Journey Through The Decades With These Iconic Houseplants

Journey Through The Decades With These Iconic Houseplants

Journey Through The Decades With These Iconic Houseplants

Houseplants have been an integral part of interior décor for decades, not only adding a touch of nature to our living spaces but also providing numerous health benefits. Over the years, the choice of popular houseplants has evolved, influenced by trends, social and economic lifestyle changes, and a growing awareness of the positive impact of greenery on our well-being. Join us on a historical journey through the decades as we explore the most popular houseplants that have graced homes and interior spaces over the last one hundred years and see how trends have evolved and stayed the same. 

1920s- Cultural and Social Change:

The 1920s, or The Roaring Twenties, was an era marked by cultural and social change after the First World War with the emergence of the Jazz scene, the Harlem Renaissance, Votes for Women, Flappers, and the adoption of mass broadcasting and automobile transportation. This era saw a trend in luxurious minimalism with an emphasis on decor with sharp geometric patterns softened by soft marble textures, gold fixtures, and velvet accents. With economic security and prosperity came a fever for travel and the importation of exotic arts and culture, especially those from Africa. Included in African imports were native plants. Given the cost of importation, plants of this kind were largely reserved for high society and wealthy households. Indoor plants predominantly stood as large, one-off feature pieces only commonly seen in upmarket hotels and restaurants publicly. Although not so popular nowadays, favourites included the Maiden's Jealousy (Impatiens spp.), Cape Primrose (Streptocarpus spp.), and Blue Lily (Agapanthus spp.) for their ability to adapt to cooler western climates.

  • Kentia Palm (Howea forsteriana), native to Lord Howe Island in Australia, became highly fashionable during the late 19th and early 20th centuries for its clean lines and large foliage.
  • Ferns in particular Boston Ferns (Nephrolepis exaltata) and Maidenhair Ferns (Adiantum spp.) often adorned parlours and living rooms were among the favourited. The lush, feathery fronds added a touch of elegance to indoor spaces.
  • The Aspidistra elatior, commonly known as the Cast Iron Plant, became a symbol of the 1920s. It thrived in low light conditions and was highly durable, making it a popular choice for indoor decor during a time when low-maintenance and hardy plants were becoming increasingly trendy. A distinct separation from the previous decades gardening prowess. 

1930s- Great Depression:

During the 1930s, the Great Depression influenced various aspects of life, including home décor. Growing food plants, such as vegetables and herbs, in backyard gardens or small plots provided a means of supplementing household food supplies during a time of widespread poverty and food scarcity. Although the priority was on the growth of practical plants, many households tended to grow houseplants for their mindfulness and beauty, offering a small but meaningful escape from the challenges of the era.

  • African Violet (Saintpaulia spp.), with their delicate blooms and compact growth habit, African Violets were cherished for their cheerful appearance, colourful flowers, and year-round blooming potential.
  • English Ivy was a popular choice for creating greenery indoors during this decade. The plant's ability to climb or cascade made it versatile for different settings. It was often used in hanging baskets, as a trailing accent on shelves, or even trained to climb walls.
  • Pothos, also known as Devil's Ivy, became a popular houseplant during the 1930s. Its trailing vines and heart-shaped leaves made it a decorative choice for hanging baskets or for placement on shelves and mantels.

1940s- Conflict and Significant Social and Political Unrest

The 1940s marked a period of significant historical events, including World War II. Especially in suburban areas, outdoor gardening was often an unsafe endeavour so tending to indoor plants and gardens offered a therapeutic escape from the stresses of wartime life, promoting mental well-being and relaxation. During this decade, houseplants continued to be popular, but their choices were often influenced by factors such as availability, economic constraints, and practicality.

  • Christmas Cacti (Schlumbergera spp.), were cherished for their festive blooms during the holiday season. With their cascading stems and colorful flowers, they added a sense of celebration to indoor spaces during the winter months.
  • Schefflera, commonly known as Umbrella Plant, gained popularity in this decade. Its palmate leaves and upright growth habit made it a decorative choice for larger spaces.
  • Peace Lilies (Spathiphyllum spp.) were cherished for their beauty, symbolism of peace, and ease of care, making them a beloved choice for indoor gardens during the 1940s and continuing into the present day.

1950s - The Era of Simplicity:

In the post-war era, the 1950s marked a return to simplicity and a focus on home life. With the Baby Boom, family units became a priority increasing the social value of homes and households. With more of the population spending their days at home, houseplants became increasingly popular as additions to decor as well as for wellbeing. Suburban living and interior design trends flourished during this decade with the design of the iconic Eames Chair and the introduction of chrome for aesthetics with the mass productive of automobiles. Often referred to as the "Palm Springs, Americana" influence, colour schemes emphasized white and pastel tones. This is also the decade in which today's houseplant favorites became widely distributed and displayed in mainstream homes to divide bare white walls and soften minimalist futuristic-inspired spaces.

