Myths of houseplants debunked, other benefits reign

So, people everywhere who had hopes of ridding air pollutants in a big way from their houses and offices by filling their windowsills and room corners with plants likely were mistaken. Research shows that plants do have other great benefits, like boosting your mood and concentration. But the long-held idea that plants will clean the air was debunked by a 2019 story in The Atlantic where multiple scientists said plants just don’t have that ability.

Local expert weighs in

Lori Imboden, PhD, consumer horticulture supervising educator with Michigan State University Extension – Oakland County, sides with The Atlantic report. She said take a breath before you start heaping too many benefits from plants.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of evidence that plants can clean the air in your house, but they are wonderful roommates regardless,” she said followed by a chuckle. “Having plants indoors makes people calmer and more relaxed, but they won’t necessarily clean the air. It’s not that plants are unable to reduce things in the air, but what we do at the [MSU] Extension, is try to make sure statements are backed up by science.”

Bring on the moisture

If you’re looking to add humidity to a room, houseplants can help, too, she said, “because they’re wet, if you remember to water them.”

Some of the confusion came after a 1989 NASA study found houseplants can remove up to 87 percent of air toxins in 24 hours. However, those results don’t apply to houses and offices because the study was done in a sealed environment, unlike the atmosphere in our homes and workplaces.

“Sometimes we find things in laboratories can get over interpreted and they go into the world,” Imboden said.

More evidence against the air cleaning powers of indoor plants came from a 2018 Time Magazine article which reported, “There are no definitive studies to show that having indoor plants can significantly increase the air quality in the home to improve health in a measurable way,” says Luz Claudio, a professor of environmental medicine and public health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Additionally, the moistness in plant pots can breed mold and can cause allergy or hay fever symptoms. Spores can also worsen asthma.

Some studies, however, point to findings that show indoor plants improve concentration and productivity by up to 15 percent, reduce stress levels, boost your mood at home and in the office, and may even improve test scores among students.

Keep the noise down

Tina VanThomme, owner of Plant Masters in Suttons Bay, said houseplants can reduce noise in areas with a lot of hard surfaces.

“Especially plants that are leafy or fluffy, like ferns,” she said.

Houseplants are great props to decorate homes and offices in a creative way.

“We have a really big greenhouse area and a lot of people go after certain plants for their designer appeal,” VanThomme said. “It can give you a real sense of letting your creativity come out. They bring out a lot of people’s green thumbs and people like to nurture them.”

If you like to take hospital patients plants, you could be giving them the best gift of all. A study conducted at Kansas State University found that viewing plants during recovery from surgery led to a significant improvement in physiologic responses as evidenced by lower systolic blood pressure, and lower ratings of pain, anxiety and fatigue as compared to patients without plants in their rooms.

Horticulture therapy also decreases recovery time among patients who took care of plants, according to research by Texas A&M University. The patients who physically interact with plants experience a significantly reduced recovery time after medical procedures.

Helping hand

Some plants are especially suited for homes not only for their physical beauty, but they have medicinal and culinary uses, too. Slice a piece of an aloe plant and spread the gel on burns, cuts or bruises. Herbs on a windowsill are pleasing to the eye and are especially inviting when dinner is cooking and you find a way to up your culinary game by incorporating the fresh ingredients into your meals.

Before you head out to your favorite plant shop, consider that some plants can be dangerous to children and pets. If peace lilies are consumed, for instance, they can be toxic. They are, however, completely safe to touch. In fact, all lilies are toxic to cats.

Likewise, devil’s ivy, commonly known as the ever-popular pothos, are safe to touch, but if they are eaten by people or pets they will induce vomiting and swelling. Eating English ivy and cyclamen, sago palm and caladium can also cause physical reactions.

Beware of poinsettias, too. If the highly-popular Christmastime plant is ingested, they can cause nausea and vomiting, and you don’t even have to eat it to be affected since skin can become red and irritated when exposed to the plant’s sao.

When it comes to houseplants, enjoy the psychological benefits of caring for a living thing, all the other benefits are up in the air.

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