Go you green thing!

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I like living amongst greenery. To me, bringing a house plant into a room brings the room alive, adding a bit of colour, texture and life.  But since I have to water them, I like to know that they’re contributing something more than just their leafy good looks (and occasional wilted, pathetic neglected looks).

According to the US EPA, air quality in homes and buildings can be many times more polluted than outside air, even in large industrialized cities.  And since most of us spend the majority of our time indoors (apparently the average is around 90% – can this be right?), indoor air quality is a concern, especially for anyone with health or allergy problems.

A well publicised but frequently misquoted study by NASA researched the efficiency of various house plants in removing toxic chemicals from the air, to improve indoor air quality. Skeptics (including the EPA) say there is a lack of evidence regarding plants’ effectiveness outside laboratory tests.  But if NASA concludes plants may be useful for improving air quality in spacecrafts, that’s pretty compelling.

 A more recent study, Greening the Great Indoors, went further by looking into whether plants can improve health, well-being and productivity as well as air quality.  Putting aside the fact it was funded by an indoor plant hire association, it concluded that plants in the office were able to reduce negative moods and stress, as well as improving air quality.  So plants in the office are good for productivity and therefore profitability. 

The evidence is mounting. Soon, house plants may replace therapists.

Interestingly, Greening the Great Indoors concluded that most indoor species are likely to show the same or similar ability to remove volatile organic compounds (VOC). This may be due to the fact that the main VOC removal agent is actually the bacteria in the potting mix, although the plant is also involved. 

So for pure air and better mental health, you may as well choose house plants that are seriously tough – they’re more likely to look good at all times, and will improve your well-being without sacrificing their own.

Here’s a gallery of house plants that can take some tough love; try them in low light with limited water, just to show them who’s their Daddy.

If you’re concerned about a particular toxin or VOC, for further detail on which plants remove which toxins best, see WebEcoist.

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