It's hard to imagine what these plants have in common--orchids, spider plants, ferns, palm trees, begonias, African Violets, bromeliads and cacti. In fact, they are all plants that can, and are, grown successfully indoors as houseplants. As Barbara Damrosch, the author of "The Garden Primer," points out "even a tree if it's grown as a bonsai" can be a houseplant.
Plants grown for decoration appear from ancient to modern times. In "Focus," Jane Stiles, a British architect noted that plants grown in containers adorned terraces 3,000 years ago in China, that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon existed from 810 to 84 BC and that decorative plants were found in Egypt in 300 BC and in Pompeii 2,000 years ago. She noted too that house plants first appeared in American in the late 1940's and in American offices starting in 1965. Flower clubs began earlier, such as the American Orchid Society, established in 1921 to encourage amateurs as well as professionals to grow orchids.
Purposes of Houseplants
People choose to grow houseplants for a variety of reasons. For some, the appeal is aesthetic---they enjoy looking at the foliage and flowers and believe that plants "soften " the lines of a room as Barbara Damrosch explains it. Others use plants for health reasons, believing that plants clean the air; the organization Plants for People provides numerous studies documenting this healthy effect and encouraging the use of houseplants for the home and the office. Others grow houseplants as an engaging hobby, testing new varieties and propagating new plants. And parents use houseplants to educate their children about the natural world, often growing pineapples, potatoes or avocados in glass jars.
Because different types of plants grow best in different levels of light, a home grower needs to choose which window is best for which plant. For plants needing direct sun for many hours, such as cacti or begonias, growers should choose a window facing east or west. For plants needing indirect or filtered light, such as African violets or palms, a southern or northern exposure works best.
Temperature and Humidity
As with light, different plants require different types of temperature and humidity. These elements can be controlled to some extent, such as by misting the air around orchids and ferns with a spray bottle of water or keeping certain plants like Christmas cactus in a cool room in the house. The best method to achieve success with houseplants is to choose those that are tolerant of a less-than-ideal environment like the spider plant, dieffenbachia or philodendron.
Barbara Damrosch claims that many people overfeed their houseplants. She recommends feeding only during peak growth periods and using less than the amount specified on the plant food label. Signs of underfeeding include yellow leaves, while signs of overfeeding include brown leaves and green algae on the pot.