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Houseplants: clearing the air.


What NASA researchers have discovered about the anti-pollution properties of plants in orbit can help you be healthier in your own home.

Scientists have long been aware that plants improve the quality of people's lives. In ways not fully understood, living foliage affects our attitudes, lowers stress levels, and increases job performance. It even reduces noise levels in our environment. Researchers have discovered that patients with plants present during convalescence get well faster than those with no visual contact with nature.

The mere tending of plants seems to have a calming influence on most people. In fact, just watching others tend plants can be beneficial.

But the salutary effects from our leafy benefactors extend beyond the psychological. During photosynthesis, plants act like chemical vacuum cleaners, taking in dangerous gases through tiny openings, or stomata, on their leaves and converting the pollutants into less harmful compounds.

Dr. B. C. Wolverton, a National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientist who heads the Environmental Research Laboratory at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, believes air "scrubber" green plants will keep air clean in contained environments, whether in the rarefied realms of space or in modern super-energy-efficient homes on earth.

Wolverton says studies aboard the Skylab space station showed traces of more than 300 volatile organic compounds similar to compounds the EPA has measured inside energy-efficient buildings. On earth, the pollutants come from gas stoves, converted heaters, and pressure-treated wood products--which can release formaldehyde into the air--among other sources. They can cause allergic reactions, cancer, and other chronic health problems.

Thus, homeowners who wish to breathe freely would do well to developed their green thumbs, Dr. Wolverton believes. He recommends using 8 to 15 plants per 1,800 square feet of floor space. Houseplants won't get rid of all the dust and smoke, he says, but they will effectively filter out unhealthful gases.

Some of the most common houseplants are the best. The lowly philodendron stands at the top of Dr. Wolverton's list:

Pollution-Eating Plants

Heart-leaf philodendron

Elephant-ear philodendron

Green spider plant

Saddle-leaved philodendron

Aloe vera

Golden pothos

Chinese evergreen


Peperomia (Baby rubber plant)

Peace lily

Corn plant

Mother-in-law's tongue

Oyster plant (White velvet)

In general, plants with large leaves tend to be the most effective cleaners. If your favorite houseplant is not included in the list, don't worry. It is most likely doing some good.
COPYRIGHT 1988 Saturday Evening Post Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:anti-pollution properties of houseplants
Author:Henke, Ellen
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Nov 1, 1988
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