Indoor plants are some of the best companions for the home or office. Not only do they add life to surrounding environment and are easy to care for, but they are also very good at filtering the air.
We know indoor plants are good at filtering air because NASA conducted a study in the 1970s to explain why people working in newly constructed or renovated buildings were getting sick. Having already worked with astronauts to find out what would happen if humans had to live in a small space for extended periods of time, NASA used plants to show that workers were suffering ailments as a result of not getting enough fresh air.
Eventually, the term “sick building syndrome” (SBS) was coined to explain the ailments people would experience if they spent too much time indoors and not breathing enough fresh air. But because many of us work indoors, we simply don’t get enough fresh air. But as the NASA study would show us, plants might help improve indoor air quality and alleviate some of the symptoms associate with SBS.
The Problem With Air Quality In Modern Buildings
Sick building syndrome is a modern ailment that affects people who live and work in modern buildings. These ailments are the result of exposure to chemicals from furniture and rugs, synthetic cleaning products, electronics and many other sources of indoor air pollution.
People with sick building syndrome might experience one or more of the following symptoms when spending time in indoor environments where those chemicals are present:
- Eye, nose or throat irritation
- Dry cough
- Dry or itching skin
- Cold or flu-like symptoms
- Changes in mood or behavior
SBS became more prevalent in the 1970s as a push for energy efficiency saw modern construction techniques adding more insulation and limiting the exchange of conditioned indoor air with outdoor air. Unfortunately, the chemicals found in indoor air could no longer be exchanged with fresher outdoor air. So the people who spent time in these environments were being regularly exposed to this poor indoor air quality.
NASA Study Links Plants To Indoor Air Quality improvements
Just a few years earlier, NASA has been conducting research into sealed space habitats. To maintain the health of astronauts, NASA had to develop materials that promote the health of occupants, specifically during long stays outside of Earth’s atmosphere. As complaints about SBS grew, NASA was able to explain that these issues were likely attributed to off-gassing from building materials and furnishings.
The challenge was to come up with a solution. Having already recognized the relationship between plants and microorganisms such as humans, NASA conducted a study that would attempt to show that bringing plants into seal buildings would improve indoor air quality. In their conclusion, researchers stated:
Low-light-requiring houseplants, along with activated carbon plant filters, have demonstrated the potential for improving indoor air quality by removing trace organic pollutants from the air in energy-efficient buildings. This plant system is one of the most promising means of alleviating the sick building syndrome associated with many new, energy efficient buildings. The plant root-soil zone appears to be the most effective area for removing volatile organic chemicals. Therefore, maximizing air exposure to the plant root-soil area should be considered when placing plants in buildings for best air filtration.
In their study, NASA researchers looked at these 12 plants and their ability to reduce benzene, trichloroethylene and formaldehyde:
- Bamboo palm
- Chinese evergreen
- English ivy
- Gerbera daisy
- Janet Craig
- Mass cane/Corn cane
- Mother-in-law’s tongue
- Peace lily
- Pot mum
Each of these plants was chosen based on their availability and ability to survive in indoor environments, like office buildings or homes. Below, we look at each of these 12 plants and why they may be the right choice for you or your company.
Marginata (Dracaena Marginata) is a slow growing shrub that can grow into a small tree if conditions are favorable. These plants do well with consistent temperatures, moderate watering, and have a high tolerance to low light. Excessive watering and fluoride in tap water can yellow leaf tips. A balanced liquid fertilizer (20-20-20) will help keep the plant healthy without causing fertilizer burns.
Information credit: Care For Red-Margined Dracaena Houseplants
Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea costaricana) adds a little tropical warmth to any interior space. These plants can grow to 12 feet high if grown in the right conditions, so be aware that it might need replanting outside after a few years. They prefer a lot of indirect light and should not be placed near air vents. When the top 1 inch of soil dries, evenly pour water over the dry soil; keep a drain pan underneath so the roots do not sit in water or they can rot.
Information credit: Caring For Bamboo Palms: How To Grow A Bamboo Palm Plant
Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema) is a hybrid plant from the subtropical forests of Southeast Asia. This plant is highly adaptable to hot and cold environment, through it prefers low light and dry air. Keep the plant warm and away from air vents. Its leaves are large and may change in appearance over time. This plant is unique in that it loves water, and if placed in a container without soil, it’ll continue to thrive. The plant sprouts new leaves from the crown and should never be pruned, though leaves may detach from the bottom of the stem.
