Where Do Houseplants Come From?

All cultivated plants were once found growing wild in some part of the world. People took some of these wild plants and grew them for food or for their beauty. From the ones they grew, people saved the seed of plants which had some property they liked. These plants gradually changed from what they had been like as wild plants. For example, maybe one rose plant had bigger flowers than usual. By saving seed from this plant and cross breeding it with a rose that was more disease resistant, a cultivated rose was developed that had big flowers and was resistant to disease.

Many people enjoy growing plants indoors, especially during the winter when outdoor gardens are resting under a blanket of snow. What part of the world did these indoor plants come from originally? How can we find out?

First, we can make some inferences or educated guesses. The plants probably came from a part of the world that had a climate a little like our houses, warm all year. Most house plants were tropical or semi-tropical. Some house plants need a lot of water. These might have come from somewhere with lots of rain. Others need to be kept pretty dry, these may have come from a desert region.

Next we can do some library or Internet research. A good site with information on different indoor growing conditions and the plants that do best in them can be found at Texas Master Gardener: House Plants. It has good tips for care of plants as well as a conditions chart at the bottom of the page. The Gardenline Web page includes where the plants listed originally came from as does a Home Gardening Online from the NewYork Botanical Garden (free registration now required). How can you identify the house plants you have?

Once you know where a plant came from originally, how can you find out about conditions in that country? Can you find the country on a map? Can you find out if that plant still grows wild in the country it came from?

Can you find out if the wild plant is common or becoming scarce? Is it protected from being taken from the wild now the CITES Treaty or some other law? If so, where do the house plants come from now?

What does propagation mean and how do you propagate plants? Visit our New Plants From Old page to find out.

What other house plant questions can you think of and how can you answer them?
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