Among many other things, the pandemic has brought a renewed emphasis on indoor air quality, especially in office settings. In many cases this has taken the form of greater attention paid to HVAC systems to reduce the chances of disease transmission. But even setting aside the germ factor, according to many estimates the indoor air we breathe is up to five times more polluted than our outdoor air.
The reasons for this are obvious: Indoors, we get less ventilation, thus trapping toxins like formaldehyde, benzene and VOCs from paints, furniture and other finishes. We can combat the situation with expensive air purifiers, but what about the simple houseplant?
Plants, of course, consume carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, so any plant does at least a little good in contributing to indoor air quality. But can plants also reduce those toxins we’re breathing?
The research on this offers differing answers. Again, any plants are probably better than no plants, and while plants do indeed remove carbon dioxide, ozone and other pollutants from the air, some research suggests that it takes a large quantity of plants to make a measurable difference. A NASA study, however, trends in the opposite direction, saying that only 15 to 18 houseplants in a 1,800-square-foot area can make a meaningful difference in removing pollutants.
All of this is one reason for the growing popularity of plant walls (or green walls, or vertical gardens) in commercial settings. Green walls are living design features that can be employed on existing walls or created to divide spaces, and the design possibilities are limited only by imagination. Plants can grow together and intermingle to create a stunning, forest-like effect, all while working around the clock to filter the air you breathe.
Which plants are best? There are many choices, but favorite plants for better air quality include the humble ficus, aloe vera, spider plants, and flowering varieties including peace lily, gerbera daisy and chrysanthemum.
One word of caution: It is possible to overdo it. Plants (and the soil they grow in) will increase the moisture content in a given space, and if done to excess might introduce molds or other toxins to the air. Monitor humidity and air quality carefully.
And as a side benefit, you might want to volunteer to be among those responsible for the care and upkeep of your office plants. Research demonstrates that gardening, indoors or out, reduces stress.