House Plants: A Potted History

WORDS Lynette Botha PHOTOS Tara Winstead/Pexels, Getty Images, Supplied

Chinese money plants might be the statement interior piece of the moment, but bringing the outdoors in is a trend that’s been coming and going since 600 BC.

There’s no definitive origin story here, but legend has it that it was that great bearded Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II who was possibly the earliest – and certainly the most famous – purveyor of house plants. To please his Persian wife, Amytis, darling Nebbie created a lush, green indoor-outdoor oasis in about 600 BC – a Wonder of the Ancient World we know as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Turning our gaze to more modern times, the house plant in its various incarnations has gone on to become a favoured interior staple…

18th Century

History of House Plants

According to the UK National Trust – the organisation entrusted with preserving the United Kingdom’s places of natural beauty and historic interest – 18th century cabinet makers produced tiered wire and iron plant stands specifically to display plant collections. These were often arranged asymmetrically and placed next to French windows, reports the Trust, to maximise the plants’ exposure to light.


It was in the Jazz Age that the potted plant really found its rhythm amid increased availability of ready-to-buy indoor options. Prior to this, house plants had been a DIY project, grown from seed or bulb and potted at home. The instant gratification of greening a space meant that their popularity flourished.


The humble indoor plant can even claim to have contributed to the war effort at this time of global conflict. With men at the front and women in the factories, office plants became a hit, brightening up dreary desks and grey days of ration cards and air raids.

60s and ’70s

History of House Plants

It was a time of peace, love and pot… plants. The humble house plant literally grew to new heights, with exotic palms, orchids, ferns, hanging plants and terrariums taking root under roofs around the world. The greener and more fertile, the better, was the prevailing theme, with the aim being to create an indoor jungle and bring the beauty of nature inside.

80s and ’90s

History of House Plants

Things went back to basics during this period, and interiors became more muted and minimalist while house plants looked on sadly – mostly from nursery shelves. If they were in evidence at home, it was in the form of the odd focal orchid or a statement bamboo palm, rather than the previously verdant creepers.


History of House Plants

With the fiddle-leaf fig and split leaf philodendron (aka delicious monster) back in business, greenery commenced a new home-invasion campaign. Meandering at nurseries and garden shops on weekends once again became a perfectly normal pastime.

2010 to present day

History of House Plants

As the joke goes, Millennials and Gen-Zs are obsessed with house plants because they’re the only things that they can afford to own… In these high-cost-of-living times, this seems a sad-but-true fact. Even Boston terriers and French bulldogs have taken a bit of a back seat, and well-hydrated house plants are the cool currency of now. If you’re not propagating or swapping heirloom seedlings and cuttings with friends on a Saturday, what are you even doing with your time?

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