Houseplants don’t just look nice — they can actually have an enormous benefit on your health. We uncover the top five best choices for your own home.
Houseplants have gone in and out of fashion throughout the years. Back in the 70s it was all about the massive lounge ferns, taking up half the room. Then 80s minimalism saw the house plant disappear altogether.
Today, houseplants are coming back in a big way — and not just for aesthetic reasons. More and more of us are living in cities, exposing us to pollutants, and this is having a big impact on our health. But how exactly can plants improve our health and which ones should we choose?
The NASA Clean Air Study explored how certain plant species significantly reduce the amount of pollutants found in the air. The plants tested not only turned CO2 into oxygen, as all plants do, but also removed benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene. These chemicals — known as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) — have been shown to contribute towards cancer.
But how exactly do plants do this? Dr Bill Wolverton, lead researcher for the NASA Clean Air Study, told us:
"Plants have two ways to remove indoor air pollutants. Firstly, Plant leaves absorb certain organic chemicals and destroy them by a process called ‘metabolic breakdown.’
Secondly, when plants transpire water vapor [sic] from their leaves, they pull air down around their roots. Many microbes live on and around a plant’s root system in an area called the ‘rhizosphere.’ These microbes break down chemicals into elements that both the plant and themselves can use as a source of food and energy."
VOCs are naturally made through things like plants rotting — these clever plants have evolved to harvest the gasses for energy. Some clever companies like Enterprise Plants have developed what they call green wall systems to make the most of plants as a natural air filter. You can get the benefits yourself by installing the following plants in your home or office.
Ferns are back, baby! The Boston fern (fancy name: nephrolepis exaltata) is an easy going chap that’s not only super easy to keep ticking, but also amazing at removing formaldehyde from the air.
Formaldehyde is a toxic compound used to make glues and other sticking products like nail varnish. It’s pretty toxic and has been shown to cause cancer.
Plants to the rescue! A study conducted by a U.S.environmental consultancy showed that the Boston fern removed 35 micrograms of airborne formaldehyde per hour.
The Gerber Daisy is a beautiful houseplants, easy to maintain, producing huge flowers of almost every colour and long sturdy stems, perfect for a vase.
But this guy’s not just a pretty face. It’s also great at reducing the levels of benzene in the air. Benzene is a toxic component of petrol, which you’re especially susceptible to if living in a city.
The NASA Clean Air study showed it to be highly efficient at removing benzene from the air, reducing the concentration by 60% over the course of a day.
So-called for its sharp, pointy tip, mother-in-law’s tongue (fancy name: sansevieria trifasciata) is an easily maintained evergreen plant that requires very little attention.
Not only has it been shown to remove no less than five VOCs from the air, it also has a special property that makes it excellent as a bedroom plant.
Unlike most plants that absorb CO2 in the day and release it at night, this plant works the other way round, keeping your bedroom oxygen-rich whilst you sleep.
Peace lily is a general term for around 40 different plant species, also amusingly known as spathiphyllum. It’s popular for its ease of upkeep and its tasteful flowering.
The peace lily is very special, because it's one of few plants that appears to clean all sorts of VOCs from the air, including formaldehyde, benzene, as well as trichloroethylene, which is often found in solvents.
This makes it a great choice for any areas where you use a lot of chemicals, such as in the kitchen or bathroom.