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Earth Friendly: Houseplants: beautiful and beneficial

Oct. 27, 2011 at 5:27 a.m.


By Meridith Byrd

We all know that they can beautify a space and promote tranquility, but research has shown that houseplants can also be effective tools in fighting indoor air pollution.

Our homes are full of potential contaminants, including carpets, paints, varnishes, household cleaners, caulk, aerosol sprays and even nail polish remover. These can release chemicals, such as toluene, benzene, formaldehyde and ammonia, into the air, causing headaches and other health problems. These chemicals can be concentrated indoors, so it is important to open the windows and allow fresh air to circulate throughout your home.

Houseplants filter the air by absorbing the polluted air and releasing oxygen as part of the respiration process. While all plants remove carbon dioxide naturally through their respiration process, some plants can remove formaldehyde, ammonia and other toxins from the air. The toxins are absorbed through their leaves and root system. The soil acts like a charcoal filter and removes additional pollutants.

Dr. B.C Wolverton studied houseplants for NASA to determine their effectiveness at removing common pollutants from the air. The majority of these plants are tropical and have the ability to effectively photosynthesize even in reduced sunlight, making them ideal for indoor filtration. Dr. Wolverton has written books on the subject, including "Eco-friendly House Plants" and "How to Grow Fresh Air."

Dr. Wolverton devised a list of the top 10 plants for indoor air filtration: areca palm (also called butterfly palm), lady palm, bamboo palm, rubber plant, Janet Craig dracaena (also called striped dracaena), philodendron, dwarf date palm, ficus alii, Boston fern, and the peace lily. Pothos ivy, spider plant, Gerbera daisy and English ivy also provide filtration benefits.

To receive the maximum benefit, choose plants with large leaves, as the higher surface area allows for more filtration. NASA recommends 15 to 18 plants for an 1,800 square foot house.

For families with children or pets, make sure you choose your plants accordingly. Dracaena, English ivy, pothos ivy and peace lily are all toxic to pets, so you will want to go with the non-toxic plants instead. The ASPCA website has a searchable database of toxic and nontoxic plants at aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/plants/.

To find out which plants are toxic to humans, consult a nursery or visit the Texas A&M horticulture website at http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/lawn_garden/poison/poison.html.

Add some hard-working plants to your home decor to beautify your space and reduce your home's indoor air pollution.

Meridith Byrd is a marine biologist and invites readers to contact her at meridith.byrd@gmail.com.

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