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A Breath of Fresh Air: NASA Plants

Plants are essential for life for all of us. They provide fiber, food-building material, fuel, and pharmaceuticals. Plants also decorate our homes, both inside and out, We are all taught at a young age that trees are important because they produce oxygen for us to breathe. What we aren’t taught is all the other amazing benefits plants can have on our air quality. Plants not only have the ability to absorb carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but they also improve air quality by removing harmful chemicals and toxins in our air.  Some indoor plants can eliminate Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from the indoor air. VOCs are toxic chemicals such as benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, and xylene. These toxins are emitted by our everyday household items such as furniture, carpets, common appliances, and aerosols. (floor disinfectants). By adding plants to your home or office, you can lessen the number of toxins present in the air. Plants are also natural humidifiers and can account for 10% of the moisture in the air we breathe. Large-leaf plants release more moisture, whilst plants such as succulents and cacti, release very little. This can be an easy way to keep your building humidity in check.

For thousands of years, people worldwide have grown plants in containers and brought them into their living spaces. For thousands of years, plants and gardening have also been considered suitable for people, physically, mentally, and socially, yet until recently, information about the intangible effects of plants on people was based on case studies, such as people saying working in their gardens made them feel better.

Today there are numerous scientific studies documenting the relationships between people and plants, both indoors and out. Thus, they are considered primary producers in an ecosystem. Humans have a close relationship with nature, so integrating the natural world into indoor space could effectively increase people’s engagement with nature, and this in turn may benefit their health and comfort. Since people spend 80-90% of their time indoors, the indoor environment is very important for their health. Indoor plants are part of the natural indoor environment, but their effect on the indoor environment and humans has not been quantified.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in collaboration with Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) carried out Clean Air Study and published results that provide a definitive list of plants that are most effective at purifying indoor air. Its results suggest that certain common indoor plants may provide a natural way of removing toxic agents such as benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene from the air, helping neutralize the effects of sick building syndrome. Their Clean Air study found the plants below are effective at removing benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, and ammonia from the air‚ chemicals that have been linked to health effects like headaches and eye irritation.

NASA researchers suggest efficient air cleaning is accomplished with at least one plant per 100 square feet of home or office space.  Photosynthesis and transpiration are important mechanisms for plants, and the basic functions maintaining the carbon and oxygen cycles in nature.  Formaldehyde is found in tissues, napkins, paper bags, and synthetic fabrics, among other things. Benzene is found in plastics, tobacco, smoke, glue, paint, wax, dyes, and detergents Trichloroethylene is found in paint stripper glues and inks Xylene is found in rubber leather, printing, and exhausts, Ammonia is found in floor waxes and cleaners. The right to clean air is a fundamental right. Yet we rarely ever get to breathe clean air, especially in cities. Now, buying an air purifier to clean our ambient air seems like the only wise option. The range of benefits that has been documented is broad: air quality is improved (Wood et al., 2002), stress is lowered (Dijkstra et al., 2008), recovery from illness is faster (Ulrich, 1984), mental fatigue is reduced (Tennessen and Cimprich, 1995), and productivity is higher (Lohr et al., 1996).

Wide range of positive effects of plants on people. The importance of plants is not limited to their role in meeting our physical and economic needs. Plants contribute positively to our mental health, improve our physical health, and make our communities safer.

NASA recommended plants are:







Snake plant/mother-in-law's tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata laurentii)

English ivy (Hedera helix)

Peace lily (Spathiphyllum 'Mauna Loa')

Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema modestum)

Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii)

Red-edged dracaena, marginata (Dracaena marginata)

Cornstalk dracaena, mass cane/corn cane (Dracaena fragrans 'Massangeana')

Barberton daisy, gerbera daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)

Florist's chrysanthemum, pot mum (Chrysanthemum morifolium)

Warneckei (Dracaena deremensis "Warneckei")

Here are the test results of plants recommended by NASA:

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