Houseplants bring many benefits to our lives, some of which are well known and others still being discovered by the scientific world.
One thing that’s certain is that the human race is hard-wired to appreciate beauty, and there’s no denying there’s something very pleasing about the architectural form of species such as the Swiss cheese plant Monstera deliciosa, the violin-shaped foliage of the fiddle leaf fig Ficus lyrata, and the intricate patterns on leaves belonging to plants such as Aglaonema ‘Silver Bay’ or the glorious colours of Croton ‘Icetone’.
Alongside beauty is the importance of the natural world to the wellbeing of all men and women: increasingly we’re spending more time in our homes – in some cases more than 85% - and if we can’t go out the most obvious thing to do is to bring in living breathing plants.
This sits closely alongside another human instinct: the need to nurture, something that the acts of watering, feeding, misting and cleaning plants is able to satisfy.
Many of these benefits are actively harnessed by horticultural therapy, which is used to increase feelings of wellbeing among people with depression, anxiety and dementia.
The impact of houseplants on our minds has been closely examined by several studies, which have looked at their ability to reduce stress, boost creativity, focus and productivity and even help hospital patients get better more quickly.
A study carried out by researchers at Chiba University and published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology looked at the heart rates and blood pressures of young men when carrying out computer tasks compared with when they interacted with plants and concluded that the latter promoted ‘comfortable, soothed and natural feelings’.
Surveys of Amazon employees in the US and India found that people with houseplants in their work environments reported greater feelings of job satisfaction, while research by the University of Exeter at the 2013 RHS Chelsea Flower Show found that offices enhanced with plants increased creativity by 45% and boosted productivity by 38%.
Elsewhere Kansas State University found that many hospital patients with houseplants in their rooms got better more quickly.
The area plant interactions on human life that’s of particular interest to scientists is whether they can affect air quality.
The ability of leaves to take in carbon dioxide and turn it into oxygen using photosynthesis is without question.
But the ability of houseplants to actually scrub the air of contaminants has long excited the interest of scientists, with NASA leading the way as early as the 1980s when it examined the effect they had within sealed capsules in space.
While subsequent studies have raised questions over the number of plants needed to have a marked effect, most agree that the effectiveness of certain types when it comes to removing volatile organic compounds such as toluene, benzene and xylene – shed by some furnishings and cleaning products - are worth further research. Those thought to be particularly effective include the peace lily Spathiphyllum, sword fern Nephrolepis exaltata and various types of dragon tree Dracaena.
Other air-related benefits include the lack of flowers, and therefore pollen, among many houseplants, although hayfever and asthma sufferers would need to mindful of the possibility of air-borne fungus and mould.
Houseplants have been undergoing something of a revival over recent years, with Millennials regularly taking to their Instagram accounts to show off their latest leafy looks, but it would appear that these living and breathing pots of joy are lots more than a pretty face.