Houseplants–Natural Air Purifiers

The dramatic, variegated foliage of dracaena makes a statement in any room.

Many people don’t realize the amount of toxins in indoor environments. It’s quite unnerving considering an average human spends most of their time inside. In fact, indoor air pollution is one of the greatest public health risks. A few pollutants that may reside in your home include paint, furniture, cleaning products, pollen, mold, bacteria, and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Poorly ventilated areas are even more susceptible to indoor air pollution. Don’t fret—houseplants are the perfect natural remedy for reducing these toxins.

More than simply decorative, plants have a functional purpose. Studies by NASA, Penn State University, and the University of Georgia indicate houseplants absorb unhealthy VOCs and improve air quality. Not only do they supply oxygen, they also have the ability to absorb harmful compounds, such as formaldehyde, benzene, xylene, and carbon monoxide.

Are you feeling moody, unproductive, or maybe under the weather? Plants also enhance workplace performance and can be considered a complementary medicine. Having houseplants in the work place can help improve positivity, increase creativity, and reduce distractions. In fact, you’ll find houseplants in many of the staff offices at Olbrich Botanical Gardens!

The National Library of Medicine has also done a study about plants in a hospital setting. The study helped prove that patients with plants had more positive health outcomes than those without them. Patients exposed to the “healing environments” had lower postoperative blood pressure, less pain, and decreased anxiety. Being surrounded by plants indoors is also a great way to reduce the chance of getting sick with a cold, cough, or sore throat.

If you want to try your hand at growing houseplants, some of our favorites are philodendron, peace lily, dracaena, aloe vera, ficus, snake plant, spider plant, croton, aralia, Chinese evergreen, bamboo, and ZZ plant. Here are some guides to growing some at home.

ZZ Plant
A great option for very low-light situations and fluctuating temperatures. It will do well in a low to bright filtered light area, and the temperatures can be 50 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t expose to full sun, as it will burn quickly. Allow the plant to dry out thoroughly before watering again, as it is prone to stem and rhizome rot. Use a media that has good drainage, but can also hold adequate moisture. Feed monthly when the plant is actively growing.

Perfect as a houseplant and highly sought after for its unique tree-like habit. However, it can be a little more finicky than other plants. Be sure to place in a spot that gets bright indirect light with temperatures above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep away from cold drafty windows and heat vents, as it can be sensitive to temperature fluctuations. Ficus like high humidity, so mist frequently or keep it on top of a tray of rocks with water in it. While it likes high humidity, keep in mind that it prefers dry feet. Allow it to dry out before watering. It’s a somewhat heavy feeder, so be sure to fertilize once a month from spring to fall and more sparingly in the winter.

Snake Plant
The snake plant is one of the most easygoing plants. It can tolerate a wide range of light levels, humidity, and temperatures. If you have a tendency to forget about your houseplants, this one’s for you! One thing to remember, though, is to not overwater, as it is sensitive to root rot. The soil must dry out completely (similar to a succulent plant) before watering thoroughly again. Also, keep away from direct sun because it burns easily. Fertilizing one to two times a year should be adequate.

One of the most attractive plants because of its variegated leaves. It can liven any room with its striking colorful foliage. As with most houseplants, don’t allow it to sit in direct sun. Filtered indirect light is preferable. Also, allow the soil to dry and don’t overwater. Dracaena isn’t too picky about temperature—just make sure it doesn’t get below 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

The right houseplants not only provide a little more peace of mind in each breath you take, they provide comfort and make your home feel more lively with a touch or two of green.

Amanda Dix is the assistant conservatory curator at Olbrich Botanical Gardens.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens
3330 Atwood Avenue
Madison, WI 53704