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Plantidote of the Day 2010-11-30

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Snake plant

Want to minimize your exposure to environmental pollution? Get some plants for your home and/or office. Seriously, plants are not just nice decorative accessories; they're also powerful air cleaners, capable of eliminating formaldehyde, benzene and other pollutants that accumulate in indoor environments, especially tightly sealed spaces, like office buildings.

A simple sansevieria, like the one shown here, is a good choice, and so are English ivy, different varieties of ficus, dracaenas, philodendrons and Gerbera daisies, to name a few. These are some of the plants NASA researcher B.C. Wolverton deemed effective when studying plants' abilities to clean indoor air for the space agency. (NASA officials were interested in plants as a possible method of providing space station residents with a clean air supply.)

The number of plants required to clean the air depends on the size of the space. According to the University of Minnesota Extension Horticulture Department:

The NASA studies generated the recommendation that you use 15 to 18 good-sized houseplants in 6 to 8-inch diameter containers to improve air quality in an average 1,800 square foot house. The more vigorously they grow, the better job they'll do for you.

The research is fascinating and if you want to read more about it, some links to get you started are here, here and here. As you'll see, each plant list is a little different, although I'm not sure why. A few years ago, I interviewed a horticulturist about air cleaning plants, and he thought any plant would be helpful for simple air filtration. If there's a specific pollutant you're dealing with, however, check out Wolverton's research; he did identify certain plants that were better than others at eliminating particular gases. But if you just want to clear the air and bring a little of the great outdoors inside, plants can be your best friends.

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Readers, please send twig ( images and stories for the ongoing Plantidote of the Day series. In exchange, you'll win undying fame in the form of a hat tip! Plants growing in your garden, your house, or neighbor's yard, plants from the forest or farmers' market, plants you preserved, plants you prepared (wine; cider; tea; dried beans), plants you harvested (grains; chantrelles), plants you picked (flowers), plants you dried (herbs), plants you covet or hope to grow someday. Herbal remedies, propagation tips, new varieties, etc.. And if you can, include some solid detail about the plant, too -- a story, the genus and species, or where you got the seeds, or the recipe, or your grandmother gave it to you. Or challenge us with a "Name That Plant" mystery entry ... And please feel free to add corrections and additional information in the comments.

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