Houseplants Do Far More Than Bring Nature Indoors

Many of us resort to houseplants that don’t need watering, can’t be killed, and will thrive at the back of our walk-in closet.  You do know those are fake, right?  It’s time we went back to the good old days of spider plants everywhere (but not in the macramé hangers, please).  It turns out sharing our homes with plants is just as good for us as having Fido and Kitty curled up around our feet.  Just in different ways.

Calathea in bloom will improve anyone's mood.

Calathea in bloom will improve anyone’s mood, and its leaves guarantee it’s always beautiful and pleasing to the eye. The emotional lift we get from being surrounded by plants is another great benefit of making space for houseplants. (Photo © olgavolodina – Fotolia.com)

Most plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen during the day.  That extra oxygen may be beneficial to our breathing.  Plants such as orchids, succulents, and some bromeliads release oxygen at night, hence making them good choices in bedrooms, where we can benefit from the oxygen being released while we sleep.

The release of water into the atmosphere through a plant’s leaves, known as transpiration, takes place indoors as well as outdoors.  This increase in moisture of up to 10% can help reduce dry skin, sore throats, and coughs in winter.  Some research even supports the theory that increased humidity reduces the viability of flu viruses.

Believe it or not, back in the 1980’s, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (you know, NASA) put a lot of effort into studying and reporting on the benefits of keeping plants indoors.  Their study evaluated the ability of houseplants to improve indoor air quality by removing volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Focusing on benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene, the researchers at NASA identified a top ten list of plants that proved to be pretty effective air purifiers.  They determined that both the leaves and roots of plants are capable of removing low levels of toxic substances, such as carbon monoxide and VOCs, from the air.  All this makes houseplants invaluable assets in tightly sealed (read super-insulated) indoor spaces.  Now for the reveal (as if you didn’t already know all this stuff).

Spathiphyllum is recognized as a houseplant superhero, removing toxins from indoor air while maintaining its elegant composure.

Spathiphyllum is recognized as a houseplant superhero, removing toxins from indoor air while maintaining its elegant composure. At least one houseplant per 100 sq ft is recommended for effective air cleaning. (Photo © Anna Khomulo – Fotolia.com)

NASA’s top ten superhero indoor plants are peace lily (Spathiphyllum wallisii), golden pothos (Scindapsus aures), English ivy (Hedera helix), chrysanthemum (Chrysantheium morifolium), gerber daisy (Gerbera jamesonii), mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’), bamboo palm (Chamaedorea sefritzii), azalea (Rhododendron simsii), red-edge dracaena (Dracaena marginata) and spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum).

Studies conducted in the late 2000’s by horticulturalist Stanley J. Kays and his colleagues at the University of Georgia evaluated over 100 species of houseplants, using criteria similar to that used by NASA, in addition to focusing exclusively on formaldehyde removal. These later studies identified purple waffle plant (Hemigraphis alternata), English ivy (again), variegated wax plant (hoya carnosa), and asparagus fern (Asparagus spp.) as the overall best plants at VOC removal. Ferns in general are the best removers of formaldehyde, with the very best being Japanese royal fern (Osmunda japonica).

Potted palms are beautiful, calming additions to any interior.

Potted palms are beautiful, calming additions to any interior. There are many palms that are particularly effective at purifying the air around them. Visit the NIH link below for a list. (Photo © bofotolux – Fotolia.com)

Kays’ later studies also identified that some houseplants, potting materials, and pots themselves (as well as the microorganisms that grow in them), and the chemicals used to maintain and treat plants have the potential to release non-beneficial VOCs.  Just as with outdoor gardening, it’s best to keep it simple and natural.

According to The American Horticultural Therapy Association and other sources, the health benefits of living with houseplants include improved function in cognitive, psychological, and physical areas.

When permissible, bringing a potted plant to a friend or relative who’s confined to a hospital room does more than cheer up the patient.  Studies have demonstrated that having plants present and visible during the recovery process correlated to lower blood pressure, reduced the experience/intensity of pain, anxiety, and fatigue when compared to plantless patients.

We’ve already learned that being in the presence of nature outdoors does amazing things for our minds and bodies.  It turns out the same is true indoors.  Multiple university studies concluded that we think and perform more effectively with plants present than we do without.  And, as if that weren’t awesome enough, we enjoy improvements in memory retention when we live with indoor plants.

Bringing nature indoors is such a great idea, so throw out all those fake plants and make room for the real deal.  You’ll not regret it.

Not every Ficus gets its own guard cat. Make sure your pets and small children can’t get into trouble with houseplants that may not play nice when eaten.

Not every Ficus gets its own guard cat. Make sure your pets and small children can’t get into trouble with houseplants that may not play nice when eaten. (Photo © svphilon – Fotolia.com)














This webpage contains detailed information about caring for the plants identified in the NASA study as being the most effective at removing airborne toxins.  Each plant description lists which toxins it combats, and whether the plant is considered safe around children and pets.  It’s best to just keep all potted plants out of harm’s way when possible.


For all you plant-loving science nerds (PLSNs), here’s the original NASA report from the 1980’s.  It’s an oldie but goodie.


This is a brief synopsis of the 2009 study conducted at UGA by horticulturalist Stanley Kays.


Here are a couple of webpages with photo galleries of houseplants, recommended for their various contributions to indoor living, such as being difficult to kill.



Header Photo:

The benefits of having Pothos and Spathiphyllum in the house are multi-fold.  Plants make us feel better, and these two sturdy plants help keep the house clean by reducing or completely removing airborne toxins.  (Photo © brozova – Fotolia.com)