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Houseplants are beautiful and effective decorating accents or focal points. My mother, a highly skilled interior decorator, did not have big groupings of small plants to make an impact. She said that look was busy and cluttered. Instead, she treated plants as artwork and placed large ones in strategic spots to add color, texture and visual interest.

I remember a tall palm in the corner of the living room, a large potted plant on a long side table and another large palm in the entry way. Aside from needing less maintenance, her designs were simple and refined.

Secret life of plants

When I was about 20, I got interested in houseplants myself. It didn’t hurt that the woman who owned the plant store lived upstairs from me! The store was two blocks away, and I would stop in there on my walks to chat and marvel at her lush displays. Naturally, my next step was to go to the library and check out books on houseplants. I ended up buying a few to keep as references, and my own apartment eventually looked as lush as her store!

Houseplants to consider

Here are the top plants. They are all easy to find and easy to grow.

• Hedera helix English ivy
• Chlorophytum comosum spider plant
• Epipiremnum aureum golden pothos
• Spathiphyllum `Mauna Loa’ peace lily
• Aglaonema modestum Chinese evergreen
• Chamaedorea sefritzii bamboo or reed palm
• Sansevieria trifasciata snake plant
• Philodendron scandens `oxycardium’ heartleaf philodendron
• Philodendron selloum selloum philodendron
• Philodendron domesticum elephant ear philodendron
• Dracaena marginata red-edged dracaena
• Dracaena fragrans `Massangeana’ cornstalk dracaena
• Dracaena deremensis `Janet Craig’ Janet Craig dracaena
• Dracaena deremensis `Warneckii’ Warneck dracaena
• Ficus benjamina weeping fig

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House plants and cleaner indoor air

There is now another use for houseplants – to clean indoor air. There are many toxins in our houses in these modern times. Every day we unknowingly breathe in cancer-causing agents like formaldehyde, benzene and xylene that are found in a variety of items from cleaners and carpets to building materials and paints. In order to keep energy bills low, houses now have tighter envelopes, and there is less natural ventilation. These gases cannot escape, and they are making us sick.

Houseplants and NASA – yes, that NASA

In the late 80s, NASA considered ways to clean the air in their space stations, so they teamed up with the Association of Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) to study 19 plants for two years. Plants already improve air quality by capturing carbon and turning it into oxygen. NASA’s research found that plants absorb toxic gasses and chemicals through their leaves during photosynthesis, the process of converting sunlight to food. They can remove 87% of toxins from the air in 24 hours!

The most beneficial plants for improving air quality come from the understory of the forest. They receive filtered sun in their native habitat and do well in low-light conditions in a home or office building. They are more versatile than plants needing full sun or bright light.

NASA’s recommendation for an 1800 square foot home is to place 15-18 mature plants in 6”-8” diameter pots around the house. For a 100-150 square foot room, say an office or a bedroom, use 2-3 large plants in 12” pots. Removing the lower leaves will allow the roots and soil to also absorb pollution and neutralize it as well.

Health benefits of houseplants and home decor

Aside from clean air, indoor plants are food for the soul. Studies have shown that people recover faster from illness when they have plants in their rooms or if they have a window view with trees or gardens outside. Plants can also reduce the length of a cold by 30%, because of the increased humidity and better air quality. Workers are more productive and have higher morale in offices with plants close by the desks. I believe plants remind us that we are connected to nature.

Indoor plants have many benefits. Add to the beauty of your home and improve indoor air quality by working them into your decorating scheme.

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.