Saturday, August 1, 2009

Indoor Plants

I had the very good fortune to hear Professor Margaret Burchett speak at a horticultural media function last night. She has spent a great deal of time at the University of Technology Sydney researching the ability of indoor plants to mop up VOCs (volatile organic compounds) from the air we breathe. Did you know that we spend 90% of our time indooors? (Well maybe avid gardeners are the exception to this rule but everyone else spends way more time indoors than many of us realise). And there is more pollution indoors because when the (already polluted) outdoor air enters a building, it mixes with pollution from indoor sources. Just about all the products in an average house or office give off VOCs - paint, particle board, carpets, plastics, synthetics etc which all contribute to 'sick building syndrome'. Prof Burchett and her fellow researchers have discovered that plants are capable of sucking out the bad stuff in the air making it better for us to breathe. And not just the plants but the microbes in the potting mix do this too - how cool is that! They tested 12 different plant species including spathiphyllums, dracaenas, sanseverias, philodendrons, palms, zamioculcas, scheffleras and epipremnum (it used to be known as pothos or devil's ivy) and found little difference between them! It seems it doesn't really matter what plant you use!
They also carried out an office study using 60 offices (half with plants and half without) and she writes in her handout "we found significant reductions in stress and overall depressive mood states with plant presence, including specific scores for tension, depression, anger, fatigue and confusion, plus increases in vigour, compared with participants without plants." This is fantastic news! Mind you us gardeners already knew that plants were doing a good job for us inside - perhaps we just didn't realise how good a job they do!

So how many plants do you need to accomplish this miracle? Studies have revealed that one large or two small plants per 30 sq m is sufficient. A large plant is a plant in a 300mm pot and a small plant is in a 200mm pot. I used to have quite a lot of indoor plants until the first child started to crawl and I had to put them out of reach and that was the beginning of the end. I'm thinking seriously of getting some more plants especially for my study which is full of materials that give off VOCs. After only a couple of hours in here I usually develop a slight headache (which yes I know maybe due to looking at the screen) but its worth a try. There is heaps more information at the website of Ambius who do a great line of indoor plants in groovy pots. Including a clip of Prof Burchett talking about this subject that is obviously very dear to her heart. Food for thought.

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