We spend a staggering amount of time indoors. Reports vary, but some studies suggest that we live up to three quarters of our lives inside. Of course, this isn’t meant to be the case. As a species, we’ve evolved alongside nature, and being stuck indoors all the time disrupts that balance. Unfortunately, though, we don’t all have time to take long walks in the woods whenever we feel like it. But thankfully, studies have shown that simply adding a houseplant to your home can have enormous benefits for one’s mental and physical health.
The benefits of houseplants
One oft-cited study, published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology, set out to explore how houseplants can help us cope with the stresses of modern life. In the experiment, a group of young men were given one of two tasks. One group were to work on a computer problem, while the other set about transplanting a houseplant into a new pot, before switching over. The study found that active interaction with the plant actively helped to lower heart-rate variability and blood pressure, two physical symptoms of stress. Of course, unless you're particularly green-fingered, it's unlikely that you would interact with a plant every day. That being said, evidence from numerous other studies suggests that just the presence of plants is enough to reduce stress levels by a fair amount.
This makes plants perfect for an office environment, as it will help prevent staff from feeling overworked. What's more, other studies have also suggested it can boost productivity. This is especially true in windowless offices, where they can help offset the lack of natural light. Coupled with a brighter mood, this can end up making a huge difference. Best of all, there seem to be no negative effects from having houseplants around. Even those with allergies and delicate skin reported little to no skin and respiratory irritation.
Can houseplants really improve air quality?
Some also believe that houseplants can help to boost oxygen levels and reduce the level of pollutants inside the home. Dig deeper into this area, though, and you'll find it's a hotbed for scientific debate. On the one hand, many rally around a NASA study from 1989. This examined ways of maintaining high air quality during lengthy stays on space stations. This study found that a number of common houseplants, including rubber plants, aloe vera, and especially ferns, all increased oxygen levels significantly. At the same time, these plants also removed benzene and formaldehyde from the air around them. It also recommends at least one plant for every 100 square feet of floor space in the home or office.
However, not everyone agrees with these findings. For one thing, a space station isn’t exactly an ordinary environment. In fact, it's about as far as you can get from the average home or office. What’s more, the plants were studied under lab conditions. In most homes, houseplants are lucky to get the bare minimum required sunlight. If you've struggled to keep plants alive in the past, this is probably the reason why.
But even within a scientific context, the NASA study was undertaken in very precise circumstances. Not only is the atmosphere artificial, but there's also the lack of gravity to consider. Even the fixtures and fittings are made from materials specially designed for outer-space conditions. The few attempts to replicate the findings back on Earth have thrown up inconclusive results. The scant evidence suggests that you'd need a lot more than one plant to properly purify a room.
A natural feature piece for your living room
One thing is for certain, though- the right houseplant can certainly cheer up a room. For one thing, larger specimens make for a beautiful feature piece. Set against dark greys and warm browns, they really stand out. Pair it with the perfect pot, and you're on to a winner. There’s also a surprising amount of variety amongst houseplants, with many different shapes and textures to choose from. Whether it’s a leafy fern, some gently curving bamboo, or even a couple of cacti, there’s a houseplant to suit all tastes. Some are more challenging than others, but with a little loving care, most potted plants should survive perfectly well indoors.
If you feel like going all-in on a houseplant, then a bonsai tree is perfect. They take quite a bit more nurturing than other species, but there’s nothing quite like seeing your little sapling grow into a flourishing shrub. The time and effort involved in growing a bonsai also means one is more actively engaged with it. As you’ll remember from earlier, this helps unlock the full benefits a houseplant can bring. On the other hand, beginners might like to start out with a cactus or two. Not only are these incredibly easy to look after, but cacti are extremely on-trend right now. You can find cactus-print patterns in virtually every homeware chain in the country- so what better time to invest in the real thing?
Whatever type of plant you choose, be sure to place it somewhere with lots of light. This is particularly important for smaller plants, which have a smaller surface area with which to soak up sunlight. Larger plants can be placed a little further from windows, but they will need to be watered more often. So long as you take good care of them, though, you should find that your new houseplant will grow and thrive- and you'll feel better for it, too!