Do Indoor Ferns Purify Your Home – Learn About Purifying Fern Plants
By: Raffaele Di Lallo, Author and founder of Ohio Tropics houseplant care blog
Do indoor ferns purify your home? The short answer is yes!There was an extensive study completed by NASA and published in 1989documenting this phenomenon. The study documented the ability of indoor plantsto remove a variety of harmful air pollutants commonly found in indoor air. Andit turns out that fernswere some of the best plants for removing indoor pollutants.
How Do Ferns Purify Air?
The ability of ferns, and some other plants, to removepollutants from air, soil or water is called phytoremediation. Ferns and otherplants are able to absorb gases through their leaves and roots. It is themicroorganisms in the soil that help to break down many VOC (volatile organiccompounds).
Around the root system, there are many fungi, bacteria andother microbes. These organisms not only help break down nutrients for plantgrowth, but they also break down many harmful VOCs in the same way.
Using Ferns for Air Purification
Purifying fern plants should be part of any home. Bostonferns, in particular, were one of the best plants for indoor airpurification. Boston ferns were found to be excellent at removing a variety ofindoor air pollutants including formaldehyde, xylene, toluene, benzene andothers.
It was found to be the best at removing formaldehyde.Formaldehyde is emitted from a variety of common indoor objects such asparticle board, certain paper products, carpet and other sources.
As far as care for Boston ferns go, they enjoy growing inconsistently moist soil and love higher humidity. They don’t need terriblybright conditions to do well. If you have room in a bathroom, this may be theperfect environment to grow these and other ferns indoors.
A phenomenon known as Sick Building Syndrome has resultedfrom two factors. Homes and other indoor spaces have become more energyefficient and air tight over the years. In addition, there are more and moreman-made and synthetic materials which are off-gassing a variety of harmfulcompounds into our indoor air.
So don’t be afraid to add some Boston ferns and many otherplants to your home and other indoor spaces. Purifying fern plants can be avaluable addition to any indoor space – both to help purify increasingly toxicindoor air and to help provide a peaceful indoor environment.
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Top 10 NASA Approved Houseplants for Improving Indoor Air Quality
During the late 1980’s, NASA began studying houseplants as a means of providing purer and cleaner air for space stations. What they learned is that there are many different houseplants that can help to purify the air.
The plants filter out certain harmful compounds in the air and make it much healthier to breathe. The good news for you is that these plants are easily found and you can add them to your home to provide yourself and your family with air that is much purer and free from harmful agents.
We have collected a list of the 10 best houseplants to improve your indoor air quality. Most of these plants are commonly found at your local florist or home improvement store.
Just pick up one or several and take care of them to enjoy the beauty and the health benefits that they offer. The plants will filter out harmful chemicals like formaldehyde and benzene and provide you with oxygen at the same time.
Do Indoor Plants Really Clean the Air?
Sure, that potted fern is pretty, but can it really spruce up the air quality in your home? Studies by scientists at NASA, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Georgia and other respected institutions suggest that it can.
Plants are notoriously adept at absorbing gases through pores on the surface of their leaves. It's this skill that facilitates photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert light energy and carbon dioxide into chemical energy to fuel growth.
But scientists studying the air-purification capacities of indoor plants have found that plants can absorb many other gases in addition to carbon dioxide, including a long list of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Benzene (found in some plastics, fabrics, pesticides and cigarette smoke) and formaldehyde (found in some cosmetics, dish detergent, fabric softener and carpet cleaner) are examples of common indoor VOCs that plants help eliminate.
These VOCs and other indoor air pollutants (such as ozone) have been linked to numerous acute conditions, including asthma and nausea, as well as chronic diseases such as cancer and respiratory illnesses.
An indoor plant's ability to remove these harmful compounds from the air is an example of phytoremediation, which is the use of any plant — indoors or out — to mitigate pollution in air, soil or water.
Indoor plants remove pollutants from the air by absorbing these gases through their leaves and roots. The microorganisms that live in the soil of potted plants also play an instrumental role in neutralizing VOCs and other pollutants.
While most leafy plants are adept at purifying indoor air, some of the plants that scientists have found most useful in removing VOCs include Japanese royal ferns, spider plants, Boston ferns, purple waffle plants, English ivy, areca palms, golden pothos, aloe vera, snake plants and peace lilies.
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Houseplants can purify your air the natural way
You don't need a green thumb to grow houseplants that purify the air in your home NASA researchers have found that many common, easy-to-grow houseplants are very effective at reducing the most prevalent indoor air pollutants such as formaldehyde, benzene, mold and bacteria.
