Well Being

Why House Plants Are Healthy (And Which Are Best, Even If You Don’t Have a Green Thumb)

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In the dead of winter, we could all use a little greenery in our lives. Especially because house plants aren't just pleasing to the eye; they're also good for your health. Basically, house plants are great for two things: Your lungs, and your mind.

House Plants Clean The Air

There have been several studies that examine how house plants can actually help filter and clean the air in our homes. One notable study, by NASA (yes, that NASA), found that common houseplants are a great way to filter and clean the air in small, enclosed spaces. Another study, from 2009, found that indoor plants can remove formaldehyde and other toxins from the environment. In order to get these air-filtering benefits, the NASA study suggests having one 10- to 12-inch potted plant per 100 square foot of room.

House Plants Are Good For Mental Health

According to Nicole Cavender, plant ecologist with The Morton Arboretum,

Plants in living spaces have also been shown to reduce blood pressure, increase attentiveness, increase productivity, and lower anxiety.

Decorators and feng shui enthusiasts alike love to add living plants to indoor spaces, as they can make the space friendlier and more inviting. Cavender added:

Rooms used for resting (bedroom, bathroom) should have plants with rounded leaves (like jade, ficus, philodendron), while rooms used for activity (living room) should have spiky or spiny plants (like snake plants). Kitchens with windows are often great to grow potted herbs along windows or have hanging plants. Bamboo palms (Charnaedorea seifrizii) make good center pieces. If the plants in your house are thriving, usually there is a better chance that you will thrive!

 The Best House Plants To Choose 

Think you can't have plants because you don't have a green thumb? That's not necessarily true…it's all about the plants you chose. Cavender told me:



There are many plants to choose from, but the most important thing to understand is your indoor environment. Take note of light and humidity levels. Read the plant labels and make sure you can offer that environment. Also understand that many of the plants sold in stores that are in flower may not last more than a few weeks. This may be ok, because even short lived flowering plants will provide benefits – you can always get more!


Peace Lily

If you're new to plants, she recommends starting with plants that are easy to take care of. Some of her suggestions:

  • Philodendrons – “These have heart shaped leaves or some bigger varieties have big elephant ear shapes with a tropical feel. These are adapted to low light and even grow well under office lights. Depending on what sized pot they are in, they only need to be watered about once/week). I have two, on each side of my computer, at work. They are vine-like and you can train them to grow along your desk or hang down from a shelf.”
  • Snake Plant – “These are very easy to grow. The biggest mistake is over watering them.”
  • English Ivy – “These make nice hanging baskets or I like them in smaller pots along my window.”
  • Peace Lily – “These are popular house plants with white flowers and have been shown to remove toxins from the air. They like good light, but not direct sun. Do not over water.”
  • Spider plants – “These are very common and easy to grow.”
  • Bromeliads – “These come in many different colors and the flowers last for several weeks. They need pretty good light and like to be watered down the center of the stalk. They bring a lot of interest to a room.”
  • Jade –  “The plants have fleshy leaves and trunk-like stems. They do not like to be watered very often so they're a plant that can be neglected. They like bright, indirect light, so do not grow as well in very low light levels.”
  • Schefflera – “Medium light and medium moisture.”
  • Rubber Plant – “Another easy plant to grow that can get big.”

There are also plants you can introduce into your home if you have specific health concerns: English Ivy if you have asthma; aloe vera, Boston fern, ficus, lady palm, peace lily, philodendron, and spider plants if you just want general air purification.

If you're the type of person who often forgets to water plants, drier plants like succulents or cactus might work for you (or a plant that droops when it's dry, like a peace lily). If you don't have a lot of light in your home, Nicole Cavender recommends low-light plants like philodendron, schefflera, maidenhair fern, Swedish ivy or begonias.

Nicole also cautioned getting stressed out about your plants: “If your plant does not seem to be doing well, stop trying so hard to bring it back to life and try a different kind. Eventually, you will find one that works for you.”

Photo: Flickr user blumenbiene