JoAnne Skelly: Where have all the houseplants gone?

Last year I wrote, “We are told to bring nature inside. Houseplant gardening is back, just like in my hippie days,” citing’s 2017 trends. I admit I haven’t been a fan of houseplants, other than cacti and succulents, for many years. I got tired of watering, trimming, fertilizing, re-potting and dusting. I have enough to take care of outside.

However, last week I decided I wanted a hanging plant to put in my writing room. I hoped the cleaner air a plant is known to produce might stimulate my creative process. I went on the hunt around Carson City to find an interesting hanging plant. I didn’t want a pothos or a spider plant. A pothos is boring (apologies to those who like them) and spider plants always have brown tips that need trimming. Another constraint was the fact the room gets little light until late in the day.

Unfortunately, my search was futile. Everybody’s favorite nursery doesn’t carry houseplants anymore. They recommended a flower shop, which, when I called, didn’t carry hanging plants. The box stores have some upright houseplants, but just a few unappealing hanging plants. It seems the trend to bring nature inside isn’t of interest to buyers or cost benefit for retailers here. I was discouraged.

When you think of the benefits of houseplants, it seems they would be more popular. Homes have been made more airtight and energy-efficient through the years. Add that to the extensive use of synthetic building materials and you can get concentrations of off-gassed harmful chemicals in the house, named by NASA as the “Sick Building Syndrome.” NASA research found “once the plants were introduced to the environment, analysis of the air quality indicated that most of the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) had been removed, and the symptoms disappeared” (

Plants not only clean the air, they also raise the humidity, a nice plus in our arid climate. As they photosynthesize, they remove carbon dioxide from the air, replacing it with oxygen. They even help cool the air as moisture passes through the plants and out the leaves. In addition, they’re attractive.

After my unsuccessful search, I realized a mixed plant basket from a friend would make a perfect hanging plant. In it were a creeping ficus and an English ivy that had grown too long for the table. Guess what? It looks great.

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


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