By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
From green walls to indoor conservatory spaces, we’re adding more plants to our homes than ever. But this is no modern trend: we know that even going back in time as far as the ancient Egyptians, people were fond of bringing the outdoors in. And no wonder: by bringing plants indoors, humans can give life to a wonderful connection between Mother Nature and manmade structures. In fact, plants benefit the body and soul greatly. Several studies show that those who live surrounded by greenery tend to be less depressed, and it’s been proven that about fifteen plants have the ability to purify the air almost 170 square meters around where they are placed.
Perhaps one of the most important documents that demonstrates beyond a doubt how indoor plants can remove organic chemicals from indoor air comes from a NASA Clean Air Study: “A study of interior landscape plants for indoor air pollution abatement,” led by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in association with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America. The study recommended a wide variety of greenery for household use, and also underscores the importance of maintaining plants over much of the Earth’s surface.
Caring for your plants is easy, especially if you follow these tips:
- Choose one 10- to 12-inch potted plant per 100 square foot of your home for the most effective air purification.
- Use filtered water or rainwater for your plants. All plants prefer pure water over tap.
- Consider where you might place your plants and the amount of sun they need and will receive to ensure your plant will thrive in that area.
- Periodically dust the leaves of each plant with a damp cloth to ensure proper absorption of air particles and toxins.
- Keep their soil replenished with rich compost or compost tea. Always avoid non-organic or synthetic fertilizers.
Here, I’ve selected the 10 Air Purifying Plants that I think are easiest to care for, most effective for making you breathe easier – and that look lovely in your home, too.
1. Aloe Vera
Aloe has an exceptional reputation as a healing plant. If you scratch yourself, try putting the juice of its leaves on your injury. I did…it worked wonders. Wouldn’t it be marvellous to have such a miraculous plant handy at all times? Besides its function as a soothing gel, aloe also helps to keep your home free from benzene, which is commonly found in paints and certain chemical cleaners. Last but not least you may also use aloe for your beauty routine: drinking its juice cleanses your digestive system and nurtures you with the plant’s vitamins, and you can also use it to strengthen your scalp while washing your hair.
Sun: high Water: low Best: indoors or outdoors if you live in a warm, dry climate
2. Golden Pothos
This plant with a magical name is excellent to tackle formaldehyde. You should especially consider it for your garage, because the Golden Pothos (which is also often called the Money Plant or Devil’s Ivy) works to remove toxic volatile organic chemicals such as paint fumes, solvents and gas fuels. The green and yellow heart-shaped leaves can give a touch of elegance to your decor, and this evergreen plant can grow just about anywhere, even in darker spaces.
Sun: Moderate Water: Moderate Best: Outdoors garden or window boxes
3. Spider Plant
The spider plant, also known as Chlorophytum comosum, is incredibly popular in Italian homes. The Falangio (as they call it in the Bel Paese) has a rich foliage that fights benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and xylene. If you have a vivacious kitty cat or a voracious pooch running around your home, rest assured that unlike the Peace Lily, this plant is pet safe. Contrarily to other plants who may be poisonous, the spider plant can be sniffed or even chewed by your four legged friend companion without compromising his health, plus it regrows very quickly.
Sun: Moderate to high Water: Moderate Best: indoors
If you want a touch of colour with a strong purifying flower, the Rhododendron simsii, a.k.a Azalea, will be just your cup of tea. This beautiful, suave pink shrub is great to fight the formaldehyde from sources such as plywood or foam insulation. This flower has conquered the hearts of household worldwide, to the extent that there are Azalea festivals in Japan, Hong Kong and the US. In Chinese culture, the Rhododendron was immortalised in the poetry of Du Fu and is known as the “thinking of home bush.”
Sun: high Water: moderate Best: outdoors
5. Weeping Fig
The Ficus Benjamina, which we all commonly know as the Weeping Fig, has its roots (pun intended) in Asia and Oceania, although it is in Europe that it has become popular as an apartment plant. This tree, which can reach lofty heights of up to 30 meters, can help filter out pollutants that habitually come with carpeting and furniture, such as trichloroethylene, formaldehyde and benzene. And if you live with a smoker, the Weeping Fig is excellent for purifying air contaminated by cigarettes.
Sun: high Water: moderate to low Best: indoors or outdoors
6. English Ivy
English Ivy is one of the most common and easy to grow vines. It can cover entire walls with its graceful leaves, and is ideal to contrast mold. Sometimes mold can cause mild allergies, and we don’t even realise that those rashes, sniffles or itches can be overcome with this miraculous plant. The perks of the Hedera Helix is that it’s an evergreen plant, and can grow easily in window boxes or even indoors on green walls. Once it starts to grow, you have a lifetime guarantee of an excellent home-purifier.
Sun: low to moderate Water: moderate Best: outdoors
The sophisticated Orchid’s etymology may tickle you pink – the Greek word orchis means ‘testicle’, which is exactly what came to mind for the naughty ancient botanist Theophrastos, who named the flower. This is the largest family of blooming flowers, with over 25,000 species and over 100,000 varieties. The purifying properties of this flower are formidable – they can rid the air of the xylene that is usually found in furniture glues and house paints. Orchids are incredibly decorative, but since they release loads of fresh oxygen at night, they’re ideal in the bedroom to help detox your lungs from daily city life.
Sun: low Water: low Best: indoors
8. Peace Lily
Peace Lilies are solemnly elegant, with their white spathes that are simple to tend. The evergreen herbaceous perennial plant, which also goes by the name of Spathiphyllum, neutralises toxic gases like carbon monoxide, and removes volatile organic compounds such as benzene, formaldehyde, toluene, and xylene in the air. The Peace Lily may also reduce airborne microbes and increase humidity – perfect for dry flats with central heating in winter. Just be careful the pets don’t start chomping on it, as it’s highly toxic to them, especially cats.
Sun: moderate Water: moderate Best: indoors
According to NASA’s analysis, Bamboo – also called the Reed Palm – tops the list of plants for filtering benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene. This low-maintenance plant, besides cleaning the air, has the exceptional skill of acting as a natural humidifier, which makes it a well suited resource for people with breathing problems. Just be careful if you live in the tropics or a warm climate, as snakes are especially attracted to this plant, too!
Sun: high Water: high Best: outdoors
Surprise! Besides cleansing the air from wretched chemicals like formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene, xylene, toluene, and ammonia, chrysanthemums can also be used as a natural insecticide. If you pulverize the flower, its active components called pyrethrins act as repellant, especially against those nastiest of bugs: mosquitoes. Chrysanthemums also have an ancient reputation in the East as a medicinal plant: the leaves can be steamed or boiled in a tea to help cure colds, headaches and even anxiety.
Sun: moderate Water: moderate Best: outdoors
Images from Wiki Commons and Pixabay
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