It goes without a doubt that the time we spend indoors is increasing.
Technology has allowed us to remain connected with our loved ones across the globe from the very comfort of our home. We no longer need to venture outside to find entertainment if it is as easy as turning on your WiFi router.
Now, most of our jobs are located inside a confined space of an office building.
At the time of writing, the current event of the COVID-19 pandemic saw many Kiwis remain at home to eradicate this virus, emphasising the increasing time spent at home.
With all that indoor time increasing, here is one item you can get to improve your living space – be it work or home. That one item I got to improve my indoor spaces for home and work is an indoor plant – the humble peace lily.
If you have a peace lily, then that is excellent! Please continue to read this and you will see why having a peace lily is an excellent addition to the home or office. The benefits can be seen with better air quality but also psychological improvements.
You will also see the peace lily – which falls under the genus of Spathiphyllum with a variety of species existing under this genus – how it is an easy plant to maintain.
As a disclaimer, this is just general opinion and advice. Please perform the research to see how it can affect your current living situation, and seek professional opinion if possible.
Indoor Plant Air Purification
In 1989, the United States Federal Government’s agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), conducted a study on several indoor plants and how they can improve the air quality in an indoor space.
The 1970s saw an energy crisis, which meant that businesses had to make their office spaces more efficient in order to reduce costs in lighting, and temperature control.
However in the effort to save on utilities, it was found that the modern furnishing required for efficiency released undetectable traces of volatile chemicals into the air.
These chemicals made workers fall ill. This phenomenon was termed ‘sick building syndrome’.
To combat against this, a complicated technology would have to be developed to reduce these chemicals in the air. With cost-cutting in mind, would this be the most economic option?
An alternative to expensive innovation often is our inclination to observe nature. What we find is an inexpensive alternative to our problem: the indoor plant.
Biological taxonomy is used to classify all known living organisms, from the animals that roam the African plains to the bacteria that exist on a Petri dish.
Plants exist under the biological kingdom of Plantae.
The most relevant characteristic of Plantae to this article is the ability to photosynthesise.
Photosynthesis is the chemical reaction that involves taking the energy from the sun and turning water and carbon dioxide (CO2) into a unit of storable energy, glucose, and releasing oxygen (O2) in exchange.
Most other living organisms require oxygen to survive, including us as humans. Oxygen is required in respiration, which turns glucose into energy in order for our bodily functions to work.
Therefore, plants are important in maintaining the sensitive balance of life on earth.
They also act as natural air purifiers, and we see why in this NASA study.
In this study, a number of indoor plants of different varieties were used to test its ability to reduce the pollutants known to cause ‘sick building syndrome’: benzene, trichloroethylene, formaldehyde – volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
The key findings of the NASA study: Indoor plants not only increased oxygen in the air but also reduced the amount of VOCs as well.
Notably, the peace lily was able to do this particularly well with most of the types of VOCs.
How Indoor Plants Filter the Air
There are a number of complex mechanisms at play that filter these harmful VOCs.
One mechanism involves passage through the stomata. Stomata are microscopic pores located on the leaves of the plant. The leaves of the plant are required to not only absorb sunlight required for photosynthesis, but they also act as the sights in which photosynthesis takes place.
The carbon dioxide required for photosynthesis enters the plant through the stomata. In the case of VOCs, they also enter this route.
Another mechanism involves the plant’s roots. The roots of the plant are responsible for providing anchorage for the plant. The root also also absorbs water and nutrients from the soil that it is embedded.
The root and surrounding soil also contains microbes (bacteria and fungi) as well as activated carbon. This allows for absorption and breakdown of these VOCs, which get turned into building blocks that eventually make up the plant1.
We can understand that these mechanisms help reduce the harmful compounds, purifying the air we breathe.
The Dangers of Ozone
To labour this point a bit more. Another study looked at ozone (O3) with indoor plants2. Peace Lily did not perform as well, and this is why it can be good to have a slight variety.
The Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) was found to remove ozone effectively3.
We know that the depletion of ozone at the ozone layer is responsible for climate change.
Ozone normally exists in the stratosphere. The stratosphere marks the boundary between the atmosphere and the boundary of space4.
Ozone is important as it absorbs harmful ultraviolet type-C (UV-C; short-wave) light and 90% of ultraviolet type-B (UV-B; long-wave) light before it enters the Earth’s atmosphere and approaches us. I have discussed this in my previous article about the blue light affects eye health.
