Growing Fresh Air (Oh Yes, You Can!)

When I was in school and desperately broke, I decorated with plants because it was cheap.

Later, I included plants in my floor plans for my clients largely for aesthetic value-there was always a plant or tree out there that could fill in an odd space, or add balance to a room; place an up light underneath it, voila-sculpture!

But who knew plants could also genuinely, simply, dramatically, inexpensively  and immediately  improve the quality of your own personal air?  NASA, that’s who!

Photosynthesis takes carbon dioxide out of the air, and combines sunlight and water to provide  energy for the plant to grow, releasing oxygen in the process.

Extra oxygen is good, but better is that the plant AND the microorganisms in the dirt also scrub the air of known carcinogens. NASA has been studying this for years- sending plants up in the space shuttles, as a way to extended stays in space stations by cleaning the air… but the science works just as well in our earthly digs.

B. C. Wolverton was the lead investigator in one 1989 NASA experiment where harmful gases were pumped into a  sealed greenhouse. Over a 24 hour period, Gerber Daisies removed 35% of trichloroethylene (dry-cleaning, adhesives, varnishes), 50% of the formaldehyde (cigarette smoke, particle board, insulation and fire-retardant), and almost 68% of benzene (plastics, inks, dyes, detergents) particles from the air.

Gerber Daisies!! I don’t know if that is more startling info, or that this is known science for over 2 decades. His widely-acclaimed 1997 book, How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 Houseplants That Purify Your Home or Office at under 150 pages is an easy read, concise and helpful.

Don’t let the Latin names throw you: you’d recognize many of them by photos; Gerber Daisy, Chrysanthemums and the Peace Lily-3 of the most effective plants tested-are all sold in the floral dept of my local Stop and Shop. 

And you don’t have to live in a terrarium, either; experts say as few as 2 tabletop plants per 100 sf will do the job.

Brown thumb? Many species originate from the rain forest, and are used to low light, so are very well-suited to office and home application, where the natural light might not be so abundant.

Young kids or pets? The more exposed dirt, the better; but a fine mesh screen on top will discourage cats and toddlers from digging. One caveat: some plants are toxic if ingested, so pet owners or parents of small children need to do the research.

Mother Earth has taken some big hits lately, who knew it’d be so easy to give back?