Plants are mankind’s best friends. They are beautiful. They provide sustenance for body and soul. They recycle our carbon dioxide and turn it into oxygen. Quite simply put, we humans would quickly disappear from the face of the earth if totally deprived of green life.
Maybe that’s why people just like being around plants. As early as 3000 B.C. the Chinese were using medicinal herbs. The Greeks created healing gardens as a setting for their temple to Aesclepius, god of healing. In colonial America, the Quakers used garden therapy as a means to restore the soul. A horticulture therapy program was established in 1879 at Friends Hospital in Philadelphia after a physician noticed that working in the hospital’s flower garden seemed to calm the psychiatric patients. This phenomenon is widely embraced by medical and mental health professionals today, and many modern hospitals strive to incorporate green spaces and plants to encourage healing.
Scientists have also learned that indoor plants are key in removing toxins from the air we breathe. Air conditioning, synthetic building materials, and inadequate ventilation can bring on numerous respiratory and nervous disorders. The mere presence of plants helps lessen these environmental pollutants.
In the 1970s, B.C. “Bill” Wolverton, an environmental scientist, did ground-breaking research with NASA about how to create sustainable enclosed living environments for potential use in space. The NASA Clean Air Study, performed in association with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA), proved that certain common indoor plants can naturally remove benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene from the air.
The researchers suggested at least one plant per 100 square feet of home or office space for efficient air cleaning. An overview of NASA’s and Dr. Wolverton’s findings is provided below.
|Plant, removes:||benzene||formaldehyde||trichloroethylene||xylene and toluene|
|Areca palm (Dypsis lutescens)||no||no||no||Yes|
|Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’)||no||Yes||no||Yes|
|Dumb canes (Dieffenbachi)||no||no||no||Yes|
|English ivy (Hedera helix)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron cordatum)||no||Yes||no||no|
|Peace lily (Spathiphyllum)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Red-edged dracaena (Dracaena marginata)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Rubber plant (Ficus elastica)||no||Yes||no||no|
|Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)||no||Yes||no||Yes|
|Variegated snake plant, mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina)||no||Yes||no||Yes|
Lacking space but still interested in enjoying the health benefits of indoor plants? Turn a large jar or small fish tank into your own personal therapy garden. This is a fun activity for adults and kids. Here are some tips to get you started.
That’s it! Don’t forget to enjoy your tiny ecosystem. Check on it regularly and remove dead leaves. If you see that the terrarium walls are clouding up, remove the top and let in some air.
It’s fun to see how long you can keep your glass garden alive. Moderation is the key to success. Too much heat will burn the leaves and too much water will lead to decay. But if you notice that the plants have outgrown the container or become spindly and weak, don’t feel guilty, just learn from your experience and build again.