Plants & Indoor Air Quality: Some Pointers from Locoochee

In our Locoochee elementary school, we were taught that plants are the ‘lungs of the Earth.’ They remove carbon dioxide from the air and release oxygen, which is great because it is the exact opposite of our respiratory process. They also clean the air in the process, like natural air pollution scrubbers, improving the quality of the air around them.

Given this, it’s not surprising that people have sought to harness the respiratory power of plants to improve air quality in their homes. One study by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the 1980s even identified the best plants for improving indoor air quality.

This seems like great news for people who suffer from asthma or allergies, or who just want a natural way to purify the air in their homes. However, plants are not without their drawbacks. It is not a simple as to just bring a plant into the home. A plant is really an entire ecosystem, with many other organisms latched on for dear life. There are bacteria in the soil, for one, and there may be bugs or fungi in the soil or on the plant that you can’t even see.

Most of these are harmless, but not always. The fungus can be a problem, for example, if the spores get into the air. This can make allergies and asthma worse, not better.

That doesn’t mean you have to toss out that nice spider plant or Boston fern in the garbage, however. After all, it is probably doing a great job of filtering out some inorganic pollutants, it’s increasing the oxygen concentration of the room and it looks nice. Instead of getting rid of it, just give it a partner.

Adding an air cleaner like a fan with a filter can help purge the organic gunk that may be coming from the plant, while the plant is taking care of the other stuff. The result is cleaner, better air, which can be a relief to asthma and allergy sufferers.

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