My favorite houseplant is the heart-leafed philodendron, Philodendron oxycardium, perhaps because it is so forgiving and thrives on so little care — as all of my houseplants must do to survive. Or maybe because it has a special relationship with one of my favorite movies, Mutiny on the Bounty.
In 1793, Captain William Bligh — the Captain Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty — brought this vine from the West Indies to the Royal Botanic Gardens in England. It played an important role in decorating Victorian parlors, actually turning them into miniature jungles because it was so prolific.
In 1936, John Masek, a nurseryman from Orlando, Florida, rediscovered the heart-leafed philodendron. The plant was attractive to look at, very nearly pest-free, easy to grow, and — most important since this was during the Depression — it was economical to propagate. He decided to pot some up and sell them to florists and dime stores. Because the plant was so readily available and inexpensive to purchase, it became immensely popular and every home soon had one or more. The demand for these plants was actually responsible for the birth of the houseplant industry.
And now you know the history of the plant that’s been a start for so many gardeners — and the start of what today is a multi-million dollar industry.
Boots Oliphint, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service