The moment I set foot here, I have rued the compulsion of indoor heating and air conditioning through out the year. Being used to living in an environment close to nature, I could not fathom the fascination the West has with closed doors. Of course India, being so polluted, could not bring fresh air indoors. Yet, the breeze coming through open windows was always a welcome sensation.
Come winter and the heater is turned on and windows shut tight to eliminate any cold drafts. You look forward to spring, only to be reminded of pollen and dust allergens, and you realize, after living all these years in India, you have suddenly become prone to “allergies.”
Surely, summer won’t be as bad, you think—only to realize your fascination with air conditioning, and you begin to develop chronic amnesia about the warm and sultry confines of your homeland India. As a result, after a few years in the U.S., you forget windows can be opened and you become more prone to viruses as a result of staying indoors in a conditioned environment. Nowadays, this is the problem all over the world, with our increasing dependency on conditioned air.
How Houseplants Help
But there is hope for all those who yearn for some fresh air within the confines of home and office. This relief comes in the form of investing in some low cost, low maintenance, yet, aesthetically beautiful houseplants.
Commonly, bypassed by many, they adorn homes and offices, and bring in a breath of fresh air indoors.
They are a boon to have in times of low humidity during winter months, when all are reeling under the drying effects of indoor heating and falling prey to colds, viruses, and allergens. And high humidity in the summer increases mold and dust mites by 75 percent, making us vulnerable to diseases. People are generally comfortable in homes with humidity between 30-60 perecent. Humidity below 30 pecent can cause dryness in nose and throat, and humidity over 60 percent will make the air feel sticky.
Indoor plants help stabilize humidity by reducing their levels of transpiration during humid summers and, conversely, increasing the rate of transpiration in times of low humidity as in winter, thus, producing a healthy and microbial-free air with the right levels of moisture.
Humans and animals inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. Plants use carbon dioxide to create food for them while releasing oxygen in the air. At night, plants use oxygen in the air and give out carbon dioxide. The amount of this carbon dioxide is much less than what we are exposed to while sleeping with another person in the same room. We benefit more from the fresh supply of oxygen released by plants during the day than the small amount of carbon dioxide released at night.
Our need and dependency on modern gadgets and varied modern inventions has come with a not-so-needed add-on of releasing toxins and chemicals into the air we breathe, such as formaldehyde, benzene, and carbon monoxide to name a few. Fumes from these chemicals can contribute to “sick-building syndrome”; the occurrence of acute health and comfort problems experienced by the occupants of a building with higher-than-average levels of these toxins.
Houseplants come handy in the removal of these toxins, because the leaves absorb chemicals in the air and transport them inside the plant tissue and down to the roots.
According to NASA, “One potted plant per 100 square feet of floor space can help clean the air in the average home or office, although the addition of more plants would increase the rate of pollutant removal.”
Due to these positive benefits, plants can increase productivity at work, lower levels of stress, and there have even been reports of plants improving vision—a result of looking at the colors and beauty of the plant.
The following is a list of plants beneficial in any environment, but more so where there is a dearth of fresh air, such as the indoors: areca palm, Boston fern; dracaena; English ivy; peace lily, rubber plant, weeping fig, heart leaf philodendron, schefflera, spider plant, golden pothos (or money plant, as we call it in India), mother-in-law’s tongue, Chinese evergreen, dumb cane, and arrowhead vine.
Low in maintenance and with many advantages, these unobtrusive friends need some space in our lives. As a result, we reap the benefits of cleaner, fresher air, a relaxing environment, lush green foliage, beautiful interiors, and a proximity to nature once again in the midst of our urban rat race.
Dinny Gujral is a teacher at the Atlanta School, and also teaches in Hindi Vihar (a school run by the Indian Cultural Foundation of America) in Cumming, Ga.