10 Neat things About Houseplants
by Shauna Dobbie
by Dorothy Dobbie

The Local Gardener magazines, Ontario Gardener, Manitoba Gardener and Alberta Gardener, are published by Pegasus Publications Inc.

Drawing on her 30 years' experience as a senior executive in the magazine publishing industry, Dorothy launched Manitoba Gardener in 1998, initially running the business out of her home. Two years later, Dorothy's daughter Shauna, living in Ontario, jumped into the fray with Ontario Gardener. And two years after that, they started Alberta Gardener. Visit us at and register for our "Ten Neat things" newsletter. Watch Shaw TV for garden tips and Listen to CJOB for the Gardener Sundays at 9:08

January 27, 2019

1. Ancient China.

The Chinese seem to have been the first to enjoy houseplants indoors, growing penjing 3000 years ago. Penjing is the art of growing trees in miniature; the Japanese bonsai is an adaptation of it.

2. Pittsburgh philodendron.

Rona Scoratow has a provision in her will to give $5,000 for the care of her 47-year-old philodendron when she dies. She is single and childless, so the plant goes to live with her friend. The $5,000 should pay for a lot of little bottles of fertilizer!

3. Oldest houseplant.

At Kew Gardens in London, an Eastern Cape cycad picked up by Captain Cook needed to be repotted. That was 10 years ago, and the cycad went to Kew in 1775. It was 14 feet long. With nine people helping, they got the job done. I hope they wrote down how they did it because cycads can live for 500 years.

4. Winter.

Houseplants tend not to grow in winter, meaning they need less water. Cactuses hardly need any water at all in winter. Check your plants every week to 10 days to see if they show signs of stress, like drooping; if they do, give them water; if that doesn't perk them up, you have another problem. Don't feed them in the winter, though.

5. Too much water or too little?

Either way, your houseplant will die by wilting leaves, then yellowy, and finally brown leaves. Both deaths are essentially the same: the roots can't take up water. The best way to know if your plant needs water is to pick up the pot, getting used to how heavy it is when dry. Personally, I take my plants to the sink and drench them with water, letting it run out the drainage hole, then put them back. This would be more difficult with a 244-year-old cycad, though.

6. Poison magnets.

Some indoor plants and their soil reduce toxins in the air, including VOCs, which are volatile organic compounds. VOCs come from things that off-gas, like paint and most of your furniture. They're responsible for "sick-building syndrome", which includes symptoms like irritated eyes, nose, throat and headaches.

7. Best air filters.

The two plants that are the best for filtering air, according to a study by NASA, are the peace lily (Spathiphyllum 'Mauna Loa') and the florist's chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum morifolium). In fact, it's the microorganisms in the soil that act as a VOC sink; the plants are there to keep the microorganisms alive.

8. Victorians.

The Victorian era is when houseplants became really popular. There are several reasons for this, including increasing sunlight in homes owing to bigger windows, greater disposable income of the middle class and the rise of interest in things scientific.

9. Pteridomania.

This word refers to the Victorian craze for ferns. The era saw ferns on every kind of household decoration, as well as people collecting and growing the plants. The first terrariums, called Wardian cases, were developed to keep ferns free of the London pollution.

10. Orangeries.

The first of these buildings, a kind of greenhouse built to grow orange trees, was erected in Padua in 1545. In 1686, an orangery was built at Versaille, the palace of Louis XIV that would house 3000 orange trees, as well as pomegranates and olives. Orangeries were useful for growing tender fruit, but more important as a status symbol for wealthy royalty, noblemen and merchants. They differed from greenhouses in having mostly non-glass roofs.

Shauna Dobbie Copyright Pegasus Publications Inc.

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