The formation of O3 in the stratosphere involves a two-step process. This process in itself results in its UV blocking ability5.
- An oxygen molecule (O2) absorbs UV-C, causing the molecule to split into two reactive atomic oxygens (oxygen free-radical, O·), and O· combines with O2 to form O3
- O3 absorbs UV-B resulting in the formation of more O2 and the cycle repeats
We can see that ozone in its formation protects us from harmful UV light.
However, if ozone were at the level we breathe, this would result in negative health effects such as problems with breathing due to ozone’s strong oxidant characteristics.
You might notice that it should be impossible for ozone to form at the level we breathe since there is no UV-C light to create oxygen free-radicals, which in turn create ozone.
So, how does the Ozone form in this case? Air pollutants.
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is an example of an air pollutant common in the burning of fossil fuels6. Sunlight, not specifically just UV-C, results in the formation of an oxygen free-radical from NO2, and this oxygen free-radical is able to react with O2 to create ozone at the level we breathe.
Eliminating pollution can stop our exposure to ozone in the air we breathe. But the indoor plant can help improve quality also.
Improved Psychological Benefits
The benefits of indoor plants do not stop at improving air quality. There is also improvement in productivity and creativity – the actual work you do.
One small advantage but an advantage nonetheless is reduced stress. Reduced stress can be measured in less sick leave and improvement in productivity7.
This could be due to the presence of the plant reducing stress as well as the purification offered by the plant.
There is further evidence that actively interacting with plants could reduce stress8. This active interaction involved transferring the plant to another pot when it was studied. But this could translate to the office, where tending for the plant can reduce stress9.
Being in nature is able to improve memory retention12, so by having indoor plants nearby, you are bringing nature to you in your workplace and at home.
The psychological benefits indoor plants on the human mind can both be established at home as well as in the office for work.
Looking After your Peace Lily
Hopefully, by now you should be sold on a peace lily’s benefit for health and mind benefits. But you might be wondering if it is difficult to take care of your peace lily.
I can tell you: The peace lily requires little attention.
It is important to keep the soil and roots moist. This can be done by watering once a week and a little bit more frequently over the summer period. Try not to over water your peace lily at the same time.
The water you use can be important, so try and use water at room temperature and free from fluoride or chlorine. You can leave water from the tap in a jug out for 24 hours to remove the majority of chlorine13
Keep the peace lily in an area that is free from direct sunlight. The peace lily can survive in low-light conditions.
Quick release fertilser should be used once a year.
Repotting should be done to prevent the peace lily becoming root-bound. Repotting involves using potting mix and a pot that is slightly bigger by 1-3 cm in diameter14. This is done infrequently over a number of years.
Please note that the peace lily is toxic if consumed. It contains calcium oxalate, which is found in kidney stones, so it is important to keep the plant out of reach from young children and pets.
Indoor plants have numerous benefits psychologically and to our health.
This is becoming more important as our time indoors is increasing thanks to the advent of technology, which has the ability to keep us entertained and connected at home.
Indoor plants like the peace lily are able to filter out harmful air pollutants and only just increase the amount of oxygen in the air.
Not only do plants offer better air quality, they also provide improved psychological benefits such as decreased stress and improved creativity and productivity.
Indoor plants like the peace lily are easy to maintain, and they become an inexpensive addition to the household.
- Air purification by house plants
- Effectiveness of indoor plants for passive removal of indoor ozone
- Role of Plants in Indoor Air Remediation
- Studying Earth’s Environment From Space – Stratospheric Ozone
- Messages from Space – The Ozone Hole From Space: How does ozone absorb UV light?
- Nitrogen dioxide | Ministry of the Environment NZ
- Psychological Benefits of Indoor Plants in Workplaces: Putting Experimental Results into Context
- Interaction with indoor plants may reduce psychological and physiological stress by suppressing autonomic nervous system activity in young adults: a randomized crossover study
- Plants can improve your work life: The mere sight of an indoor plant can reduce stress
- Fertile Green: Green Facilitates Creative Performance
- Nature, place and the creative class: Three Canadian case studies
- Interacting with Nature Improves Cognition and Affect for Individuals with Depression
- How To Remove Chlorine From Water (5 Ways) – Sensible Digs
- Repotting Peace Lily Houseplants: Does My Peace Lily Need A New Pot