Researchers placed plants in sealed chambers into which they injected chemicals to see which plants were best at removing the chemicals from the air.
Although most plants are good air purifiers, some plants are especially good at removing common air pollutants.
The original NASA study was completed in 1989, but the lead investigator, Dr. Bill Wolverton, has continued his studies and has now tested more than 50 houseplants for their ability to remove air pollutants.
His 1997 book, "How To Grow Fresh Air: 50 Houseplants That Purify the Air in Your Home and Office," summarizes his research and lists the plants he thinks are your best choices. He suggests placing plants in the areas you spend the most time, such as near your desk and bed.
The most common chemical air pollutant in homes and offices is formaldehyde.
This substance is found in particle board and pressed wood, which are often used in cabinets and furniture.
It is also found in some foam insulation and in many paper products like grocery bags, facial tissue and paper towels.
Because formaldehyde is the air pollutant found in highest concentrations in homes and offices, Wolverton used the ability to reduce formaldehyde levels as the main criteria for ranking the houseplants in his book. He also considered whether the plants are relatively easy to grow.
Plants with the largest leaf surface area tend to score higher in removal of air pollutants. Plants can absorb pollutants into small openings, called stomata, in their leaves.
Plants break some of the chemicals down directly and deliver others to the soil, where soil microbes break them down.
Wolverton's research found that the leaves, roots and soil play important roles in removing chemicals from the air.
Plants are also beneficial because they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. They also release water vapor from their leaves, which can help offset the drying effect of air conditioners and heaters.
In an office or classroom where many people are grouped together, plants can greatly reduce the amount of bioeffluents released from people breathing. Believe it or not, people generate ethyl alcohol, acetone, methyl alcohol and ethyl acetate. Plants can easily remove these bioeffluents from the air.
Wolverton says that plants also release phytochemicals that suppress mold spores and bacteria in the air he says that rooms filled with plants have 50 to 60 percent less mold and bacteria in the air than rooms without plants.
Many houseplants have tropical origins, and they developed this ability to suppress mold and bacteria in the air surrounding their leaves as an adaptation to the warm, humid conditions in the tropical undergrowth in which they grew.
With all the concern about mold these days, indoor plants are a great preventive measure you can take.
Be sure not to keep your plant's soil so soggy that mold grows on the soil surface. You can place a thin layer of sand or gravel on the soil surface to stop mold growth if it's a problem. The sand or gravel will also prevent gnats from breeding in the surface layer of the soil.
After hearing all these benefits of houseplants, you might be eager to head to the nursery or your local home and garden supply store.
Here's are a list of 10 plants to consider for keeping indoor air clean when you go to the store. (The accompanying table gives Wolverton's score for how well these plants remove air pollutants.)
General care: All these plants enjoy day temperatures of 60 to 75 degrees F,
night temperatures of 55 to 68 degrees unless otherwise noted they will usually tolerate slightly higher temperatures if the humidity is not too low.
The best place for these plants is near a window where they will receive indirect light but no direct sunlight on their leaves.
Feed the plants with a standard houseplant fertilizer according to the instructions, and periodically remove dust from their leaves to maximize the plants' air purification ability.
Repot your houseplants with fresh commercial potting soil every year or two,
and move them to larger pots or divide them if they become root-bound.
-- Boston fern (Nephrolepsis exaltata "Bostoniensis"): You've probably seen the graceful Boston fern growing in hanging pots this fern ranked No. 1 in the rate of removal of formaldehyde from the air.
If you've tried the delicate maidenhair fern and failed, try the Boston fern or "Kimberley Queen" fern (see below) instead. They both tolerate lower humidity than the maidenhair, but you should never let the soil dry out.
The Boston fern grows to about 3 feet. The "Compacta" variety stays slightly smaller and is another good choice if you can find it.
-- Kimberley Queen fern (Nephrolepsis obliterata "Kimberley Queen"): This fern ranks nearly as high as the Boston fern for removing formaldehyde, and it tolerates typical indoor low humidity even better than the Boston fern.
It grows more upright than the Boston fern and is a terrific houseplant. A similar selection is "Western Queen."
-- Peace lily (Spathiphyllum): The peace lily is one of the easiest houseplants to grow and one of the most attractive as well. It grows 2 to 3 feet tall and produces white flowers that resemble calla lilies.
