Houseplants: Not just pretty faces

I’m all for things which are beautiful and useful at the same time. But things which are beautiful and which help you to be healthier too – surely it doesn’t get any better than that?!  I knew that houseplants are good for us because they use carbon dioxide and give us oxygen. And of course I knew that they are pretty and make me feel happy. But I didn’t know that they actually remove certain nasty chemicals in our indoor air, and which can be given off by our everyday objects (fabrics, air fresheners etc)!

Peace Lily

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NASA did a study to find out whether houseplants remove indoor air pollutants such as benzene, trichloroethylene and formaldehyde (chosen because they are possible carcinogens).  The answer is yes they do, and a guy called Dr Bill Wolverton has written a book ranking 50 houseplants by their effectiveness, and telling us how to grow them.  I’ve been through the list here looking for ones which are:

  • easy to grow (ie: hard to kill!)
  • don’t need tonnes of light
  • aren’t toxic to cats or kids
  • aren’t “temporary” plants (I find it hard to throw away plants even if they weren’t designed to live long)

The ones which seem to have the most potential for me are:


Boston Fern

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I had one of these in my last house, in a reasonably dim corner. It was very happy there for ages, and grew big and bushy. Then suddenly it slipped into a decline and eventually died, no matter what I tried. I’d try owning one again though.


Mother-In-Law's Tongue

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I love the name. Apparently it’s a real trooper and hard to mess up. At first I didn’t think much of it’s spiky, arid look but I’ve seen photos of them looking lovely and I think they’re better than no greenery at all.


Peace Lily

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I’ve read that it might be hard to get it to flower without much light, but it’ll tolerate lack of sun and still look nice without the white flowers.


Parlour Palm

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I don’t know which exact kind of palms those are in the pic above…but they look a lot like the Parlour Palms.


Christmas Cactus

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I already have this plant. Based on looks I wasn’t sure if it could stay, but it’s just had a reprieve! Mine doesn’t look anywhere near as big, boisterous and colourful as this one, but maybe I’ll try a little harder with it now I know it’s doing a sterling job of keeping me and my family healthy and safe.

Another option on the list is Monkeygrass, but I couldn’t find an example of it as a houseplant.

By the way, I found a website called House Plants Expert which is good for concise info about potential houseplants – for example here’s a page on the Rubber Plant, which showed me quickly that it’s toxic to cats and had to come off the “potentials” list.

Lastly, in case you’re wondering, the recommended number of plants according to NASA is at least 1 large plant per 100 square feet (9 square metres). So I need at least 10-12 plants in my house. Just the excuse I needed!

Until next time x



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