Carol O'Meara, Colorado State University Extension
Carol O’Meara, Colorado State University Extension

Houseplants have long been loved as a way to bring some of the warmth and comfort of the natural world indoors. A touch of green, living things softens harsh indoor environments and soothes the soul as we navigate stressful daily lives.

For decades, people have pointed to research by NASA scientists, who went where no man has gone before: into the potential of plants to help clean the air. Their initial research showed the logic of phytoremediation in indoor environments by various houseplants, which filter some gases from the air. As a bonus, microorganisms in the potting soil also help clean the air if the soil isn’t covered by leaves.

In the following decades, more research has occurred around this topic, identifying some toxins that plants remove from the air. Benzene, acetone, ammonia, trichloroethylene, and carbon monoxide are commonly cleaned by plants, plus formaldehyde from wood floorboard resins, pressed wood products, furniture, exhaust fumes, fabric treatments, and heating and cooking fuels.

Houseplant benefits don’t stop at cleansing the air; studies have shown they also reduce stress, increase productivity, improve attitudes, and lower operating costs. Gardeners could have saved those researchers’ time if they’d only asked us first; we know being around plants makes people happy. But many of us mentally snicker at the idea that this lowers operating costs; anyone with seed catalogs and a credit card at this time of year isn’t exactly cutting the budget.

Studies in Texas, Washington State, and England showed that seeing and being around plants in the workplace helped reduce blood pressure and lowered stress within five minutes. This is good to know; I’ll be taking plants into office meetings from now on.

Some increased productivity from plants arises from the reduction in office noise, another factor well-documented in studies. Plants absorb sound, rather than just insulate against it, so surround yourself with a hedge on your desk. Placed strategically, you could even center your desk in the center of a maze to give yourself time to see who is coming towards you. 

Pick up some house plants, such as Peace lilies (Spathiphyllum spp.), Philodendrons (Philodendron spp.), Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum), dracaenas, Boston ferns, or bamboo palms. 

If you’re itching to get a garden growing but don’t know where to start, check out “Dig In To Backyard Gardening,” a half day of seminars designed to get you ready. Offered by Colorado State University Extension, the event is on Saturday, March 2, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., at the Larimer County Fairgrounds, 5260 Arena Circle, in Loveland. Event goers can choose between tree care, lawn care, small fruits, raised beds, favorite trees and shrubs, or pollinator gardens sessions.

Tickets for the half-day event are $25; get them at DigColoradoGardening.Eventbrite.com. For more information on the event, contact Deryn Davidson, Horticulture Extension Agent in Boulder County at ddavidson@bouldercounty.org.

By Carol O’Meara, Colorado State University Extension. CSU Extension together with Boulder County Parks and Open Space, provides unbiased, research-based information about consumer and family issues, horticulture, natural resources, agriculture and 4-H youth development. For more information contact Colorado State University Extension at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Rd., Box B, Longmont, 303.678.6238, e-mail comeara@bouldercounty.org or visit ext.colostate.edu/boulder.