Discover the hidden meanings of houseplants in literature as we explore their symbolism and historical significance. From peace lilies to snake plants, learn how these indoor plants can enrich the narratives and themes portrayed in literary works.


When we think about symbolism in literature, plants and flowers often come to mind. From ancient myths and religious narratives to classic novels and modern poetry, plants have been used as powerful symbols, conveying various themes, emotions, and ideas. While the symbolism of plants in literature is well-documented, the specific role of houseplants in this context is less explored. In this article, we will delve into the history and evolution of the symbolism of houseplants in literature.

The Presence of Houseplants in Literature

Houseplants, also known as indoor plants or potted plants, have been a part of human culture since ancient times. They were not only appreciated for their aesthetic appeal but also for their ability to purify the air and bring a touch of nature into indoor spaces. However, when it comes to their symbolic significance in literature, the subject still remains relatively unexplored.

Symbolism of Plants in Literature

While there may not be specific references to houseplants in literature, plants in general have long been used as symbols in various literary works. For example, in Anton Chekhov’s play “The Cherry Orchard,” the cherry orchard itself symbolizes wealth and the decline of the Russian aristocracy[^1]. In Raymond Chandler’s novel “The Big Sleep,” orchids in a conservatory represent moral corruption and deception[^1]. Daphne du Maurier’s use of rhododendrons surrounding Manderley in “Rebecca” symbolizes the protagonist as an alien invader of Max’s first wife’s territory[^1]. These examples show that plants, including those found in gardens and orchards, can serve as powerful symbols in literature.

The Symbolism of Houseplants

While there is a lack of specific literature discussing the symbolism of houseplants, we can draw parallels between the symbolism of plants in general and the potential symbolic meanings of houseplants. Houseplants, like other plants, have unique characteristics and forms that can be associated with different emotions, themes, or concepts.

For instance, the peace lily, with its elegant white flowers, is often associated with peace and sympathy. It could be used in literature to symbolize hope and resolution in challenging times. The snake plant, with its dark green leaves and upright growth pattern, can be seen as a symbol of resilience and strength, representing the ability to withstand adversity. The aloe vera plant, known for its healing properties, could symbolize protection and restoration. These are just a few examples of how the symbolism of houseplants could be interpreted and incorporated into literary works.

Historical Significance of Houseplants in Literature

To understand the historical significance of houseplants in literature, it is important to recognize the broader historical context of houseplants’ popularity. Houseplants have been enjoyed for their fragrance, blooms, and ability to mask bad smells since ancient times. In the 17th century, citrus trees were a status symbol and were kept indoors in greenhouses and orangeries in the winter[^8]. In the 18th century, decorative containers to display plants indoors became popular, and tiered staging and metal stands were used to display plant collections[^8].

During the 19th century, there was a peak in the popularity of houseplants. Plant collectors brought back tropical and subtropical plants from around the world, with orchids and ferns gaining particular popularity during this time[^8]. In the early 20th century, cacti and succulents became popular houseplants, aligning with the modern architectural style of the time[^8]. The popularity of houseplants has varied over the years but has recently seen a revival and is back in fashion[^8].

While the historical significance of houseplants in literature is not explicitly documented, we can infer that their presence reflects the historical trends and cultural attitudes towards indoor gardening. Houseplants have been an integral part of interior decor and have influenced the aesthetics of living spaces throughout history. It is possible that their inclusion in literature serves to enhance the portrayal of domestic environments and the characters’ relationship with their surroundings.


In conclusion, while there is not a wealth of literature specifically dedicated to the symbolism of houseplants, the broader symbolism of plants in literature can offer insights into the potential significance of houseplants as symbols. Ancient myths, religious narratives, and classic novels have consistently used plants as powerful symbols, often representing concepts such as wealth, corruption, resilience, and healing. The history of houseplants’ popularity and their presence in literature reflect the changing cultural attitudes towards indoor gardening and the role of nature within domestic spaces. By exploring the symbolism of houseplants further, we can gain a deeper understanding of how these living organisms can enrich the narratives and themes portrayed in literary works.


[^1]: ‘Plants and Literature’.
[^2]: ‘Gardens in Literature: Classic Books Featuring Inspiring Gardens – Garden Therapy’.
[^3]: ‘Literary plants – Nature Plants’.
[^4]: ‘List of plants with symbolism – Wikipedia’.
[^5]: ‘Plant Lore – A Brief Insight Into the Mythology and Symbology of Plants – New Acropolis Library’.
[^6]: ‘These 6 Popular Houseplants Each Have Special Meanings Behind Them’.
[^7]: ‘Great literary gardens: from ‘Hamlet’ to ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’’.
[^8]: ‘A potted history of houseplants’.
[^9]: ‘History Of The Houseplant – Learn About Historical Houseplants’.
[^10]: ‘Leafy Legends: The Vibrant History of Houseplants’.
[^11]: ‘Fifty Plants that changed the course of history’.
[^12]: ‘Plant Symbolism & Spiritual Meanings Of The Most Popular Houseplants’.
[^13]: ‘Plant Symbolism Guide: 31 Plants for Every Personality – ProFlowers Blog’.