The peace lily can grow in low light, but it will flower more if it has brighter light. Keep the soil moist but not soggy.
The peace lily is more resistant to root rot than many houseplants if you have a tendency to overwater, this is a good plant for you to try.
Peace lily droops dramatically if it gets too dry, but it will revive if you immerse the pot in a bowl of water until the soil is saturated. The peace lily excels at removing many kinds of air pollutants, including formaldehyde.
-- Areca palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens or Dypsis lutescens): Wolverton ranked this plant very high because of its combination of attractiveness, ease of care and rate of removal of air pollutants. The areca palm's main drawback is that it grows fairly quickly to 6 feet tall or more.
If you have space for it, keep the soil damp but not wet, and give it bright indirect light. If the areca palm is too large for you, try the peace lily or "Kimberley Queen" fern for smaller plants that are just as attractive and even better at removing formaldehyde. For a smaller palm, try the parlor palm.
-- Parlor palm (Chamaedorea elegans or Neanthe bella): The parlor palm is a popular houseplant because it is very graceful, easy to grow, and smaller than other palms.
It usually grows to a maximum of 3 or 4 feet tall. It tolerates low light and fairly warm indoor temperatures.
The miniature variety "Bella" is very popular. The only drawback is that the parlor palm is not as good at removing air pollutants as many of the other plants listed here.
If you have space for a large palm and want a better air purifier than the parlor palm, consider the areca palm or the bamboo palm. The 6-foot bamboo palm, Chamaedorea seifrizii, is easy to grow and is very effective at removing air pollutants.
-- Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina): This is the most common ficus sold in home and garden centers. It is a beautiful plant, growing 6 to 8 feet tall, and it ranks very high in the ability to remove air pollutants.
Unfortunately, weeping fig has a tendency to lose leaves whenever it is moved from one location to another or whenever growing conditions change. It likes plenty of light, but no direct sun. Let the soil become slightly dry between watering.
If you love the look of ficus but have no luck with weeping fig, you might try Ficus "Alii" (see below).
-- Ficus alii (Ficus macleilandii "Alii" or Ficus binnendijkii "Alii): This ficus is considerably easier to grow than the more common Ficus benjamina it is much less susceptible to episodes of leaf drop.
"Alii" is very attractive and excellent at removing air pollutants. It grows as tall as 6 to 8 feet with slightly larger leaves and a more weeping habit than Ficus benjamina.
Like Ficus benjamina, "Alii" is available in three forms: with a single main trunk, with multiple main trunks, or with the main trunks braided together.
Give it lots of indirect light and let it go dry between watering (be careful not to overwater ficus).
-- Dumb cane (Dieffenbachia "Exotica Compacta"): Dieffenbachia is grown for its striking variegated foliage. It is a tough plant that is easy to grow, tolerates a fairly wide range of temperatures, and is very good at removing air pollutants.
The popular selection "Exotica Compacta" only reaches 2 feet tall and has green-edged leaves with creamy white variegation.
Give dieffenbachia fast-draining soil and bright indirect light. You can rejuvenate a leggy old plant by cutting it back fairly hard (as short as 6 inches above the soil) the plant will quickly produce new growth.
The leaves of dieffenbachia are toxic if eaten, so it's not a good choice for a spot where toddlers or pets might chew on it.
-- Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema "Silver Queen"): The Chinese evergreen is a great choice if you have low light conditions it tolerates lower light than most other houseplants and is easy to grow.
Many varieties have showy variegated foliage but cannot tolerate temperatures below 55 degrees. "Silver Queen" and "Silver King" are heavily marked with silver, "Maria" is marked with bands of grayish green, and "Emerald Star" is splashed with gold.
Chinese evergreen grows slowly to a maximum of 2 or 3 feet tall. Give it rich but porous soil that is moist but not soggy.
Chinese evergreen is not as good at removing air pollutants as some of the other plants listed here, but it is useful for low light conditions and for brightening up a room with its showy foliage.
Plants make any space more inviting, and knowing they’re doing double duty by scrubbing the air makes them even more attractive. My home is filled with plants, and I don’t begrudge the time I spend each week caring for them because I know they’re keeping my family healthy.
Again, any plant is going to help improve your home’s indoor air, but the species listed above go above and beyond when it comes to certain chemicals. Other plants, such as the Rubber Plant, Golden Pothos, Aloe Vera, Snake Plant, Red Edged Dracaena, and Weeping Fig, are also highly efficient scrubbers.
What else do you do to keep your indoor space fresh and clean?