  • Various cactus plants have been appreciated for centuries, but they gained significant popularity in Western culture during the mid-20th century, particularly in the early to late 1950s. Their sculptural silhouettes and architectural appeal, complemented the minimalist aesthetic of this era.
  • The Snake Plant, with its upright, pointed leaves, continued to be a popular choice. Its architectural form, low maintenance, and air-purifying qualities made it suitable for different rooms.
  • The Swiss Cheese Plant (Monstera deliciosa), with its large, fenestrated leaves, this plant was first introduced into the home during the 1950s. It was favoured for its bold and tropical appearance, often used to add a touch of drama to interior spaces.

1960s - The Bohemian Revolution:

With the counterculture movement in full swing, the 1960s saw a surge in interest in houseplants and a loud design aesthetic with clean lines, and simplicity offset by bright colors and simple but large scales notoriously shown in artwork by Andy Warhole. The overall aesthetic of this decade was influenced by modernism, pop culture, and a desire for self-expression against conventional norms of race, gender and sexuality, not to mention the culmination of the Moon Landing 1969. Similar to the previous decade, houseplants were used to soften the stark design elements but this era valued plants with large foliage and impactful vibrancy.

  • Philodendron (Philodendron ssp), are known for their various sizes, shapes and colours. Their adaptability to various light conditions, and their relatively low-maintenance requirements perfectly complemented the minimalism of this decade.
  • The Fiddle Leaf Fig, with its large, violin-shaped leaves, began gaining popularity in the latter half of the 1960s. It became a statement piece in homes, adding a touch of drama and sophistication to interiors.
  • The Bird of Paradise plant (Strelitzia reginae), gained significant popularity as a houseplant during the mid-20th century, particularly in the 1960s. Its large, tropical-looking foliage and vibrant, bird-like flowers made it a sought-after choice for indoor spaces with its vibrant bird-head flower adding a touch of exotic into the home.

1970s - The Hanging Gardens Trend:

The 1970s was a dynamic and transformative decade with significant cultural, social, and political changes with the end of the end of the Vietnam War and unrelenting economic and political struggle. This decade was marked by a distinctive shift in design aesthetics, embracing a more laid-back and eclectic style not seen in previous decades. New cultural trends emerged including disco music, punk rock, and the hippie counterculture. The environmental movement gained momentum spurred by concerns about pollution, deforestation, and resource depletion. Although advancements in technology bound forward with the development of personal computers, video games, and the beginnings of the internet, the era valued a connection with nature significantly increasing the number of plants in the home to achieve harmony and balance in living spaces. Especially the use of macrame hanging planters, up-cycling, and a keen interest in all things DYI (do it yourself) became socially acceptable aspects of decor.

  • Although the Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum), was first introduced into the home in the 1920s, this eclectic decade saw a revival with its long, arching leaves and cascading plantlets made it an attractive option for hanging baskets, shelves, and other indoor displays.
  • Aloe Vera gained popularity in the 1970s for both its aesthetic appeal and its medicinal properties. Its spiky leaves added texture to indoor spaces, and it became a go-to plant for homes seeking a natural and holistic vibe.
  • The Hoya plant, also known as the Wax Plant, became a favourite in this decade. Its waxy, cascading foliage and unique star-shaped flowers made it a trendy choice, especially for those who enjoyed trailing plants.

1980s - Big and Bold:

The 1980s saw a continuation of the houseplant trend that began in the previous decades. The design aesthetics of the 1980s really emphasized bold, neon colours, geometric patterns, and an eclectic mix of styles influenced by the easier accessibility of mainstream technology. This era saw women joining the workforce in a significant way, and the term "yuppie" (short for "young urban professional") came about to describe a new demographic of workers incentivised by affluence, ambition, excess, and materialism not seen in previous decades. Houseplants were an integral part of interior decor with an emphasis on wellness and fitness but with low-maintenance requirements for busy lifestyles, they added a natural and vibrant touch to indoor spaces.

  • Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) became a common sight in living rooms and offices. Its glossy, oversized leaves made a bold statement, complementing the vibrant and eclectic aesthetics of the time.
  • The Areca Palm, also known as the Butterfly Palm or Golden Cane Palm, became a popular choice in the 1980s. Its feathery and arching fronds added a touch of the tropics to interiors, fitting well with the era's love for bold and dramatic decor.
  • Various Dracaena species, including the popular Dracaena marginata with its slender, arching leaves, gained popularity in the 1980s. These plants were appreciated for their air-purifying qualities and architectural appeal.