Information credit: Chinese Evergreen
English Ivy (Hedera helix) likes to sprawl out if given the opportunity. Their vines can grow more than 50 feet, either across the ground or up stakes or walls. These plants require some patience as they won’t go through their first growth spurt until the second year. Keep it out of the light, but make sure it gets enough water. Once established, it tolerates dry conditions.
Information credit: Growing English Ivy – How To Care For English Ivy Plant
Gerbera daisies (Gerbera jamesonii) are brightly colored daisy-like flowers that originate from South Africa. They grow and blossom flowers that are up to 5 inches across with colors that include pink, yellow, salmon, orange and white. Like most flowering plants, they need plenty of direct sunlight and should be allowed to dry out between watering. Keep them in sandy soil and watch for fungal diseases.
Information credit: Gerbera Daisy Care – Tips On How To Grow Gerbera Daisies
Janet Craig (Dracaena fragrans) is popular because it needs very little attention. This plant is popular for its large green leaves that provide a natural sheen. Use a wet washcloth to wipe away dust and debris to keep the plant looking healthy. If you go with this plant, keep any eye out for dropped leaves and brown leaf tips as these are signs of too much or too little water, or a buildup of salts in the soil This plant also attracts spider mites that can cause serious damage before problems are noticeable.
Information: Guide-To-Houseplants ‘Janet Craig’ Dracaena
Mass Cane/Corn Cane
Mass Cane (Draceana fragrans Massaengea) has thick, woody stalks, that give it the appearance of a large tree in a tiny footprint. These plants tolerate most indoor lighting conditions and do not grow quickly so it will take several years before it will overwhelm a space. Water when the surface of the soil is dry to the touch; symptoms of overwatering and underwatering may not appear for several weeks. In the event of damage, avoid over-correcting the problem and instead change how the plant is watered and be patient as the plant will repair the damage.
Information Credit: Caring for Mass Cane (Corn Plant, Dracaena Massangeana)
Mother-In-Law’s Tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata, snake plant, viper’s bowstring hemp) is native to tropical West Africa and has learned to adapt to stressful environmental conditions. This plant is a smart choice for beginners because it is slow growing and only needs watered once the soil has dried out. You can keep this plant at your desk because it can grow with minimal light.
Information Credit: Guide-To-Houseplants Mother-in-Law’s Tongue or Snake Plant
Peace Lilly (Spathiphyllum) have wide, green leaves that help to emphasize the white “flowers” that grow upright from the center stalk. The white leaf isn’t actually a flower pedal, rather a specialized leaf bract that covers the actual flower you see set against the white leaf in the image above. While the plant is easy to care for, beginners might struggle to make the flower bloom. The plant thrives in warmer temperates (up to 86 degrees), and the soil should be kept moist, and only watered when the surface of the soil is dry to the touch.
Information credit: Peace Lily Plants – Care Of Peace Lilies
Pot Mum (Chrysanthemum) is a colorful plant that undergoes a visually arresting blooming process that ends with bright and colorful flowers that are not only good for cleaning the air, but make spaces more appealing. Pot Mums like bright light and steady temperatures around 70 to 75 degrees. When the top inch of soil dries, water thoroughly but keep a drip pan underneath so water doesn’t sit in the pot. While the blossoms are beautiful, they will eventually wilt and should be cut off to encourage new flowers.
Information credit: Taking Care of Potted Mums
Warneckei (Dracaena deremensis) is most notable for the narrow streak that runs down the leaves. The color of the streak will vary, but plants with less contrast are still interesting in appearance. These plants are good for beginners because they do not require too much light and as long as the soil is kept damp, the plant should thrive.
Information credit: Warnecki Dracaena Houseplant Care
Ficus / Rubber Plant
Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) are a difficult plant to maintain. They demand a humid environment, a good balance of light and shade, varying amounts of fertilizer, and different amounts of soil moisture depending on the season. When the plant is given good care, you’ll be rewarded with large, thick leaves that provide exceptional air filtration abilities.
Information credit: Rubber Plant Houseplant Care — Ficus elastica
Do you keep plants inside the home or have you added plants to your place of work? Let us know how it as worked out for you in the comments below.