ivy decorated our homes in the ’60s and ’70s. To appear really trendy, they were displayed in macrame slings, preferably handmade from rope or gaudy yarn. Growing your own sweet potato vine was also fun. Many a kitchen window had a Mason jar full of water with a sweet potato suspended by toothpicks stuck in its sides. The ’60s and ’70s have a lot to answer for when it comes to aesthetics.

In the 1970s we also became concerned about our environment and planet. This led to self-made miniature ecosystems on our coffee tables in the form of glass terrariums. The trick was getting the moisture perfectly balanced so the plants grew well without the sides of the terrarium fogging up.

Bonsai hit the scene in the ’80s. It was a houseplant, hobby and objet d’art all rolled into one miniature plant. That was followed by topiaries in the ’90s, both inside and outside the home.

We’ve already had several horticultural fads in the 21st century. Orchids used to be hard-to-find exotics grown only by experts. Today, they are in every garden center, florist shop and even some grocery stores. Little patches of wheat grass grown indoors made a brief flash, but interest died quickly once people realized they only looked good for a week. Next came lucky bamboo grown as a single spiraled stem in water. Never mind that it is not bamboo at all, but a type of Dracaena. Bromeliads, with their prehistoric-looking blooms, are the latest trend.

What’s next? I don’t know, but I look forward to growing the next trendy houseplant.

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