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Galveston Monthly

Plants, Clean Air & Global Warming

Mar 11, 2019 06:01AM

Global warming is a term that has become commonly debated in recent years - and it is a term that elicits confusion, unease, skepticism and challenge in many people. When a disastrous weather-related event occurs - whether wildfires, floods, hurricanes, heavy snow, or extreme heat - the phrase “global warming” has become the norm.

  Scientific studies with dire warnings, scenes of widespread pollution over large portions of land masses, as well as over huge swathes of oceans and open seas, seem to point to something going wrong in our world. The answers to what can be done - if anything - is a mind-boggling maze of conjecture, cynicism, uncertainty and distrust.

  What does this have to do with an article about plants and gardening? Can plants have any effect on the air we breathe? The simple answer is yes.


 Studies from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report the air in one’s home may be contaminated with pollutants that can lead to serious health issues, including headaches, respiratory problems, fatigue and cancer. Among those pollutants are dust, dirt and dander, gasses from synthetics in our carpets, curtains, and cleaning solutions; thrown in with cooking and tobacco smoke, mold, and pollen, as well as volatile organic compounds like benzene, ammonia and formaldehyde.

  The good news is that plants act as air purifiers by converting carbon dioxide into oxygen through photosynthesis, while microbes in the soil convert toxins in the air into nutrients for the plants. While all plants may improve the quality of the air we breathe, some are viewed as better choices than others.

  Some proponents of clean air through plant life suggest that the bigger and leafier the plant the better as the amount of leaf surface area influences the rate of air purification. NASA research scientists found that air-filtering plants can help remove harmful toxins from the air.

NASA research recommends at least two good-sized plants per one hundred square feet of interior space.

  A few selections that not only filter pollutants well but are also easy to grow and familiar to all of us, gardeners or not, include:

Aloe Vera: Removes formaldehyde; this plant needs plenty of light and well-drained soil.

Dwarf/pygmy date palm: Filters xylene and ammonia; it prefers plenty of light and water.

English Ivy: Great for asthma and allergy sufferers, as it removes benzene, formaldehyde, and cigarette smoke.

Golden pothos: Popular and commonly found in many homes, it removes and filters carbon monoxide, and formaldehyde.



  Despite NASA’s research, some experts say that the evidence that plants can effectively accomplish this feat in one’s home is inconclusive.

  Luz Claudio, a professor of environmental medicine and public health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, argues that while plants are capable of removing chemical toxins from the air in a laboratory setting, “There are no definitive studies that indoor plants can significantly improve health in a measurable way.”

  Stanley Kays, a professor emeritus of horticulture at the University of Georgia, agrees.

Kays co-authored a 2009 study on the air-purifying powers of 28 indoor plants. He concluded that a scientific study of such plants in ideal conditions - such as being kept in a sealed container with ample light in order to maximize photosynthesis - is one thing, but expecting similar results in an open space, such as a home, is expecting too much of these leafy helpers.

  Kays argues that there is still evidence to support adding live plants to one’s home. Research has shown that plants reduce stress and anxiety, elevate one’s mood, increase focus, and expedite healing, among other things.

  Enjoy the beauty and peaceful vitality that houseplants offer, while your lungs benefit from their natural air-cleansing potential. Talk to your plants, and play some soothing music for them - and watch them thrive from your loving attention.


Plants Recommended for Cleaner Air

Garden Mum: A popular and inexpensive plant that can be removed to your outside garden beds. Removes ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde and xylene.

Spider Plant: Easy to grow in indirect light with flowers that grow into baby spider plants. (formaldehyde and xylene)

 Dracaena: Commonly found foliage plant with long, wide leaves with lines of white, cream or red. (benzene, formaldehyde, xylene, and trichloroethylene)

Ficus Tree: A low maintenance and hardy plant that may grow to ten feet in height. (benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene)

Peace Lily: Flowering, easy to grow in shady areas. (ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene)

Snake Plant/Mother-in-Law Tongue: Hardy, little maintenance. (benzene, formaldehyde, xylene, and trichloroethylene)

Bamboo Palm: Thrives in full sun or bright light, tall to ten feet. Superstar at filtering formaldehyde