Science is finally catching up with what gardeners have known for decades, that growing plants can relieve stress while helping to clean the environment. Gardening has now become the number one leisure activity in the United States and Canada, surpassing even sports. A growing body of research shows that cultivating plants both indoors and outdoors may be the best medicine available for improving mental and physical well-being at any age.
Although “green building” is becoming an attractive concept to building managers and building occupants, it remains surprising that the use of living plants is not part of the present concept. Architects and engineers are beginning to design buildings that feature low-emitting carpets, paints and furniture. This is good progress but should only be the first step. A further step should include the design of houseplants into each building, which can mimic the earth’s natural processes.
While builders have been slow to incorporate houseplants into their designs it is interesting to note that plants are used as background props for many important events such as television addresses, commercials, etc. People feel relaxed when they are near or tending to living plants. Even astronauts during the earliest manned flights expressed a desire to have plants on board their space vehicles. Plants were found to help reduce stressful conditions inside cramped space capsules during long-duration flights.
Until recently, houseplants were sought only for their beauty and psychological value. Yet due to NASA research findings, houseplants now have a third value. Studies that were conducted in the early 1980s at the John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi provided evidence that houseplants can also improve indoor air quality. Many researchers now feel that the ability of houseplants to improve indoor air quality and one’s health is no longer a matter of conjecture; it is scientific fact.
It is commonly understood that plants can purify and revitalize the earth’s air and water. In general, it is believed that the animal/plant/microbial world is harmoniously balanced so that each benefits from the other. Humans are especially dependent upon these interactions for our existence.
Researchers are just now beginning to understand some of the mechanisms that create these symbiotic relationships. These scientists have tested approximately forty two species of interior plants that have been evaluated for their ability to remove various indoor air contaminants from sealed chambers. Hundreds of experiments have been conducted and technical reports were published that seek to answer legitimate concerns about placing plants in buildings for the specific purpose of improving the indoor air quality. After more than ten years of extensive research (both laboratory and “real-world), researchers now have a basic understanding of how plants function to remove indoor pollutants.
Plants use their own ingenious methods to obtain food and protect themselves from would-be enemies. Each plant carries the ability to culture microbes on and around its roots specific for its needs. These microbes then biodegrade and mineralize (compost) dead leaves, animal waste, tannic and humic acids and other debris to provide nutrients for the microbes and their host plant. This is the basis of organic gardening, and the basis for plants’ ability to improve indoor air quality is established.
So how does the average consumer use houseplants to filter air? The final recommendations use a general guide of two or more medium to large plants (14″-16″ containers) per 100 square feet of area are recommended. Of course, this is keeping in mind that more plants and larger plants would certainly increase effectiveness. Plants alone may not be the total solution to keep the air inside a home or office completely clean but they can go a long way to improving the quality of the air we all breathe.