Cultivate a Victorian vibe with these favorite houseplants from the nineteenth-century.
Love Victorian decor but don’t want to shell out money right now for antique furnishings or pricey reproductions? Don’t despair. A simple, inexpensive visit to your local nursery or home improvement store can adorn your home with houseplants Victorians loved.
Bonus: The most common plants in Victorian homes are among the easiest plants to care for today. After all, a typical nineteenth-century houseplant had to be able to withstand less light, more air pollution, and more temperature extremes than what we have in our homes today.
People have cultivated house plants during other historical periods, but houseplant mania really took root in the 1800s. There were a couple reasons for this. First, glass became more common and more affordable as the century wore on, both in America and in England. (For example, in 1845, an English tax on window glass was abolished.) Large windows that allowed light to flood into homes became more common in homes, and people often grew groupings of plants in newfangled bay windows.
Second, nineteenth-century explorers and botanists were traveling to tropical destinations all over the world, and they were bringing back exotic plants new to folks who lived above the Equator. People couldn’t grow these new plants outside in extreme European or North American temperatures, but they could grow them inside.
Here are some easy-to-grow houseplants that the Victorians grew in their own homes.
Cast-Iron Plant (Aspidtistra elatior): The common name for this plant describes how hardy it is. Place in bright light or filtered light. When you water your cast-iron plant, drench the soil and then let it dry.
Indoor Palms: Parlor palms were another nineteenth-century import from the topics. There are many different varieties available. Most like bright to filtered light and evenly moist soil.
Dracaenas: There are many species of this tropical plant group, and the Victorians brought them inside to grow as houseplants. Some varieties are often mistaken for other plants like palms. Dracaenas like lots of indirect light, but they don’t thrive in direct sunlight. Water only when the soil feels dry to the touch. They like high humidity, which makes them great plants for a period bathroom.
‘Lucky Bamboo’ is actually a species of dracaena that doesn’t need soil to grow. Just place in water and replenish the water as it evaporates. Perfect for Victorian décor that recalls the period’s fascination with the Orient.
Sansevierias: Closely related to Dracaenas, this group contains plants commonly called ‘Snake Plant’ or ‘Mother-in-Law’s Tongue.’ They tolerate just about any light condition from light shade to full sun. When watering, drench and then let dry.
Peace Lily: Native to Central and South America, this flowering plant thrives in low-light conditions (like empty fireplaces in the summer time).
Orchids: These beautiful flowers come in thousands of varieties and are not as simple to grow as the other plants in this list. However, they were a favorite of Victorian plant hunters and enthusiasts. (To read more about the Victorians’ fascinating quests for orchids from around the world, read The Orchid Thief or Orchid Fever.) Want to grow your own orchid fever? This site is a good place to begin your quest.