For those who work in grey, lifeless offices filled with the hum of different technology and overhead strip lighting, it will come as no surprise to learn that these environments are dangerous for human health. However, by just introducing a few common house plants, it is possible to improve the air quality and create a more refreshing and relaxing work environment.
As long ago as 1989, NASA conducted a study on house plants to ascertain which species most effectively filtered and purified indoor air. The average urban office is likely to have high levels of pollutants in the atmosphere; either the windows cannot be opened, trapping all the emissions from the various machines within the office, or, if the windows can be opened, indoor pollutants are exchanged for external ones, such as vehicle exhaust fumes.
The worst offenders as regards pollutants in the air are trichloroethylene, xylene, formaldehyde, ammonia and benzene, which can variously cause symptoms from a relatively innocuous irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, to the more severe nausea, dizziness and fainting with prolonged and massive exposure. These may sound like dangerous industrial chemicals, but they are found in everyday items, including some cleaning agents, printing inks, paint, exhaust fumes and even paper towels and tissues.
What to Plant
A few well-placed plants on a desk and around the office can go a long way towards creating improved air quality, as well as giving everyone some greenery on which to rest their eyes. The best plants to choose are as follows.
Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema modestum)
This is an evergreen plant, native to the tropical rainforests and swamps of southeastern Asia. It has waxy green leaves, and may occasionally produce a white or yellow flower, followed by orange or red berries. It prefers a shady spot, as direct sunlight can scorch its leaves.
Tail Flower (Anthurium andraeanum)
This is an evergreen perennial, with large, simple leaves and a distinctive bright red and yellow spiked flower. It originates from South America, particularly Colombia and Ecuador, and prefers a constant temperature and high humidity. It should be watered regularly, with the use of a liquid fertiliser.
Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii)
This indoor palm easily adapts to any environment and is native to Mexico and Central America. It grows very slowly and has delicate, lacy leaves, which should be trimmed off if they die. They prefer bright light and humid air, which can be sustained by standing their pots on a bed of pebbles.
Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
This is a favourite plant for novice gardeners, as it is easy to grow, maintain and is virtually indestructible. There are nearly 200 different varieties, and they are often used as a part of a display in hanging baskets. They need very little light, and consistent temperature, and will tolerate any type of soil.
Pot Mum (Chrysanthemum grandiflorum)
Ideal for containers, this is the most versatile of the species and is available in many colours, including white, red, orange and purple. They are easy to grow using rooted cuttings and require daily watering in warm conditions. They typically bloom in late summer or autumn but can be forced to flower all year round.
Madagascar Dragon Tree (Dracaena marginata)
This is easy to care for, an indoor plant, which can survive in lower light conditions, as direct sunlight will burn its leaves. Overwatering is the main reason this plant dies, as it causes the roots to rot; once every three weeks is enough. Originally from Hawaii, they prefer high temperatures and average humidity.
Benjamin Tree (Ficus benjamina)
Also known as the Java Fig, this plant can be evergreen or deciduous and has simple, leathery leaves. It has tiny flowers, quickly followed by reddish fruit which turns black. It originates in South Asia and is easy to care for, rarely suffering from any diseases. Be aware, that the leaves can cause an allergic reaction.
Barberton Daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)
This pretty pot plant is related to the familiar yellow and white daisies, but is a striking red colour, and much more prominent. Its name dates back to 1889, after the German botanist Traugott Gerber. It is one of the more challenging plants to grow indoors, as although it requires sun, it doesn’t like heat.
Common Ivy (Hedera helix)
This is an evergreen climbing plant, which has green-yellow flowers, soon followed by black berries. It originates in both Europe and Asia and can become somewhat invasive if left unattended. Its ideal for planting around the edge of containers, allowing its leaves to spill over, but be aware its sap can be irritating to the skin.
Lily Turf (Liriope)
This is an evergreen perennial, with densely packed spikes of purple flowers, followed by black berries. It originates from China, Japan and Taiwan, and can survive in most conditions, easily coping with drought. It can swamp other plants, so needs to be taken care of by pruning if necessary.
Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)
This particular fern enjoys a warm atmosphere and is easy to care for. It has graceful fronds, ideal for drooping naturally over the edge of a container. It doesn’t like draughts and is renowned for being able to soak up vast amounts of water, therefore increasing the humidity of the air around it.
Plants for the Office
All of these plants are sold commonly in garden centres, and all will filter at least one, if not several, of the pollutants from the air listed earlier. For desks with only space for one plant, choose Sansevieria or Spathiphyllum, as they are the ones that will filter all five of the worst toxins. Larger plants can also be useful for dividing up space in an office and can be a pleasant distraction in a relaxation area, taking away the stress of work. Which plants do you have in your office?