Houseplants May Save Your Life
by Matt Leppard

When it comes to hobbies, many homeowners really can't be bothered with do-it-yourself, jungle-clearance in the garden, or even keeping a pet. But there's one hobby - if you can call it that - which nearly everyone does, but nobody really thinks about. Ask yourself these questions: how many plants have you got in your house? How much attention do you give them? Do you ponder about their placement and arrangement? You may be surprised at some of your answers.

The urge to bring nature inside our homes is almost universal - after all, what do you do every Christmas? Well, personally I use an artificial tree, but the principle is the same, with the origins of this ritual extending well before Christianity. Some people like the look and feel of cut flowers and other floral decorations in their homes, while others prefer huge, living yuccas. But did you know that plants can actually improve your health or even save your life?

Britain's Prince Charles used to be ridiculed in the press for talking to plants, but in actual fact, this may not be so wacky after all. First off, as a natural by-product of photosynthesis, oxygen levels in the microclimates around plants can be greater than in surrounding areas, giving you a natural lift. Of course, in breathing you expel carbon dioxide, which plants use in photosynthesis, so talking to them also benefits the plants.

Your home is killing you!
While the above may seem like wishy-washy speculation, there is also very real evidence that indoor plants may benefit humans in a far more important way: by cleaning the air of harmful chemicals. With the increasing use of synthetic materials in the mass manufacture of appliances and furnishings, indoor air pollution can represent a major portion of the public's exposure to air pollution and may pose serious health risks according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Formaldehyde derivatives, for example, are used as adhesives in the manufacture of particle board, fibreboard, and plywood. Formaldehyde is also classed as a carcinogen (cancer-causing chemical) according to the Sixth Annual Report on Carcinogens published by the National Toxicology Program of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

The evidence for a possible involvement of formaldehyde in cancers is strongest for nasal and throat cancer since the nose and mouth come into direct contact with formaldehyde through inhalation. Exposure to formaldehyde also irritates the eyes, nose, and throat, and can cause skin and lung allergies.

Benzene is also a known carcinogen and is used to make some types of plastics, liquid detergents, synthetic rubbers and fibres, and adhesives. Exposure to benzene has been shown to cause leukemia, tumours, anaemia, as well as chromosomal damage.

Green air is clean air
Luckily, someone somewhere has been looking into this potentially lethal problem, and that someone may surprise you. In association with Associated Landscape Contractors of the US, space research facility NASA has been studying whether ornamental plants can remove key pollutants such as benzene and formaldehyde in both terrestrial and space environments. Its research proved so conclusive that some of these plants will be launched into space aboard future space stations.

While the list below is a brief summary of NASA's results, it should be remembered that most plants possess this cleaning ability to some degree:

- Aglaonema sp.(Chinese Evergreen). As well as a general purifier, Chinese Evergreens have large leaf areas that allow them to tolerate full shade, so you can place them anywhere in your home.

- Aloe barbadensis (Aloe Vera). Aloe has been shown to be very efficient at the removal of formaldehyde and it is also known for its healing properties.

- Chlorophytum comosum (Spider Plant). Spider plants are on of the best plants for cleaning formaldehyde from the air. The thrive in bright but indirect light.

- Chrysanthemum sp. (Chrysanthemum/Mum). These colourful flowering plants have been shown by NASA to be highly effective in the removal of benzene.

- Gerbera sp. (Gerbera Daisy). Like Chrysanthemums, Gerberas are effective in the removal of benzene from indoor air, and like most flowering plants, they prefer bright light.

- Philidendron sp. (Philidendron). These are among the best plants for cleaning formaldehyde from indoor air, especially at high concentrations. However, they are poisonous, so exercise caution.

The chances are your local greenhouse or plant supplier won't know which plants are best for which chemicals, but they will be able to supply you with good-quality plants. You should also make sure you know the plant's light and dietary requirements.

Matt Leppard is Editor and a content producer for Global Estate (, the first portal site designed to cater exclusively to real estate. The site includes property listings, news, and advice articles on everything from buying a home to eliminating household pests to using the Internet to find a home.



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