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Quartz Obsession — Houseplants — Card 1
It’s a nail-biting week for anyone following the US election. We offer you today’s Obsession as an excuse to hit pause on the news, but if you prefer to stay in it, we recommend a reread of our post-election chaos email from two weeks ago.
Across cultures and millennia, houseplants have added a little green to our indoor spaces, while telling our friends we have a little green to throw around. Over the last decade, they’ve grown from a subtle wealth marker—the more plants you have, the more time and money you’ve invested in nurturing them—to a symbol of a different kind of currency. Stereotypically purchased in large quantities by millennials living in expensive urban areas, the ability to grow a thriving, verdant houseplant garden brings with it a certain cache on social media, which in itself acts as a type of wealth today.
Let’s get to the root of it.
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Quartz Obsession — Houseplants — Card 2
4.9 million: Number of Instagram posts with the hashtag #houseplants, as of Nov. 4, 2020
6.5: The ideal pH for most houseplants
60 feet (18.3 m): Height a Monstera deliciosa, also known as the Swiss cheese plant, can reach in its natural habitat
$5 million: Amount of venture funding mail-order potted plant company The Sill raised in 2018
40 feet (12.2 m): Length to which a Golden Pothos can grow, in the right conditions
2,032: Number of species in the Bulbophyllum genus, the largest genus in the orchid family
2 inches (5 cm): Depth of soil that should be dry before most houseplants need to be watered, according to conventional wisdom
67.7%: Percent of benzene removed from a sealed air chamber by a Gerber daisy over a 24-hour period, in a NASA experiment (pdf)
35%: Share of houseplant-tending Quartz employees who have 10 or more
-1: Number of plants owned by Quartz director of analytics Scott Lawrence. “When we moved in, there was a potted pine tree on the porch. Everyone, including us, forgot it was there and it is now dead.” RIP, potted pine tree!
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Quartz Obsession — Houseplants — Card 3
In Nathan W. Pyle’s comic Strange Planet, aliens go about everyday human activities and narrate their actions in very technical but delightfully heartwarming ways. Sometimes it takes a total outsider to remind us of the relative oddness of our inclinations to bring plants indoors, the responsibility of maintaining a life apart from our own, and the benefits that plants bring us.
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Quartz Obsession — Houseplants — Card 5
Whatever color your thumb, we can all agree that now is the right time for a moment of zen. Presenting: the slow unfurling of a Monstera deliciosa leaf.
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Quartz Obsession — Houseplants — Card 6
A woman who was mourning the loss of her first succulent was extra careful about taking care of her second, a gift from a friend. For two years, her success emboldened her to start amassing other houseplants. Then she tried to repot it.
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Quartz Obsession — Houseplants — Card 7
C. 1000 BCE: The Chinese are probably the first to grow plants indoors. It’s a symbol of wealth to have plants in one’s home, as well as a way for gardeners to hone their skills year-round.
605-562 BCE: The rule of King Nebuchadnezzar II, who according to myth built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon for his wife, Queen Amytis, who missed her verdant homeland of Persia.
500 BCE: Indoor plants as a sign of wealth catches on in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. In these cultures, houseplants are traditionally leafy and grown in terra cotta pots—though the Romans prefer roses and violets in pots of marble. ✨
706 CE: The date of the earliest known graphic depicting the art of penjing, or the cultivation of miniature trees, in China. This is followed by the oldest known graphic of Japanese bonsai, from 1309.
1500s: After the fall of the Roman empire, houseplants largely disappear from European culture —but are reborn with the Renaissance, thanks to the warm and humid environments that glasshouses provided the wealthy classes.
1682: The Duke of Lauderdale’s inventory list of houseplants for his Richmond, England estate included “8 large orange trees and lemon trees, 22 smaller orange and lemon trees in tubs, 32 orange and lemon trees in potts, [sic] 11 great tubs with myrtles and several pots with greens.” Citrus tree flowers masked a lot of odors.
1700s: Elaborate decorative containers for houseplants become must-haves.
1800s: Victorians discover the aspidistra and ferns. So many ferns.
1970s: Houseplants make their 20th-century resurgence, perhaps to fill a sudden abundance of macrame plant holders, and garden centers become ubiquitous.
1993: Arabidopsis thaliana is sent into orbit, and becomes the first plant to bud and bloom in space—a shuttleplant, if you will.
2012: The Sill is founded, and houseplants become intertwined with millennials’ reputation as “the wellness generation.”
2016: A zinnia grows aboard a space shuttle, and is falsely proclaimed as the first shuttleplant (see 1993).
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Quartz Obsession — Houseplants — Card 8
The Victorian gaslit home was not a kind environment to plants. Enter the aspidistra, or the “Cast-Iron Plant,” which came to the West from China in 1823 with the attractive quality of being difficult to kill. Along with the Kentia palm, the aspidistra became a fixture in Victorian households, and British families loved to pose for photographs around their specimens. Think of the things they could have done with Instagram.
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Quartz Obsession — Houseplants — Card 9
Inspired by the first shuttleplant of 1993, NASA astronaut Don Pettit brought a sprouted zucchini plant into space in 2012. And, as the saying goes, from the zucchini arose a blog! “I am utilitarian, hearty vegetative matter that can thrive under harsh conditions,” says the zucchini. “I am zucchini—and I am in space.”
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Quartz Obsession — Houseplants — Card 10
Thinking about giving it a go? This guide (pdf) from the Missouri Botanical Garden is a great place to start for basic plant care tips. It can also help you determine which plants your space can best accommodate, with specific charts of houseplants organized by which type of light they prefer, the soil moisture and temperatures they need to thrive, and whether they are child- or pet-safe.
The types and amounts of light your houseplants want vary quite a bit. For instance, a pothos can survive with minimal ambient light, making it a great office plant. But a fiddle leaf fig can be a bit pickier, requiring bright ambient light, ideally with a few hours of direct light a day from a southern- or western-facing window, and away from air vents. Humidity levels also make a world of difference to houseplants—ferns, air plants, and others can suffer in winter dryness, and will live their best lives near a humidifier (or as bathroom plants).
This podcast episode is a great way to dive deeper into how to care for your houseplants—and, as a bonus, you’ll learn about foot-candles. Finally!
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Quartz Obsession — Houseplants — Card 12
This week we celebrate our 100th field guide, each of which provides a deep dive into issues of critical importance to the global economy. Here’s a list of our most popular guides:
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