Plants of the Past: Popular Victorian House Plants

We all love the popular plants – Pilea peperomioides, Monstera deliciosa, the up-and-coming Raven ZZ – but what about the plants of years gone by? Once popular but now a little more overlooked, vintage plants deserve some love too! Let’s start by taking a look at plants from the Victorian Era.

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If you watch a lot of period dramas, you’ll catch yourself spotting Boston ferns on posh plant stands and Parlor palms galore. The Victorians benefitted from changes in architecture that allowed more natural light into their houses, changes to the way houses were heated, and literature about indoor gardening to turn to when they needed tips.

Those who could afford it built greenhouses and hothouses (greenhouses maintained at a high temperature) to cultivate the more exotic tropical plants. They had terrariums called Wardian cases (after Dr. Nathaniel Ward) that allowed then to keep humidity-loving plants protected indoors.

These greenhouses, conservatories, and Wardian cases were often filled by exotic specimens brought back by Victorian adventurers who hunted for fascinating new plants to bring back to England. Luckily, it’s not too hard to get your hands on some beloved Victorian plants. Let’s take a look at a few house plants that can add a touch of Victorian elegance to your home.

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Aspidistra – There’s a reason the Victorians called the Aspidistra the Cast Iron Plant. If you don’t have ideal conditions for a fussy fern but you still want a touch of the Victorian, Aspidistra will tolerate a variety of conditions, from lower lighting to colder temperatures. They’re not totally indestructible, of course, but they come close!

Boston fern – Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’ is a type of sword fern that’s justly popular for being a less finicky fern to grow, however you’ll find that it still wants higher humidity than the average household provides. If you’ve got the right spot or happen to run a humidifier, this graceful fern will be an excellent Victorian addition to your house! The Boston fern gets bonus points for being non-toxic to cats and dogs.

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Citrus – The Victorians grew citrus trees in dedicated greenhouses, but with a bright, sunny spot in your home you don’t have to have a Victorian solarium to grow lemons, oranges, or limes indoors. Calamondin oranges are a good choice if you’re new to growing fruit trees indoors.

Flowering Maple — Abutilon isn’t really a maple, but it has maple-shaped leaves and bell-shaped flowers. You can grow it outside or inside. If you grow them inside, find a bright, sunny spot and give it a well-draining soil mix. You can prune it in early spring to maintain its shape.

Fuchsia – Popular for hanging baskets, there a tons of varieties of Fuchsia to choose from to give your front porch that Victorian vibe. You may be able to add this beautiful flowering plant to your indoor garden, but they need to be kept in very cool temperatures during fall and winter.

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Heliotrope – Heliotropium arborescens are shrubby, flowering plants that can be grown outside in the garden, or cultivated indoors. Their fragrant flowers range from shades of purple to white, and they can be easily pruned to encourage re-blooming.   

Jasmine – Jasminum polyanthum will grace your home with fragrant flowers, and can be moved outdoors in the summer to promote growth. You can easily train it to climb on a trellis, or prune it to keep it in shape.

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Kentia Palm — Howea forsteriana is good news for those of us who have a medium light area and want an elegant, Victorian-inspired plant to accent it. The Kentia palm is pretty laid-back and adaptable when it comes to household conditions. Pot your Kentia with a well-draining sandy soil mix, find it the brightest indirect light you can, and avoid over watering. These are slow growers, so if you want a big plant you’ll have to splash out on one that matches your expectations.

Majesty Palm – If you’ve got a sunny spot with high humidity and want a really impressive palm to add to your Victorian plant collection, try a Majesty Palm (Ravenea rivularis). This palm will benefit from bright light and high humidity, and like the Parlor Palm, it doesn’t do well with drafts so be careful of its placement.

Parlor Palm – Native to the rainforests of Central America, Chamaedorea elegans is known as the Parlor Palm or Neanthe Bella Palm. These sweet little palms can grow up to 6 feet high and are tolerant of most average household conditions – just make sure your palm has enough bright, indirect light and doesn’t get hit by any cold (or hot) drafts.

If you’re looking for more plant suggestions, troubleshooting, or tips and tricks, check out House Plant Hobbyist on Facebook!