They are filling our social media feeds, our living rooms and homes – big leaves, little leaves, small succulents, and giant palms! We are forest bathing and heading to nurseries faster than one can say Fiddle Fig! But the urban jungle is so much more than a passing trend – plants are supporting our general wellbeing, bringing life and vibrancy into a room and boosting air quality. Just another reason to by a pot plant – or five!
The University of Melbourne and RMIT University has dug a little deeper and crunched the numbers on 101 peer reviewed research papers, going back 5 decades to learn more about living with plants, how they benefit our health and their role on reducing chemicals, toxins and VOCs (Volatile organic compounds) in our home and living spaces.
From all that research, they discovered that just one middle sized plant can improve air quality and cleanliness by 25%! And that an average living space (4x5m) can improve its air quality by 75% by adding 5 middle sized plants - quite simply, one plant can absorb airborne pollutants and a few more can do even better! .
The research team observed a plants ability to absorb airborne pollutants, such as particulate matter, inorganic compounds such as carbon monoxide and Volatile Organic Compounds – VOCs. VOCs are organic chemicals used in everyday household products such as paint, furniture finishes and cleaning products. The word Volatile means this toxin can easily become vapours (or gasses), contaminate our air and enter our lungs.
Interestingly the study found that it wasn’t just the leaves that help filter out toxins from the air, but also from the good bacteria on the plant roots, suggesting size does matter when it comes to air filtration!
As well as looking at improved air quality, the research team observed the influences plants had on our mental health and general wellbeing.
It was discovered that having a jungle retreat in the comfort of your living room, with several plants (and a variety of different plants) works to support wellness, promote relaxation and assist people to destress and unwind!
A different study found that plants in an office can increase productivity by 15% , which is the perfect reason to get a new little desk companion!
While it is wonderful that you have an excuse to by another cactus for the corner of your desk, this information is not new. In 1989 NASA conducted a massive study into the air purification abilities of plants under different environments and when exposed to different chemicals/vapours .
NASA’s list of air improving plants:
- Dwarf Date Palm (Phoenix robelenii)
- Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)
- Kimberley Queen Fern (Nephrolepis obliterate)
- Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
- Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema modestum)
- Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii)
- Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina)
- Devils Ivy (Epipremnum aurea)
- Flamingo Lily (Anthurium andraeanum)
- Lilyturf (Liriope spicata)
- Broadleaf Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa)
- Barberton Daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)
- Cornstalk Dracaena (Dracaena fragrans Massangeana)
- English Ivy (Hedera helix)
- Varigated Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’)
- Red-Edged Dracaena (Dracaena marginate)
- Peace Lilly (Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’)
- Floriss Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum morifolium)
Some plants are toxic to dogs and other animals; caution should be used as needed.
So what we can learn from this research is that it’s time to start saving for that extra fiddle leaf and yes you do need that cactus with the little yellow flowers.
 Wolverton BC PhD, Johnson A, Bounds K., 1989, Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Apllution Abatement, NASA https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19930073077.pdf
 Nieuwenhuis M, et al, 2014, The relative benefits of green versus lean office space: Three field experiments’ , Journal of Experiamental Psychology: Applied, 20 (3), 199 – 214