Scientists reveal which species act as air filters. Research have revealed popular plants may absorb toxins from the air. Their leaves remove volatile organic compounds released around them. Some plants are better at leeching the compounds from the environment. Bromeliads were seen to remove the VOCs from their living space

They brighten up our homes and cheer up our offices. But house plants also clean up the air that we breathe.

Research has shown that popular pot plants also absorb dangerous chemicals, leaving the air cleaner for us to breathe.

One of the best ‘natural air fresheners’ is Guzmania lingulata, or the scarlet star, a colourful and tropical type of bromeliad which blooms for months indoors.

Guzmania lingulata
Researchers revealed that one of the best ‘natural air fresheners’ was Guzmania lingulata, or the scarlet star (pictured), a colourful and tropical type of bromeliad which blooms for months indoors.
Dracaena fragrans
Dracaena fragrans *Top plant for clearing toxic compounds from the air.

Others include the corn plant (Dracaena fragrans) which boasts long, variegated leaves that are particularly good at mopping up acetone, the pungent chemical in nail varnish remover.

The work comes amid mounting concern about the damage done by indoor air pollution, including toxins called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which released by everything from paint and printers to cleaning chemicals and dry-cleaned clothes.

The Royal College of Physicians has estimated that indoor air pollution contributes to 99,000 deaths in Europe every year.

Plus, many people believe they suffer from ‘sick building syndrome’, in which stagnant, polluted air is blamed for triggering everything from headaches to skin allergies and fatigue.

The State University of New York researchers said: ‘Buildings, whether new or old, can have high levels of VOCs in them, sometimes so high you can smell them.’

House Plants Act as Living Air Filters

Researchers from the State University of New York have revealed popular plants may absorb toxins from the air.

The plants remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released around them by a variety of sources.

However, some plants were found to be better at leeching the compounds from the environment than others.

Bromeliads were seen to remove the VOCs from their living space.

Three of the best house plants for air quality

Chlorophytum comosum
Chlorophytum comosum *Top plant for clearing toxic compounds from the air.

As part of the study, the team looked at the ability of five species to remove volatile organic compounds from their surroundings.

Top plants included the Scarlet star (Guzmania lingulata), a tropical flowering plant from South and Central America which produces striking red flowers in the shape of a star (when viewed from above).

The Corn plant (Dracaena fragrans) is another office stable and African native which thrive in the sheltered light of indoors, andwas shown to greatly improve air quality. Due to their adaptations to the heat and extended dry periods, these hardy plants can deal with a degree of drying out in between watering.

Most office workers and home owners will be familiar with the spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum). A native of the African continent, the hardy plant has found great success as an indoor house plant due to its ease of care, but which the study found also removes VOCs from the air.

The remaining two species looked at in the study were the Jade plant (Crassula ovata) and the Caribbean tree cactus (Consolea falcata).

The scientists placed five different pot plants in a sealed chamber pumped full of VOCs and monitored how levels of the chemicals changed over time.

Tests involving five common house plants and eight VOCs found that certain plants are better at absorbing specific compounds.

For example, all five could remove acetone, the pungent chemical abundant at nail salons, but the dracaena plant took up the most, around 94 per cent of the chemical.

The best all-rounder was the scarlet star, a member of the bromeliad family.

Study leader Dr Vadoud Niri said: ‘Based on our results, we can recommend what plants are good for certain types of VOCs and for specific locations.

‘To illustrate, the bromeliad plant was very good at removing six out of eight studied VOCs – it was able to take up more than 80 per cent of each of those compounds – over the twelve hour sampling period.

‘So it could be a good plant to have sitting around in the household or workplace.’

The other three plants studied were the jade plant (Crassula argentea), the spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) and the Caribbean tree cactus (Consolea falcata), an American Chemical Society conference heard.

The Royal Horticultural Society said that pot plants confer multiple benefits.

Dr Tijana BlanusaDr Tijana Blanusa, the RHS’s principal horticultural scientist, said: ‘Psychological benefits of indoor plants have been shown through the improved mood of people exposed to them, reduced stress levels, increased worker productivity in the working population, and increased pain tolerance, for example, where plants were used in hospital settings.

‘Indoor plants can also elicit a number of physical health benefits, including the removal of airborne pollutants, leading to better indoor air quality and associated improvements in physical health.’

 

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