Green Your Nursery… With Plants!

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There are certain items any green mom will tell you are absolutely necessary for a nursery. These include flat-pack furniture, wooden toys, flushable diapers and no-VOC paints. Yet these lists (and I’ve reviewed a few), always seem to neglect one obvious green inclusion – plants. Not only do plants add visual greenery to any room, they are great weapons in the fight against ‘sick building syndrome.’

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"Spider plant"

At its culmination in 1989, NASA’s two-year research into sustainable methods of indoor atmospheric cleansing in space stations revealed that many common houseplants and blooming potted plants help fight pollution indoors, making the air safer for humans. Certain plants that thrive in apartments eat carbon and other ‘off-gases’, such as formaldehyde and benzene, the way that monstrous shrub from the Little Shop of Horrors ate its owner’s enemies.

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"Snake plant"

Plants can “scrub significant amounts of harmful gases out of the air, through the everyday processes of photosynthesis,” according to Extension Horticulturalist, Deborah L. Brown’s online article. Some of these harmful pollutants are also absorbed through the plant’s leaves and rendered harmless in the soil. But the key is allowing the plant and the soil it is potted in to work in tandem by removing any leafy growth close to the base as “micro-organisms in the soil become more adept at using trace amounts of these [once-harmful] materials as a food source.”

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"Metaphys indoor grass planters"

Apartment Therapy has a great post on aesthetically pleasing treatments for miniature indoor arboretums (the least intrusive set-ups seem to involve small succulents), and our sister site Inhabitat has a post on a sleek planting system fit for grass (possibly adaptable, above). But if you want to get serious about air filtering flora, there are five plants that top both NASA’s air purifying and Parent Center’s child-safe lists:

1. Chlorophytum Comosum aka Spider Plant

2. Sansevieria aka Snake Plant

3. Dracaena fragrans `Massangeana’ aka Corn Plant

4. Epipiremnum Aureum aka Golden Pothos

5. Aglaonema Modestum aka Chinese Evergreen

(forget about English Ivy and the others, as they can be poisonous).

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"Photosynthesis"

There has been a persistent concern about the fact that, at night, plants reverse their photosynthetic cycle, absorbing oxygen through respiration and emitting carbon dioxide. This sounds scary, especially when the room the plant is in belongs to your child. But our friends over at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden advise that, “recent thinking posits that the amount of oxygen uptake and carbon dioxide release at night is very low.” And that, “the concern may be overblown, and may even be debunked.” More importantly, humans too absorb oxygen and breathe out CO2 both day and night. Therefore, the fear of nighttime CO2 emissions from plants is about as real as mom being a danger to her child because they share sleeping quarters.

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"Bel-Air"

Information contained in the NASA study dictates that for an average 1,800 square foot house, one would need 15 to 18 good-sized houseplants in 6 to 8-inch diameter containers in order to see a notable difference in air quality. Fortunately, for the city-dwelling Inhabitots reader, the average apartment is about half that size (if not smaller), meaning all it takes is a few bushy plants to help make your nursery green. Or if you’d like a ready-made version, click over to dezeen and check out Mathieu Lehanneur’s Bel-Air purifier (pictured above). It too uses plants, albeit in a fashion befitting the aforementioned space stations.

+ How To Grow Fresh Air (a must-have book for those interested)
*photos from TomWilkinson’s and lawchik’s flickr.

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8 Responses to “Green Your Nursery… With Plants!”

  1. Sue Stoessel says:

    I’m a senior educator and botanist at the Museum of Science in Boston. I also have numerous plants in my home.

    Please be aware that there are very few genuine scientific studies that support the claims made citing the ability of plants to filter air-borne pollutants in the home environment. The NASA study quoted above was actually designed to test the ability of a specific type of plant to survive in microgravity-it was not a pollution-control experiment.

    Parents should also consider the toxicity of plants and plant parts when considering adding them to a nursery situation. The EPA also notes that mold spores in plant soils may be an issue especially in homes with children may have allergies or asthma.

  2. Desmond Williams says:

    Hi Sue – There are 2 NASA studies referenced in the article. The 1989 study (quoted) was for air pollutants. The second study (linked) occurred later and was regarding NASA’s attempts at growing food in space. Here is an even more recent article on the subject. Thanks for commenting and mentioning mold spores and plant soils.

  3. rachel says:

    I read something recently (on lifehacker, I think) about needing 11 plants per person for this to be effective. That would mean I need 33 plants in my home, and I honestly don’t know anyone who has the space or time to take care of 33 indoor plants in addition to their families! That said, a home without plants (or books) always looks bare to me…

  4. Desmond Williams says:

    Hello Rachel – thanks for mentioning the lifehacker post which further details studies that prove plants increase oxygen, filter air and “boost general health”.

  5. paggles says:

    I have read some conflicting information about the sansevieria aka Snake Plant on the internet. Some places say the plant is poisonous. Your site along with some others list is as child-safe. Which is correct? I want to by for my sister who has two small children.

  6. faereysparks says:

    I also found online places that said the corn plant was toxic (along with the snake plant).
    http://houseplants-care.blogspot.com/2007/04/poisonous-houseplants.html

  7. Annie says:

    i read somewhere that the Fern plant is good for helping purify the air in your home. I used to always have one hanging by the window…also a spider plant.

    With all the polution happening nowadays I am going to do that again…. I don’t know anything about a snake or corn plant…never heard of them.

    Wonder about herbs if they have that quality to purify air etc?

  8. martinmittelmark says:

    With reference to plants being used to purify air, an intensive study was done by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority in conjunction with the EPA for 3 years at Syracuse University and it was conclusively proven that plants remove VOCs from the air plus it saved the building 26% on heating, a link to the study is found on http://www.phytofilter.com

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