I love my houseplants and can’t envision my apartment to be without them. It’s not only their colorful and rich appearance that’s so pleasing to the eye in more ways than pure aesthetics. Their smell, the fact that they breathe and clean my air… it’s just a deeper bond, it’s chemistry.
It was only until recently that I found this new study confirming that houseplants could become an even more vital component of houses of the future.
The magic word is VOC which stands for ‘volatile organic compound’ and to be honest, it’s not really where the magic happens. They are very harmful indeed and are still released by many everyday items. You will find things like acetone, benzene and formaldehyde among them hidden in paints, printers, furniture and even dry-cleaned clothes.
So, it’s another gift of nature that according to a study certain breeds of houseplants were highly effective in combating the harmful effects.
The lead of the study is Dr. Vadoud Niri, from the State University of New York at Oswego’s Department of Chemistry now said that:
“Buildings, whether new or old, can have high levels of VOCs in them, sometimes so high that you can smell them [and] inhaling large amounts of VOCs can lead some people to develop sick building syndrome, which reduces productivity and can even cause dizziness, asthma or allergies […] we must do something about VOCs in indoor air.”
VOCs will potentially cause health problems even long-term and nobody knows what kind of side effect is associated with these compounds.
That’s a great problem for all of the people who spend time in such particular places linked with sick building syndrome, especially considering how much time we often spent at our workplaces.
Sophisticated ventilation systems sometimes resolve the problem, but they are also quite expensive or even impractical depending on the location itself.
This is where Niri’s research suggests that there’s a certain kind of chemistry within a far more affordable solution: keeping houseplants.
We’ve been knowing for years, that using plants to clean air is a very efficient solution. The practice has been adopted by NASA as early as 1984. It’s called biofiltration (phytoremediation to be more precise) and explains how plants remove excess carbon dioxide.
The new research surrounding plants and VOCs has gone further and solely focused on specific breeds’ abilities to remove single VOCs. It finds that different types of plants are able to scrub a wide range of common VOCs simultaneously.
In order to do so, five popular houseplants were exposed to 8 common VOCs in a sealed environment. This allowed the team to determine which plants could most effectively filter all the VOCs. It also showed exactly which plants were the best at filtering particular VOCs.
Bromeliad, which is good for use indoor or outdoor was most effective overall, whereas other plants like dracaena was found to filter acetone absolutely efficiently. Acetone is the main VOC in nail salons and even though I doubt it has been in use for more than 2000 years, it’s interesting to know that dracaena has been loved by the Ancient Greek also.
Anyway, thanks to the vast research there’s now enough data to tailor houseplants to a location’s particular VOC output, ensuring a better air quality and may be a connection between us and our ‘verdant roommates.’
After being that successful (the research was presented at the 252nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society), Dr. Niri now plans to widen the research. There will be many tests in real-world settings and maybe even a several month-long study in a nail salon.
That doesn’t mean you have to wait for the findings. We can already use the knowledge and data to plan healthier indoor environments ourselves. You should not forget, the better the oxygen we breathe, the healthier our cells will become. A sound mind needs a sound body and pollution is becoming a great threat, especially to the urbanized world.
Besides, there’s more than chemistry to houseplants, it’s a wonderful and affordable way to enjoy their rich benefits — the smell, the colors, the life they emanate.