various houseplants from Better Homes & Gardens

The Most Popular Houseplants of the Last 100 Years from the Better Homes & Gardens Archives

Here's a look at the trendiest indoor plants that filled the pages of BHG through the decades.

For practical purposes, plants could only cohabitate with us comfortably when window sizes increased and indoor heating systems improved. When that simpatico situation came together roughly a century ago, houseplants moved in for good. Over the decades, indoor plants have filled many niches. Some of the most popular photosynthesizing players remain the same today, but the way we display houseplants has evolved right along with our decor. We hit the BHG archives to spotlight some of the most iconic trends in houseplants over the last one hundred years.

1920s: Plants with Artful Elegance

1920s living room with houseplants

Better Homes & Gardens

When home environments became more plant-friendly in the Roaring Twenties, houseplants soon became part of the lives of your average homeowner. Low-light plants such as graceful ferns quickly rose in popularity, often placed upon wrought-iron pedestals. Their tidy green foliage served as the perfect foil for the era's geometric Art Deco-inspired furniture, textiles, and patterns.

1930s: Luxurious Leaves

The Depression years didn't stop people from refining their indoor gardens. Along with English ivy everywhere, the expanding repertoire of popular houseplants included schismatoglottis (shown above, right), dracaena, screw pine, grape ivy, and fiddle-leaf fig. And while furniture and decor became more spare than the previous decade, design became a bigger consideration for displaying houseplants. Glazed ornamental pots were newly arriving on the market and furniture was being forged to hold light-loving houseplants such as cacti where they could bask in the most sunbeams.

potted ivy plants on windowsill of 1930s Better Homes & Gardens house

Better Homes & Gardens

"Indoor Gardening Guide," BHG, November 1939

Houseplants are ideal decorations to be used throughout your house, like pictures or lovely china or fine old furniture.

— "Indoor Gardening Guide," BHG, November 1939

1940s: Statement Pieces

snake plants in 1950s living room

Better Homes & Gardens

Wartime shortages of metals pushed wood into the limelight for home furnishings and decor, with houseplants acting as a natural complement. But a token plant or two wasn't enough, you needed a whole row of snake plants or an overflowing dish garden to really make a statement. Plus, with home sizes shrinking in the post-war years, using houseplants to separate or define spaces helped create the illusion of roominess.

1950s: Maximalist Plants

person seated by fire with large houseplants in foreground

Better Homes & Gardens

Baby boomers were all about maximizing the indoor experience, and plants were a big part of that in the 1950s–often quite literally. Tree-sized specimens with eye-catching foliage such as parlor palms, philodendrons, and fiddle-leaf figs with architectural appeal ruled the day. People were also getting into creating collections of African violets and versatile begonias (BHG even advised at the time: "You can fit begonias into either Traditional or Contemporary rooms simply by changing their containers.").

african violets houseplants in 1950s home

Better Homes & Gardens

1960s: Collectable Plants

As fluorescent lights suitable for home use became more available, any space could become an indoor garden. The dimensions of houseplants were downsized when smaller plants such as eyelash begonias and orchids were tucked under lights and indoor gardeners continued building their collections. Though lumens were no longer a limitation, houseplants faded more into the background as calming counterpoints to the sixties' otherwise loud colors and patterns everywhere else you looked.

1970s: Plants to Hang Out With

1970s living room with green walls sofa and decor and shag carpet
Better Homes & Gardens

In the seventies, we let it all hang out with the fad for trailing and hanging plants. Of course, macrame made it easier to let your houseplants come tumbling down, but any type of rope or chain was enlisted as plants took over homes. Hoyas led the inundation, but spider plants, Christmas cactus, ferns, and other groovy plants were liberally draped around too.

houseplants hanging in window of 1970s home

Better Homes & Gardens

1980s: Flashy Flowers

close up of bright tropical houseplants in 1980s home

Better Homes & Gardens

With all those sliding glass doors letting the sunshine in came a flood of light–loving tropical plants with brightly colored flowers. Anthurium, bird of paradise, and flowering ginger were top choices for adding a touch of floral flamboyance that could match the vibrant decor of the times. And for those without room for these larger plants, BHG recommended saucer gardens that could add "a rainbow of color in a scrap of space" like the one below filled with primroses, begonias, cineraria, and other brilliant blooms.

1980s tabletop garden

Better Homes & Gardens

1990s: Nostalgic Houseplants

1997 BHG living room with houseplants

Jenifer Jordan

Although the crazy quilt-look of the 1970s was no longer in vogue, hanging plants and other nostalgia-inducing specimens such as ivies and hoyas were again having their day as living works of art. Meanwhile, everyone wanted to try and fail with a temperamental weeping ficus tree (Ficus benjamina, shown above), but the houseplant cognoscenti chose its more easy-going cousin, Ficus maclellandii 'Alii' (shown below).

1995 home with houseplants

Jenifer Jordan

2000s: Indoor Gardens

Someone shrank the houseplants into terrariums as growing tiny plants under glass in a cloche, Wardian case, or canning jar became wildly popular. Unlike earlier terrariums that were more like science experiments, these versions were works of art. Simultaneously, warmth and humidity-loving cape primroses (Streptocarpus) and moth orchids hit their stride, along with sunrooms for displaying them.

2010s: Fancy Foliage Plants

living room with large fiddle leaf fig tree houseplant

Dane Tashima

Maximizing your indoor experience was the name of the game for Millennials. A whole new wave of foliage plants flooded the market so that formerly ho-hum Chinese evergreens, dracaenas, and crotons were decked out with jazzy markings. And boosted by social media and countless design magazines, the fiddle-leaf fig was pushed from dusty corners into superstardom.

2020s: Big Tropical Houseplants

window sitting area filled with plants
Adam Albright Photography

Plants with strong architectural lines and big leaves rule, like alocasias with arrow-shaped foliage, split-leaf philodendrons with striking leaf patterns, and of course, the mighty monstera. These big, bold plants are often grouped together for an indoor jungle effect.

What's your guess for which houseplants will be trendy in the 2030s?

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