Almost countless fashions and trends have existed since plants started to be kept indoors. From the Victorians and their beloved Aspidistra to the post war boom interest in African Violets, all the way to the present day and the ever increasing popularity of the Moth Orchid and ZZ Plant.
One of the more recent and enduring trends is the notion that house plants are good for your health. Science has spent considerable time demonstrating how they clean and filter the air in our homes and offices. In other words, house plants are good news for us. There can be no question that using plants indoors just to make the rooms look good have long past, although that is obviously still important. Modern architecture uses plants in the design as a direct component of the building itself, rather than as an afterthought. Let's explore some of the reasons why this is done and why house plants are actually good news for us.
It goes without saying that if plants are going to enter our homes they need to have a degree of attractiveness to them, we want something which enhances a room not detracts from it. Plants not only make rooms look more attractive but they can make places more inviting and pleasing to live or work in, ultimately creating a more calming and harmonious environment.
Pretend that you are attending two interviews for two different companies. While being shown around the first office you notice it's basically all gray cubicles, endless numbers all looking the same and uniform. There is no individuality from station to station and no greenery at all. On the flip side the next interview is for an office which is open plan, desks are filled with people's things including plants, with more plants still flanking key locations in the building which are essential to the design itself. Assuming you were offered both jobs and all came down to was which working environment you preferred to work in, which job would you pick?
Since the energy crisis in the 1970's new buildings across the world have increasingly been subject to tighter regulation in regards to maximizing energy efficiency, in order to try and reduce energy costs and more recently, environmental impact concerns.
Buildings are expected to be more eco friendly and cost effective than ever before because by doing so they are ultimately cheaper to run which is good news for households as well as businesses. However this can come at a cost to human well being because the rooms in which we live and work are also more tightly sealed than ever before. This results in a greater exposure to the chemicals emitted from the various materials around us including what we create naturally just by breathing.
In the 1980's a common trend started to appear across Europe, the United States and Canada in new buildings which had been built with energy efficiency in mind. The trend involved a number of symptoms seen in people working in these buildings such as allergies, asthma, headaches and loss of concentration. The phenomenon was quickly linked to poor indoor air quality and became known as SIck Building Syndrome (SBS). Ever since, health officials have been concerned about indoor air pollution because of the chronic health risk and the financial cost to society as a result.
It was around this time, quite by coincidence, that NASA began conducting experiments with house plants to try and find ways to remove toxins and pollution that were also commonly found in buildings where people were suffering from SBS. NASA were looking for ways to solve problems occurring in spacecrafts and in the future potential biospheres on other plants and the moon, both of which would involve people in tightly sealed environments. Dr Wolverton was a scientist involved with the later NASA research which concluded that certain house plants had the ability to effectively filter and remove the pollution which resulted in a significant increase to indoor air quality. Wolverton then published a list of 50 house plants that clean the air and a complimentary best selling book.
Dr Wolverton and NASA were able to demonstrate scientifically that house plants could filter and clean the air of various emissions which are harmful to humans.
Later research by Wolverton and the Plants for Clean Air Council (PCAC) showed that house plants could also filter out certain waste products produced by humans when they breathe which are known as Bioefflurents.
Plant filled rooms also had 50 to 60 percent less airborne mold spores and bacteria compared to rooms empty of all plants. This happens because they release phytochemicals which are believed to likely be a natural repellent used to protect themselves from attack and infection. Therefore by having plants around they are also protecting us from the mold spores and certain bacteria which they are fending off.
Finally Wolverton and the PCAC demonstrated that plants increased humidity in rooms through their normal breathing or transpiration process, especially in rooms where the humidity was very low to start with. For some people they find dry air in Winter irritates various membranes in the nose and throat which increases the allergies, or general susceptibility to colds and viruses. House plants could therefore also be seen as organic antibacterial and living humidifiers.
Culturally plants make us feel relaxed and can have a strong spiritual link to those around us. You might think that is strange thing to say, but when you consider deeply what it means to be "spiritual" you may think of various life events such as weddings and funerals. Both of which heavily involve plants, sometimes it's the flowers they produce and other times it's the actual plant themselves, for example in Poland the Pot Mum (Chrysanthemum) is commonly planted in graveyards.
Growing and looking after plants can release and alleviate everyday stress, ask any gardener. In fact the UK Magazine Gardeners World did just that and in June 2013 they presented their findings of a nationwide study. It concluded that 80% of gardeners declared themselves "satisfied with life" compared to 67% of non-gardeners and found gardeners were more positive mentally. Other studies have found that cultivating plants as a hobby is one of the best ways to improve mental as well as physical well being at any age.
In the United Kingdom alone, each year it's population collectively spends over 2,000 million pounds on indoor plants and cut flowers. Big money is spent by top hotels and restaurants throughout the world and some of the most striking and memorable buildings feature plants in some way. The most effective offices both in terms of productivity and reduced absenteeism all have plants as part of the building and this is proven in study after study.
For all the reasons listed in this article, we can with confidence say that house plants are good for you. Whether you work in an office, or spend a lot of time at home you can benefit from having plants in your personal space, by improving and maintaining your physical health and enhancing your mental well-being.
If we have reaffirmed your belief in the power of plants or perhaps converted you across let us know in the comments below. Heck even if you still don't agree with us tell us why!
Credit for first photo to Cargo Collective
Credit for the second photo to Everything Grows Interior Landscaping
Credit for the third photo NASA
Credit for the fourth photo to Ffffound.com
Credit for the fifth photo to Boulevard Leopold