Early botanical explorers who foraged for plant specimens across the globe popularized the notion of bringing tropical plants indoors. But these collected plant treasures only really benefitted monarchs, nurseries and wealthy patrons.

During the nineteenth century, houseplants became a home remedy for bad air in industrialized cities. Palms and hardy ferns moved from the conservatory to the parlor due to a growing urban middle-class and the invention of the electric light and centralized home heating.

The tropical and exotic became fashionable, even in rural areas, where flowering houseplants brought cheer during dreary winters. Many of the houseplants that were popular back then are still popular today, not only due to ease of care, but for a growing list of human health benefits.

Experiments studying the therapeutic value of houseplants have been conducted in settings such as home, school, workplace, hospital and nursing home. Although the research is still somewhat limited, direct contact with plants has been proven to:

  • Improve air quality
  • Speed healing
  • Improve memory, mental engagement and attentiveness
  • Improve work performance
  • Mitigate stress by lowering blood pressure and heart rate
  • Provide physiological relaxation effects

Nature Therapy and Biophilia

The idea that contact with nature promotes health is not a new one. The biophilia hypothesis presents an evolutionary explanation, contending that nature is calming in the present day due to its correlation to human survival in the past. Biologist Edward O. Wilson’s Pultizer Prize-winning book, Biophilia, popularized this notion.

Today, building, landscape, interiorscaping and architectural designers incorporate biophilic design principles into constructing modern buildings. Plants are prominently featured in the work of biophilic designers, as they provide direct experience with nature.

Houseplant Experiments

Perhaps the most well-known experiments concerning houseplants and health are those of Dr. B.C. “Bill” Wolverton for the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA). The government funded these studies anticipating the need to control indoor air pollutants in enclosed space environments.

While it is common knowledge that plants remove carbon dioxide from the air, Wolverton found that many common houseplants also purify the air by removing volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) such as formaldehyde, xylene, ammonia and acetone.

Research into the use of houseplants to improve air quality continues and corroborates the earlier NASA findings. Air-cleaning houseplants can be helpful in controlling emissions from modern materials and remediating air quality issues in new and remodeled buildings, thus improving respiratory health.

A wide variety of houseplants have been tested in air quality experiments. Some of those rating best for their air-cleaning properties include Japanese royal fern (Osmunda japonica), Boston fern (Nephrolepsisexaltata ‘Bostoniensis’), Bamboo palm (Chamaedoreaseifrizii), Rubber plant (Ficusrobusta) and English ivy (Hedera helix).

Plants Mean Customer Satisfaction

The use of live plants in interior spaces has not gone unnoticed in industries where customer and worker satisfaction are key. Hoteliers are investing in biophilic enhancements in lobbies, bars, and restaurants, where these elements have proven to reduce stress, boredom and fatigue while creating a perception of comfort and safety.

Adding houseplants to indoor environments where people live, work, and play can truly improve health and well-being. It should be clear that a daily “dose” of indoor plants are really good for you!