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Plant Containers have a History which Stretches Back to the Egyptians

Posted on: May 6th, 2020

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The history of plant containers is not something many people ponder when they have a few minutes to spare. But it’s of interest to know that plant containers (or flowerpots) date back to the Egyptians.

As it turns out, the Egyptians were the first civilization to use plant containers (outdoors) as a secure method of moving plants from one growing environment to another.

Similar containers were used in the 1700s to safely bring precious seedlings from Tahiti to the West Indies and even geraniums to North American from Africa, where they are descended from.

The dawn of the houseplant is often credited to the Victoria era. University of Massachusetts graduate student Hazel Lathrop writes that, “The sight of a potted plant as part of room décor at the start of the 19th century was rare, yet by the end of the century parlors were overrun with greenery.” Shifts in architecture are often recognized with increasing the houseplant phenomena, as homes were better heated and insulated and larger glass windows provided better sunlight.

American potteries were producing ornate ceramic flowerpots in the 18th century, and as much of society embraced gardening and horticulture as an acceptable pastime, production greatly increased.

In fact, Josiah Wedgwood’s flowerpot creations were just as popular as his famed dinnerware – often used as decorative centerpieces with nothing planted inside of them.

But the flowerpots used by the ancient Egyptians, and later on by the Romans, were not made from ceramic, but terra cotta, based on the obvious availability of clay material, and are today referred to as early civilizations version of plastic – based on the materials numerous applications.

Terra cotta was a useful material for planting in warm, dry climates. The composition allowed air and water to move freely through the walls and they were ideal for plants that crave a dryer soil.

But in areas which experienced a more varied climate, terra cotta often cracked during temperature fluctuations and were incredibly heavy to move – especially with soil inside the cavity.

For centuries, the only plant containers available were clay, terra cotta pots, or something crafted out of wood – both materials being readily available and plentiful. But with the dawn of the 20th century, the advent of plastics came along revolutionizing everything from toys, to car parts, to kitchen gadgets to yes, flowerpots.

Today, plastic plant containers are the grower’s choice as they’re lightweight, inexpensive to purchase and ship, durable, and retain more moisture during growing. The materials and styles may certainly have changed, but the utility of the flowerpot remains unaltered.

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