Breathe a little easier…

Take a moment to look around your home or office. Stop your gaze on any plants you see. Now consider what these plants do for you on a daily basis.

Sansevieria They brighten up empty corners. They bring the outdoors in. They trade carbon dioxide for oxygen. They give gardening junkies something to exercise their green thumbs on during cold winter months. But these often underappreciated and overlooked houseplants are also doing a bang-up job of purifying the air you are breathing at this very moment.

This is not necessarily new knowledge – NASA reported, back in the late 1980’s, that many potted houseplants removed benzene and trichloroethylene from the air in specialized testing chambers. These chemicals are found in inks, oils, paints, plastics, rubber, lacquers and varnishes, and adhesives. And since then other researchers have tested  similar capabilities of potted plants in indoor office settings and potted plants abilities to clear formaldehyde from air. (My latest Garden Zone column explains more about this research.)

The remarkable abilities of plants to care for our air is interesting food for thought, especially considering that many homes and offices already contain some of the very houseplants identified as air-cleaners: Peace lily, dracaena, Ficus, Sansevieria, English ivy, and Dieffenbachia. Even some of the potted herbs – rosemary, lavender, scented geranium – many cold-climate gardeners overwinter inside showed air-cleansing capabilities.

One of the studies listed Japanese fern (Osmunda japonica), Squirrel’s-foot fern (Davallia mariesii) as the most effective ferns for formaldehyde removal. Likewise, the most effective herbaceous foliage plants included variegated spider plant (Chlorophytum bichetii), Dieffenbachia, and Anthurium, while scented geranium, lavender, and rosemary were the most effective herbs.

Here I thought I was caring for the many houseplants gracing corners, tables, shelves, and plant stands throughout my home and office – makes me more conscious that making sure my houseplants have adequate light and water, clean foliage, fresh soil, and a touch of organic fertilizer is doing more than caring for them … it’s caring for the air my family breathes.

Here’s the list of houseplants I compiled for A Touch of Green and So Much More.

  • English ivy (Hedera helix)
  • Dracaena (D. deremensis ‘Janet Craig’ and ‘Warneckei,’ D. marginata, D. massangeana)
  • Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifritzii)
  • Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema modestum)
  • Ornamental fig (Ficus benjamina)
  • Gerbera daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)
  • Mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria laurentii)
  • Peace lily (Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’ and ‘Sweet Chico’)
  • Japanese fern (Osmunda japonica) and Squirrel’s-foot fern (Davallia mariesii)
  • Variegated spider plant (Chlorophytum bichetii)
  • Dumb cane (Dieffenbachia ‘Marianne’)
  • Flamingo flower (Anthurium andraeanum)
  • Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
  • Scented geranium (Pelargonium spp.)
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I’m pleased to already have English ivy, dracaena, sansevieria, spathiphyllum, pelargonium, and rosemary growing inside. Now, with list in hand, I’m tempted to add a few others … a spider plant and a new palm may be in my future.

How many of these plants do you grow inside?

Update: University of Georgia researchers found purple waffle plant (Hemigraphis alternata), variegated wax plant (Hoya camosa), and Asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus) plus English ivy (Hedera helix) are all highly effective in removing VOCs from indoor air according to a report in ScienceDaily.

I’m adding hoya to my list of current houseplants.

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6 comments for “Breathe a little easier…

  1. January 18, 2011 at 11:28 am

    It is nice to know our plants take care of us and not so much the other way around! If we didn’t have two Siamese leaf eaters here I’d have more houseplants. The cats don’t touch my amaryllis plants, but they nibble and throw up leafier green things. sigh.

  2. joenesgarden
    January 18, 2011 at 11:52 am

    No worries as long as you enjoy your leaf-eaters. I suspect you get a fair amount of air-cleaning from your amaryllis, though. The cleaning seems to come from the interactions of a growing plant and its soil.

  3. January 18, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    I have to admit I don’t have any of those plants in my house. I am really not a big indoor plant person but I am intriqued by the air-cleaning qualities you mentioned. I realized today that the only indoor plants I have are little conifers I bought for my holiday table which will be planted outside in the spring.

  4. joenesgarden
    January 18, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    English ivy is pretty easy to care for, Debbie, and they apparently do a pretty good job cleansing the air. You could start there.

  5. January 18, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    Excellent post! Great info, and good reasons why our office buildings and other work places, as well as our homes, need greenery!

  6. joenesgarden
    January 19, 2011 at 12:46 am

    Thanks, Deb. It’s nice to have some science to back up the need for more greenery.

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