By Melanie Mathieson
The Gardening Guru
Many houseplants can provide more than just good looks to your home as some also can provide health benefits.
We all know that trees and plants use carbon dioxide to survive, which helps prevent global warming, but many of these same plants also have other characteristics, such as the ability to filter toxins and moulds out of the air.
By bringing plants with these types of characteristics indoors, you and the air quality in your home can benefit.
Place plants primarily in your personal breathing zone within six-eight cubic feet of where you work, sleep, or spend long stretches of time.
Some houseplants actually can optimize brain power, enhance your immunity, improve your sleep quality, and more!
The spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) probably is the most recognized and most common houseplant. Not only are they easy and fun to grow, but they also can remove nearly 90 percent of toxins from indoor air within two days.
And with its numerous quick-growing leaves, the spider plant is one of the most powerful air cleansers. Microscopic openings in the leaves filter harmful substances, as well as absorb mould-spore allergens and traces of carbon monoxide and formaldehyde (a colourless gas emitted by some carpet materials and furniture), which guards against wheezing, headaches, and brain fog.
The spider plant requires indirect light and frequent watering as they are heavy drinkers. But don’t let the soil get soggy—just slightly moist to the touch between waterings.
If the foliage begins to show black tips, you are letting the plant get too dry between waterings.
Spider plants do best when they are pot bound, so they do not need to be re-potted very frequently, usually only when their current pot splits or the plant is pushing itself out over the top.
Look for different varieties, such as all green leaves, white with green central leaf stripe, or green with central white leaf stripe.
The English ivy (Hedera helix) has been a favourite houseplant for decades because of its beautiful vines and leaves.
Since English ivy absorbs and chemically neutralizes benzene, a colourless toxin emitted by some paper products and office equipment, by placing one on your desk, you will think and stay focused better.
That’s good news since benzene can slow thinking and break concentration by disrupting the central nervous system.
Ivy plants are easy-care leafy green plants perfect for hanging baskets. Ivy grows well in bright indirect sunlight.
Keep the soil evenly moist, mist occasionally with warm water, and feed every two weeks during growth periods. And remember that the leaves are poisonous to pets.
•Peace lily or Spathiphyllum
Studies have shown that peace lilies (Spathiphyllum floribundum) can reduce levels of microscopic mould spores in the air by 60 percent.
This plant absorbs mould organisms through its leaves, then circulates the spores to the roots for food.
This is a bonus for bathrooms as it can prevent spore build-up on shower curtains and tiles. The result: less sneezing, not to mention less scrubbing for you.
The plant also absorbs atmospheric vapours like acetone and alcohol. Research confirms that routine exposure to these chemicals, commonly found in grooming products, can lead to dry eye syndrome, dizziness, and muscle weakness, especially in a confined space like a bathroom.
The peace lily is a tropical plant that has dark green leaves which can grow up to more than one foot in length. It has white flowers and lives for at least a few years when properly cared for.
They prefer bright filtered light, but will grow in low interior light. Most importantly, they should be placed away from drafts.
When watering, drench the soil, then allow it to become moderately dry between waterings. Feed every two weeks during the summer months only.
Spraying the leaves with water makes the peace lily grow and bloom better. Once established, peace lilies will produce white blooms.
Another very popular houseplant is the Boston fern.
Because indoor ventilation saps moisture from the air, especially in the winter months, many people suffer with parched and itchy skin. A Boston fern acts as a humidifier, restoring moisture to the air by releasing water vapour in exchange for atmospheric pollutants, which the plants convert to food for itself.
The Boston fern also can eliminate formaldehyde from the air you breathe inside your home.
There are many varieties of Boston fern, most with frilly or lacy fronds. The Boston fern is the ideal hanging basket plant, although it requires a little extra care, in that it likes good, rich potting soil and should be misted frequently with warm water.
Boston ferns grow well in bright indirect sunlight. Keep the soil barely moist and feed weekly.
Did you know you can enhance your brain power with African violets? Gazing at flowering plants in the purple family, like African violets, stimulates the release of adrenaline.
This energizing hormone improves creativity and also triggers the release of endorphins, which ease stress and improve mood.
Another perk, the body responds to flowering plants of any colour by boosting oxygen flow to the brain, resulting in relaxation.
African violets are lovely small plants, which may bloom at anytime. They prefer bright, indirect sunlight but also grow well under fluorescent lights.
Just keep the soil evenly moist at all times, feed monthly spring through fall with a nitrogen-free fertilizer, cut off the flowers after they die, and provide good ventilation.
While most plants absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen during the day, Gerbera daisies conduct the process at night.
The benefit: easier breathing and deeper sleep as higher levels of atmospheric oxygen were found to stabilize breathing and increase the duration of sleep by more than 10 percent.
The Gerbera has daisy-like flowers which can be single, double, quilled, or crested double on long stems. They are available in a variety of colours, including shades of orange, red, yellow, white, and pink.
Gerberas will flower continuously for four-six weeks with proper care. Although they are a perennial in very warm climates, they generally are treated as an annual for outdoor planting in our area.
But as spring and certain spring holidays approach, local floral shops may have potted Gerberas, intended to be a houseplant, arriving in stock.
A full sunlight, bright light location is preferred, as well as moderately moist soil. Ensure the crown of the plant is above the soil and provide good drainage. Water thoroughly when just the soil surface is dry to the touch and fertilize every two weeks during growth periods.
I brought my annual Gerbera plants indoors for the winter months with the intention of saving them to put back outside next summer (a future column will let you know how the experiment worked).
Although not the most common and maybe a bit difficult to find in our area, the eucalyptus plant offers prime defence against colds.
Its leaves are packed with tannins—chemicals that, when inhaled, raise levels of healthy periciliary fluid in the body’s airways. Breathing in the scent of eucalyptus also can raise fluid levels in the respiratory tract, thinning and loosening congestion-causing phlegm.
This is why many cold remedies contain eucalyptus.
Even if you cannot find eucalyptus planted in a pot, remember that you almost always can get cut stocks from a local floral shop.
You can place some stalks in a vase with water and enjoy the benefits of the plant for a few weeks.
As I wrote this column, I realized I have at least one of every one of the above mentioned plants with the exception of the eucalyptus. Although I chose these houseplants because they are some of my favourites and meet the conditions available in my house, I now also know they all add extra benefits, as well.
By no means are the plants described above the only ones that will benefit your home, but just a short list to get you started.
I encourage you to try any or all of these, or research your favourite houseplant and see what benefits it can bring to your home.