Our homes have become too hot for potted plants
Many of our common houseplants are struggling.
Green, lush, large, and beautiful. Potted plants are something many of us have at home.
But these plants are not found in Norwegian nature.
Potted plants are mostly plants that like it warm, need sun and water. And Norway is dark and cold for much of the year.
So where do houseplants come from? And how can they thrive in our living rooms?
At the end of the 1800s
We visited the Botanical Garden in Oslo and spoke with Charlotte Sletten Bjorå, who is a botanist and researches plants.
“I find potted plants incredibly exciting,” she says, enthusiastically showing off the various plants that thrive in the warmth of the greenhouse.
And here is a hint: potted plants thrive in the heat.
“The potted plants of the 19th and early 20th centuries were Mediterranean plants,” Bjorå says.
This was because Mediterranean plants could survive the Norwegian winter. They have to spend the winter indoors and like to stay quite cold in the winter.
“In the past, people had parlours, and these were rarely used. These parlours were therefore often colder than the rest of the house, and that’s were people put their potted plants for the winter,” she says.
Typical Mediterranean plants include myrtle, olive trees, figs, oleander, and various palms.
These can thrive down to 5-10 degrees Celsius in winter.
Tropical plants like the heat
Many of the most popular houseplants today are tropical plants.
“What I think makes a potted plant popular is that it looks nice or weird, is easy to care for, and hard to kill,” Bjorå says.
Typical tropical plants include monstera, pothos, and spider plants.
These plants prefer warm temperatures year-round and manage well with the humidity levels found in Norwegian living rooms.
“Throughout the 1900s, we started to have warmer houses all year round. This allows tropical plants thrive in our homes,” she says.
We usually do not have a rainforest climate in our living rooms, so we need species that can handle low humidity and light during the winter. This applies to many plants that grow on trees, with monstera and orchids being typical examples.
Are actually gigantic in the wild
In the wild, many potted plants grow much larger, and some even bear fruit.
“Monstera can climb high up trees,” Bjorå says, pointing to a 10-metre-high tree. “Just imagine a monstera covering that whole tree.”
The best way to take care of a plant is to mimic how it lives in nature, the researcher explains.
“A monstera will climb, and as it outgrows its pot, it will start to droop unless it receives some support,” she says.
Sometimes the plants can grow quickly and become too big for our living rooms.
“People throw away plants as soon as they are no longer beautiful or when the plants no longer fit in their homes. I think that's a shame,” Bjorå says.
However, many people share cuttings with family and friends.
A cutting is a part of a plant. You can cut off a branch and it will grow roots if you put it in water.
If you snip off a cutting from a monstera and place it in water, it will develop roots. You can then plant it in a pot, and just like that, you’ve created your own potted plant.
“It seems that more people are interested in cuttings and taking care of their plants now,” Bjorå says.
Norwegian living rooms have become too warm
Norwegian living rooms have actually become too warm for many tropical and Mediterranean plants in recent years.
“In the winter, more people have started to use heat pumps. This means that the plants constantly have warm air blown on them. Not many plants like that,” Bjorå says.
She therefore shows us the desert room in the Botanical Garden, full of large cacti and aloe vera plants.
“Norwegian living rooms have actually become too warm. Only desert plants thrive in rooms where the heat pump is frequently in use,” she says.
Desert plants thrive in the heat and need little water and nutrients. Desert plants are also difficult to kill since they require so little attention. But they can die from drowning, so be careful with watering.
When did we get potted plants?
“How did we actually get potted plants?”
“We began using potted plants quite early. In ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, they had potted plants, but these were primarily for outdoor decoration. During the Middle Ages, potted plants moved indoors, but they were mainly confined to monasteries and often consisted of medicinal plants,” Bjorå says.
In Europe, the Middle Ages lasted from around the year 500 to 1500. In Norway, we also had the Viking Age from approximately the year 800 to 1050.
Bjorå explains that expeditions to foreign lands from the 15th century onwards, including those by Christopher Columbus to the Caribbean and Vasco Da Gama to India, introduced many new plants to Europe.
However, she notes that potted plants did not start appearing in people's homes until the latter half of the 18th century. It was around this time that better heating systems became more common in households, allowing potted plants to finally survive indoors.
But it wasn't until the 1920s that people could buy ready-made potted plants. Before that, they had to create them themselves either from seeds or cuttings.
“Do you think the Vikings brought plants home and put them in pots?”
“Perhaps. But one important factor for potted plants is light, and during the Viking Age, they didn't have the kind of windows we have today," Bjorå says.
Translated by Alette Bjordal Gjellesvik