Health Benefits of Tropical House Plants
by ROBIN SNYDER, Tumalo Garden Market
Keeping yourself healthy is an ongoing task. Eating right, sleeping and exercising are all ways to actively maintain your health, but plants can support your health in passive and active ways as well. The very house plants that you have sitting in your living room may be doing more than being pretty accessories to your home.
Houseplants offer numerous benefits to nearly every organ in your body. Here’s what you stand to gain from greening up your home.
Most of us know that traditionally, house plants have been gifted as housewarming gifts — in fact, most of us have probably given a plant or two ourselves. However, there is more than just tradition behind this gesture.
There are real health benefits, both physiological and psychological, to having plants in your home:
• Reducing carbon dioxide levels.
• Increasing humidity.
• Reducing levels of certain pollutants, such as benzene and nitrogen dioxide.
• Reducing airborne dust levels.
• Keeping air temperatures down.
When you embellish interior spaces with houseplants, you’re not just adding greenery. These living organisms interact with your body, mind and home in ways that enhance your quality of life.
Humidifying – Releasing Water
As part of the photosynthetic and respiratory processes, plants naturally release moisture vapor, increasing humidity of the air around them. At night, photosynthesis ceases, and plants typically respire like humans, absorbing oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide. A few plants — orchids, succulents and epiphytic bromeliads — do just the opposite, taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. Place these plants in bedrooms to refresh air during the night.
Plants release roughly 97 percent of the water they take in. Place several plants together, and you can increase the humidity of a room, which helps keep respiratory distresses at bay, which is helpful for preventing dryness in the skin, throat, nose and lips, and can help ward off cold and flu symptoms.
Plants remove toxins from air — up to 87 percent of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) every 24 hours, according to NASA research. VOCs include substances like formaldehyde (present in rugs, vinyl, cigarette smoke and grocery bags), benzene and trichloroethylene (both found in man-made fibers, inks, solvents and paint). Benzene is commonly found in high concentrations in study settings, where books and printed papers abound.
Modern climate-controlled, air-tight buildings trap VOCs inside. The NASA research discovered that plants purify that trapped air by pulling contaminants into soil, where root zone microorganisms convert VOCs into food for the plant. Plants essentially do the opposite of what we do when we breathe: release oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide.
Adding plants to hospital rooms speeds recovery rates of surgical patients. Compared to patients in rooms without plants, patients in rooms with plants request less pain medication, have lower heart rates and blood pressure, experience less fatigue and anxiety and are released from the hospital sooner.
The Dutch Product Board for Horticulture commissioned a workplace study that discovered that adding plants to office settings decreases fatigue, colds, headaches, coughs, sore throats and flu-like symptoms. In another study by the Agricultural University of Norway, sickness rates fell by more than 60 percent in offices with plants.
The Peace Lily ( Spathiphylum) in particular is an excellent choice if you’re a smoker or live with one and you want to reduce the effects of cigarette smoke on others in the house.
Research has shown that the presence of plants leads to reduced stress and anxiety, increased feelings of calm, a marked improvement in mood and self-esteem and increased feelings of optimism and control. By caring for something living, like plants, you can reduce depression or loneliness — especially when you see that living thing bloom and thrive. Pets are not allowed in many places, but plants are a great alternative.
A study at The Royal College of Agriculture in Circencester, England, found that students demonstrate 70 percent greater attentiveness when they’re taught in rooms containing plants. In the same study, attendance was also higher for lectures given in classrooms with plants.
By increasing the oxygen in the air you breathe and removing pollutants, plants improve your concentration and memory, heighten your attention and improve your creativity. The sense of pleasure, calmness and relief from “attention fatigue” that comes from having plants in a home or work environmental creates a restorative environment.
Interiorscapes use plants in buildings and offices for many of these same outcomes but also some utilitarian ones as well. Plants change the acoustics of rooms, muffling sounds. Research has shown that plants absorb sounds at higher frequencies (which are more annoying than lower frequency sounds) in rooms with many hard surfaces like restaurants or office atriums. Research also shows that plants reflect and defract sound waves. Small leaves tend to scatter sounds making interior space less noisy.
Plants can be used to make larger spaces more cozy or inviting when used as dividers, making people feel less exposed in large unfamiliar surroundings.
Plants can also improve economics and perceived value. Consumer research has shown that people linger longer and purchase more where plants are present. Plants add a sense of confidence to offices. In homes, people subconsciously associate tropical plants, ferns and palms with success and luxury. However, plants are an inexpensive way to create that feeling of luxury.
Treatment of Ailments
Plants can be great in first aid for a variety of ailments. To name a few, Aloe Vera is great first aid for burns, while Comfrey and Arnica can help with bruises and sprains, Calendula heals wounds and soothes skin, and Chamomile soothes an upset stomach. Mullen is used to make a medicinal tea to sooth a raw throat. Plants like Eucalyptus can clear up phlem and congestion and is often found in congestion remedies. Lavender has a calming effect and mint makes a stomach-settling and cooling tea. With a minimal initial outlay and no ongoing costs, living with plants could well be the best decision you ever made for your health.
How Many Plants?
The recommendations vary based on your goals.
• To improve health and reduce fatigue and stress, place one large plant (8-inch diameter pot or larger) every 129 square feet. In office or classroom settings, position plants so each person has greenery in view.
• To purify air, use 15 to 18 plants in 6- to 8-inch diameter pots for an 1,800-square-foot house. That’s roughly one larger plant every 100 square feet. Achieve similar results with two smaller plants (4- to 5-inch pots).
Remember that for the best success with any houseplant, you need to match the right plant to the right growing conditions. Choose a plant adapted to those conditions.
1-Other dracaenas with similar properties: Janet Craig dracaena (Dracaena deremensis‘Janet Craig’) and corn plant (Dracaena fragrans ‘Massangeana’).
3-Plants with similar properties: Pothos , bamboo palm , Chinese evergreen , An indoor garden can be your refuge from the outside world, and for many people it is a source of great joy. Whether you live in a small apartment, or a large house, by introducing certain plants into your home, you will start to notice improvements to your health, and overall happiness.
To create your perfect green haven, it’s worthwhile spending a little bit of time researching the plants are best suited for each room and what kind of environment.
• Epipremnum aureum (golden pothos or devil’s ivy): This is a great group of plants to get started with as they are relatively low maintenance. The trailing varieties sprout new leaves regularly and are great in a hanging planter such as a macramé hanger. However, they are toxic to cats and dogs.
• Sanseveria: (snake plant) is almost indestructible, can be ignored and can handle Central Oregon’s arid climate.
• Chlorophytum comosum (spider plant): These are great low maintenance plants, which need watering from the bottom perhaps once a week and a misting every now and then.
• Dracaena: (dragon plant): Taller spear shaped leaved plant that can be used in lower light situations and are easy care.
• Cacti can surprise you. One of the wonderful things about cacti is that they will tolerate your ignoring them, and then they will surprise you with flowers when they get growing again. For people new to keeping house plants, this is a great plant group with which to get started.
• Sempervivum/ Echeveria (houseleek/ hens and chicks). They are low maintenance, easy to propagate and suited to most homes. They are best placed on the windowsill where they can get the most sunlight.
Tumalo Garden Market has the largest selection of tropicals, succulents and air plants in Central Oregon. When you are considering improving your health, take time to come to our Tumalo location to enjoy a little sense of the tropics. We have large 8-12 foot palm trees, luscious hanging plants, cheery succulents and elegant flowering air plants.
photos courtesy of Robin Snyder, Tumalo Garden Market