1990s –Functionality:

The 1990s witnessed the rise of the internet, personal computers, and mobile phones. The World Wide Web became accessible to the broader public in the early 1990s, revolutionizing communication, commerce, and entertainment. This decade saw a period of economic prosperity for many countries, particularly in the Western world. The dot-com boom fueled economic growth, leading to the emergence of new industries and the expansion of the global economy. This new globalization influenced a minimalist approach to design, characterised by Asian and Eastern cultural design elements known for their clean lines, simple forms, and a focus on functionality. With a new trend for open-plan spaces, houseplants were often used to add a touch of nature to these streamlined interiors and define areas traditionally divided by walls.

  • Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata) continued to be a popular plant for indoor décor. Their delicate fronds and air-purifying qualities appealed to the growing interest in healthier living. Ferns perfectly complemented the earthy tones and natural textures popular during this decade.
  • Chinese Evergreens (Aglaonema ssp), appreciated for their Chinese origins, attractive and patterned foliage, gained popularity for their adaptability to low-light conditions.
  • The ZZ Plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) was highly sort after due to its tolerance of low light and minimal water requirements. Its attractive, glossy green foliage made it a favourite for low-maintenance, contemporary interiors.

2000s - The Succulent Surge:

Springboarding from the rapid economic growth of the late 1990s, lifestyles of the 2000s often incorporated a mix of modern and traditional elements, with the new millennium bringing about a shift towards smaller living spaces and a desire for low-maintenance plants. With the rise of the internet, online resources, and communities dedicated to houseplants, plant enthusiasts could easily access information, tips, and inspiration, contributing to the increased popularity of houseplants in the mainstream community.

  • Succulents and cacti saw a resurgence in popularity during the 2000s, becoming trendy houseplants for their unique shapes, low-maintenance requirements, and drought tolerance. Varieties such as Echeveria, Haworthia were particularly popular.
  • The Zebra Plant (Haworthiopsis attenuate), with its distinctive zebra-like stripes on its leaves, gained popularity as a compact and visually appealing succulent. It was often used in both indoor gardens and as a standalone plant.
  • The Jade Plant (Crassula ovata), with its fleshy green leaves and tree-like appearance, remained a classic succulent choice. It was appreciated for its resilience and symbolism of prosperity.

2010s - The Instagrammable Urban Jungles:

The 2010s saw a resurgence of interest in indoor greenery, driven by a combination of factors such as a focus on wellness, sustainability, and a desire for biophilic design, fuelled by the "urban jungle" trend on Instagram and other social media platforms. Most notably with the resurgence of the Fiddle Leaf Fig, Monstera, and Bird of Paradise. These historical favourites sparked an unprecedented boom in demand, transforming homes into vibrant, tropical retreats away from the hustle and bustle of the outside world.

  • Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia spp), While cultivated for centuries, its widespread popularity as a houseplant emerged more prominently with the rise of social media. This cactus’s distinctive paddle-shaped pads adorned with clusters of spines made it an unusual and visually striking addition to indoor spaces with the bonus of being low-maintenance.
  • The Chinese Money Plant (Pilea peperomioides) became a social media sensation. Its round, pancake-like leaves and quirky appearance made it a trendy choice for novice plant enthusiasts.
  • String of Pearls (Senecio rowleyanus), known for its trailing stems adorned with spherical leaves, became the go-to trailing plant for hanging pots and pot fillers due to its unique trailing stems adorned with spherical, bead-like leaves.

2020s - The Sustainable Plant Movement:

With growing awareness of environmental issues, so far, the 2020s have seen a rise in interest in sustainable and low-impact plant choices purchased from local nurseries, farmers' markets, and neighborhood propagation and plant swap programs. The increased cost of living has meant that more people are living in smaller homes in urban environments. Houseplants have become a way for individuals to engage in wellbeing and mindfulness associated with gardening but on a smaller scale. A growing trend in pot and container growing has enabled gardeners to plant even with limited space, indoors and on small balconies.

  • Calathea plants (Calathea spp), with their ornate and patterned foliage, gained popularity for adding a touch of elegance to interiors. Varieties like Calathea orbifolia and Calathea medallion are particularly favoured, especially due to their child and pet-friendly nature.
  • Elephant Ear (Alocasia), with their striking and large leaves, gained popularity in the 2010s, adding a tropical and dramatic element to interiors, contributing to the biophilic design trend.
  • Citrus Trees have grown in popularity in recent years, reflecting a growing interest in home gardening, fresh produce, and sustainable living practices.

Houseplants have not only added aesthetic appeal to homes throughout the decades but have also adapted to reflect societal changes and evolving tastes. As we move forward, the popularity of houseplants continues to grow, driven by a shared appreciation for nature and its positive impact on our well-being. Whether you're a fan of vintage charm or modern minimalism, there's a houseplant for every era and every home no matter which decade!

Still interested in learning more? Check out our blog about unravelling common houseplant myths.