A Historic Timeline of Houseplants


Carl Linnaeus - Copyright: newscientist.com


Contents

  1. The History of Houseplants
  2. The Reasonings for Their Names
  3. Through the Decades (1720s - 1990s)




The History of Houseplants

(Scroll down for the 'Through the Decades' list).

Houseplants were first used as indoor decorations between the years 500 and 400 BC. Wealthy families who had large estates would use Roses, Thyme and Hyacinths to liven-up their forecourts and windowsills. While the Greeks preferred using terracotta pots; it was the Romans who took a shine to marble, thus signalling the start of indoor specimens with unique textured pots.

Despite the love for undocumented tropical specimens which can be dated back over six hundred years, the 'Houseplant' industry that we know and love today is primarily built on foundations from the mid-eighteenth century. Maritime expeditions of this time began to implement scientists onboard their seemingly forever voyages, which resulted in a higher quality of respectable texts and drawings about the documentation of new plants and animals. The most famous of these expeditions came from Sir Captain James Cook, who navigated three British-led Pacific voyages, travelling across largely uncharted areas for months on end. His second voyage included the father and son duo of Johann & Georg Forster, who documented the zoology and Botanics of many southern regions of the equator. Many of their original names for species or genera are still botanically accepted today, for instance, Schefflera (Umbrella Trees) and Dichondra (Silver Nickel Vines). For their work on Pacific-native species and Georg's report, 'A Voyage Round the World' (1776/77), Italian botanist Odoardo Beccari honoured the duo by naming the scientific name, Howea forsteriana (Kentia Palms), after them.

The other notable event that paved the way for the industry's success was the invention of the Warden Case. The 1836 original of the modern 'Terrarium' revolutionised the way live specimens could be transported on long hauls across the ocean. Initially, species would have had to be shipped via seeds, tubers or dried rhizomes, instead of whole, rooted versions of themselves. The combination of bad lighting and little fresh water, coupled with inadequate nutrients and salty air would test (& mostly defeat) the specimens' strength and agility. The enclosed environment of constant humidity, fresh water and its original soil meant that specimens would travel for months without any symptoms of stress. Over time, this accelerated tropical plant-imports significantly, with the overall cost of plants beginning to decrease because of the higher quantity of stock.


N. B. - Before we start, this article comprises of the decade in which each genus and species were first formally classified. Of course, species were known to humans way before this date. Still, it wasn't until the dawn of the 'Binomial Nomenclature' that genera and plants were first mentioned in horticultural documents. The species names are in italics.




The Reasonings for Their Names

Every genera and species have a compelling reason for the origins of its name.

 ...ia - Often refers to a significant person, like a doctor or fellow horticulturist, for instance. Examples of this are; Tradescantia (John Tradescant), Begonia (Michel Bégon) or Dieffenbachia (Joseph Dieffenbach).

...ensis - Named after a location; sometimes its place of origin. Examples are Hedera canariensis (Canary Islands) or Davallia fejeensis (Fiji).

...opsis or ...oides - Often refers to another species or genus due to similar traits. Examples are Gardenia jasminoides (flower scents) or the genus, Haworthiopsis, which was penned after Haworthia was split in the 2010s.

Some specimens are named after their growth habits, usually described in Ancient Greek or Latin. An example of this is Epiphyllum, that originates from the Greek words (epi & phýllon, meaning 'upon the leaf'), about its epiphytic nature.


N. B. - If you'd like to learn more about the history of each genus, click on the appropriate hyperlink and scroll down to 'Origins' once it loads!




Through the Decades

1720s


1730s

  • Pelargonium - Charles L'Héritier


1750s

Carl Linnaeus is considered to be the 'Father of Modern Taxonomy, due to his extensive classification of species, genera and families. He also penned the 'Binomial Nomenclature' system, whereby a species would have a two-factor name for classification - an example of this would be Monstera delicious or Pilea peperomioides. Scrolling through the 1750s will make you realise the extent of his works, especially compared to the following decades and centuries.



1760s


1770s


1780s


1790s


1800s


1810s


1820s


1830s


1840s

  • Hoya obovata - Joseph Decaisne
  • Meuhlenbeckia - Carl Meissner
  • Murdannia loriformis - John Forbes Royle
  • Radermachera - Heinrich Zollinger
  • Rhaphidophora - Justus Hasskarl
  • Tolmiea menziesii  (Piggy-Back Plant)  - John Torrey & Asa Gray


1850s


1860s


1870s


1880s

  • Ctentanthe  - August W. Eichler 
  • Hypoestes phyllostachya - John Baker
  • Paphiopedilum  (Slipper Orchids) - Ernst Pfitzer


1890s


1900s

  • Sansevieria trifisciata  (Mother-in-Law's Tongue or Snake Plant) (Transferred to Dracaena in late 2010s by Mabberley) - David Prain


1910s


1920s


1930s


1960s


1990s

  • Orchid Cacti - Wilhelm Barthlott  (Adrian Haworth, 1829)
  • Curio rowleyanus - Paul V. Heath  (formally under Senecio, Hermann Jacobsen, 1960s)



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