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Linda Naeve, Reiman Gardens, (515) 294-8946,
Jean McGuire, Continuing Education and Communication Services, (515) 294-7033,

Garden Column for the week of Feb. 13, 2004

Houseplants Are More than Decorations

Linda Naeve
Extension Coordinator
Reiman Gardens

Growing plants indoors is nothing new. People have enjoyed greenery in their homes for centuries. Houseplants bring a bit of nature and color into our homes and offices. We even place natural-looking, artificial plants in areas where live plants won't survive. Although artificial plants can be attractive, are much easier to maintain, never attract insects or shed leaves, they cannot fully replace the benefits of live plants.

Research has shown that plants can have a positive effect on our mood, can reduce stress and improve our attitude. An article published in Rehabilitation Literature by Dr. Diane Relf, Professor of Horticulture at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, told of a major manufacturing company that incorporated plants into the interior design of its office space so that no employee in the office area was placed more than 45 feet from vegetation. Company administrators found that by adding plants to the work environment resulted in enhanced creativity and increased productivity from their employees.

New buildings are constructed and sealed to maximize energy efficiency causing gases and fumes to be trapped indoors. In 1984, a World Health Organization report suggested that one out of three new and remodeled buildings may have poor indoor air quality. They referred to these as "Sick Buildings" because prolonged exposure to the air in them resulted in symptoms of sickness, such as dry coughs, dizziness and nausea.

Toxic vapors in our indoor environment, such as formaldehyde, benzene, xylene, toluene and ammonia come from many sources. Formaldehyde, for example, is found in foam insulation, particleboard, pressed wood products and carpet backing. Benzene is a common solvent and is found in paints, plastics and rubber.

About the same time as the World Health Organization was reporting on indoor air quality, NASA scientists were studying methods to reduce indoor air pollution. Their research found that houseplants, when grown in a closed, controlled environment, were able to extract VOC's from the air. They also found that some plants are more efficient in filtering out toxins than others. For example, philodendrons, spider plants and pothos were found to be the most efficient in the removal of formaldehyde. Gerbera daisies and chrysanthemums were effective in the removal of benzene.

You may be wondering whether it is necessary to turn your living room into a jungle in order to obtain the benefits of cleaner air. According to one study, one, six-inch houseplant per 100 square feet of living area will do a fairly good job of filtering pollutants from the air. Also, the more vigorous the plant, the more air it can filter. Unfortunately, plants do not do much to alleviate tobacco smoke in the air.

If you would like to learn more about how plants purify the air, check out a copy of How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 Houseplants to Purify Your Home or Office by B. C. Woverton from your local library. This book, based on 25 years of research by NASA, describes how common houseplants can combat sick building syndrome and cleanse the home or office of common pollutants.


The following plants have proven to filter volatile organic chemicals from indoor environments:

Common name Scientific name
Chinese evergreen Aglaonema spp.
English ivy Hedera helix
Gerbera daisy Gerbera spp.
Corn plant

Dracaena deremensis 'Janet Craig'
Dracaena marginata
Dracaena deremensis 'Warneckii'

Snake plant Sansevieria trifaciata
Florist mum Dendranthemum spp.
Peace lily Spathiphyllum 'Mauna Loa'
Pothos Epipremnum aureum
Fern Nephrolepis spp.
Rubber plant Ficus elastica
Weeping fig Ficus benjamina
Spider plant Chlorophytum comosum
Arrowhead plant Syngonium podophyllum
Schefflera Brassaia actinophylla
Dumb cane Dieffenbachia spp.
Palms Chrysalidocarpus, Rhapis, Chamaedorea


ml: isugarden

Editors: A color photo, suitable for publication, is available at right. Click on the thumbnail photo to go to the fullsized photo. The fullsize photo is 412K.

Caption: Fern by window

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