Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
New England
December, 2000
Regional Report

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English ivy is an easy-to-grow houseplant that removes formaldehyde from the atmosphere.

Healthful Houseplants

I admit, I'm not a big houseplant fan. I like the indoor greenery of a philodendron and enjoy a holiday cactus or cyclamen with the best gardeners, but I never go beyond growing a few plants here and there. However, after reading research from NASA that showed the health benefits of growing certain houseplants, I might become more interested.

Indoor Pollution

Besides creating a more humid environment during the dry winter months, certain houseplants have the ability to absorb air pollutants. The three air pollutants that are most commonly found in homes are formaldehyde, benzene, and carbon monoxide. These pollutants are released from cleaning agents, building materials, paints, and even photo copiers in offices. During warmer months when the windows are open, the natural air exchange reduces their concentration, but this time of year, with windows shut and houses buttoned up tight, they can accumulate, sometimes leading to illness.

Air-Cleaning Plants

That's where these air-cleaning plants come in. All houseplants transpire moisture and provide an attractive visual impact in a home. However, NASA research has shown that certain houseplants are better than others at not only transpiring water and creating a humid, more healthful indoor winter environment, but removing indoor air pollutants as well.

Some of the top houseplants for transpiring and removing pollutants include areca palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens), rubber plant (Ficus robusta), and English ivy (Hedera helix). The areca palm is particularly good at transpiring moisture into the atmosphere. Rubber plants and English ivy are good at removing formaldehyde from the air. Plus, all three are easy-to-grow houseplants.

If you don't like the look of these three, many others, such as golden pothos (Epipremnum aureum), dumb cane (Dieffenbachia), and snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata) will also give you some benefit.

How Many Plants?

How many of these plants do you need to effectively clean the air? For a 100- to 150-square-foot room, you'll need 2 to 3, full-sized, 12-inch-diameter potted plants to keep the air fresh. If you don't have room for that many, place your plants in special "breathing zones" in the home, such as by a desk or near your bed, where you can benefit from their close proximity.

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