My absolute favorite part of my job is to buy and tend the plants and flowers. I am by no means an expert on either; I just know it makes me happy to have them in my home life and I love to pass that on (and the fact that I get paid to do this is a fabulous bonus). I have often been asked why the Co-op sells plants and flowers and my gut reaction was that it would somehow be wrong if we didn’t. Just as simple as that, no other reason needed. Maybe it would just make me sad if I didn’t get to dig through those boxes of green every Tuesday, but after I thought about it more, there are so many reasons why having house plants and flowers are important to our health, both spiritually and physically.
I believe that most Owners, whether omnivore or vegan, know the great importance of plants in our diet. As more people explore raw foods, we hear more conversations about the energy or spirit of the food we put into our bodies. I feel the same is true for the plants we keep in our homes. Plants kept inside provide a vitality that can only be provided by something alive and growing. Especially during our lovely Wisconsin winters when everything is dormant outside, caring for houseplants or forcing bulbs to grow inside can help those of us who can’t actually hibernate with a bit of glorious green energy.
I feel as if I have somehow always known that house plants were good for us because they give off oxygen in the process of photosynthesis (simplified, this is the process of plants converting light, water and carbon dioxide to make oxygen [given off into air] and sugar [converted to starch and stored in non-leaf parts of a plant for its food]). More recently, I’ve learned just how much more plants do for our air quality, and in turn, our health.
In the eighties, NASA was researching ways to cleanse the atmosphere in future space stations to make the air quality fit for humans. First they found that formaldehyde could be removed from sealed test chambers by plants. Then, NASA was joined by the Associated Landscape Contractors of America to fund a two-year study of twelve common houseplants and their ability to remove formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene. The results they got were, of course, positive and led to the formation of the non-profit group Plants for Clean Air Council (PCAC) that continues to research and support plants as a method to improve air quality.
So, what do all those big-word gases have to do with us? Well, if you haven’t heard of these three volatile organic compounds (VOCs) let me tell you a smidge about them and how they got here. The way we humans have chosen to build our homes and furnish them by using more and more synthetic materials instead of natural, we have developed many glues and resins to hold it all together and seal up our homes to be energy efficient. In our cozy, comfortable homes as well as in our workplaces, we also like to use a plethora of electronic devices. All of these things emit at least some VOCs. These, in combination with our tightly sealed efficiency, can and has led to health problems for many. The increase our society has seen in allergies, asthma, nervous system disorders and headaches has been linked to increased amounts of VOCs in our environment.
How did we get so far away from how much I like my job to how toxic our living and working environments are? Oh that’s right—plants. Many plants we keep inside have evolved from tropical or sub-tropical forests where they grew in light filtered through trees, similar to the filtered light in our homes. This ability to thrive in lower light allows plants to photosynthesis and process gasses in the air efficiently. Soil and roots are also found to play an important role in removing air-borne pollutants. Their effectiveness is increased if lower leaves that cover the soil surface are removed, so there is as much soil contact with the air as possible.
To improve the air quality in a home under 2,000 square feet it is recommended that you have 15 to 18 plants growing in your home. A plant that has a six inch size pot or larger also increases its cleanising ability as well as how vigorously they grow for you (so give them lots o’ love!).
Here is a list of the NASA plants. These are not the only plants that clean the air, just the ones tested in this study. Please check out the book we have near the plants How to Grow Fresh Air by Dr. B.C. Wolverton for more air cleaning plant information. There are so many more great plants. Choose ones that feel right to you and that are right for your level of maintenance (some need more attention than others).
- English Ivy (Hedera helix) *
- Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) *
- Golden pothos or Devil’s ivy (Scindapsus aures or Epipremnum aureum)*
- Peace lily (Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’)*
- Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema modestum)
- Bamboo palm or reed palm (Chamaedorea sefritzii)
- Snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’)
- Heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron oxycardium, syn. Philodendron cordatum)
- Selloum philodendron (Philodendron bipinnatifidum, syn. Philodendron selloum)*
- Elephant ear philodendron (Philodendron domesticum)*
- Red-edged dracaena (Dracaena marginata)
- Cornstalk dracaena (Dracaena fragans ‘Massangeana’)*
- Janet Craig dracaena (Dracaena deremensis ‘Janet Craig’)
- Warneck dracaena (Dracaena deremensis ‘Warneckii’) *
- Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina)*
- Gerbera Daisy or Barberton daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)*
- Pot Mum or Florist’s Chrysanthemum (Chrysantheium morifolium)*
- Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica)*
*plants the Co-op often carries.