Wednesday, June 10, 2009

House Plants, Friend or Foe?

I love indoor plants. If I walk into a person's house and they have a lot of plants, I immediately feel comfortable. Plants make a space feel so much more warm and alive. In our house, if the room has a window, the room has a plant. But that wasn't always the case.

Growing up we didn't have many plants in our home. My mom worked full time, and it wasn't until she retired that she became more plant savvy. In fact, she considered herself to have black thumbs up until recently. I thought black thumbs were hereditary, and didn't feel able to raise a plant on my own until I went to college. One of my roommates, Kate, had a collection of over 20 house plants. She went on a six month road trip and asked me to care for her little green friends. I was nervous at first, but soon realized that water and partial sun was all they needed to thrive. I only lost one plant during the winter, and soon thereafter began my own plant family.

Right now I have 13 plants indoors and about 25 on my porches. Does that make me a crazy plant lady? I hope so. It can take me up to a half an hour to water them all. Each plant has its own personality, some sit solid all juicy and succulent, some reach to the sky, poky and prickly, some are loose and wild leafy vines, others are tall and stoic like little trees. Each one is a living thing, not just a piece of decor that requires more upkeep. It may sound strange, but each plant is such a thoughtful presence, and I can't imagine my life without them in it.

Lil' Bit's presence in our home has changed our house plant dynamic. The once seemingly innocent plants now have taken on a more ominous presence, thanks to Lil' Bit's oral fixation. The other day Lil' Bit let out a weird cough. I was cleaning the kitchen as she played on the floor and at first I just thought she was just clearing her throat. Then she let out another one. My mommy alert radar went off and I put down the sponge and went to her. She turned red and her eyes began to water. My heart was racing. There is nothing worse than watching a baby choke when you don't know what it is in her throat. She was still coughing, so I knew that she could get it up, so I just picked her up and began patting her back. After a terrifying 30 seconds, Lil' Bit hacked up a random dead leaf.

Prior to this episode I had never considered any of our house plants as being edible. I purchased each one solely for aesthetic purposes, and don't even know the names of half of them. This experience with Lil' Bit made me think about the fact that there is a good chance that some of them could be poisonous. I did a little research, and sure enough...some of my chlorophyllcomrades are lethal. Here is a list of five common household plants that are toxic:
  1. Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum): The sap of this diplomatic plant is dangerous.
  2. English Ivies (Hedra spp): Be wary of the sap and seeds of this vine.
  3. Crotons (Codiaeum sp): The brightly colored leaves and sap are sickly.
  4. Caladium (all species): This innocuous little leafy plant is trouble...all parts of it.
  5. Snake Plant (Sanseveria): The tall variegated leaves and sap of this plant are venomous.
The more I began to think about my house plants, I began to wonder what kind of science was out there concerning indoor plants. Turns out there are all kinds of studies that show the benefits of having plants indoors. For example, while some plants are toxic, others remove toxins. NASA recently did a study and found that there are a number of common indoor plants that are amazingly useful in absorbing indoor pollutants such as formaldehyde, VOCs, carbon monoxide, as well as other toxins that can make us sick. The top five plants that create cleaner air indoors are:
  1. Areca Palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens): Also known as the "Butterfly Palm."
  2. Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa): This species is one of the easiest palms to grow.
  3. Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii): Also known as the "Reed Palm."
  4. Rubber Plant (Ficus robusta): Grows great indoors, and can get up to 8' tall.
  5. Dracaena "Janet Craig" (Dracaena deremensis): Easy to grow and love bright light.
There are also plants that are great for healing. A number of studies done in the past few years show that having plants in a room decreases the stress levels of the people inhabiting them, as well as increases their creativity. Aside from benefiting from the mere presence of a plant, there are many that can be used for their healing properties. I am fair and freckly, and living in Florida it is a miserable combination. I always have an aloe plant on hand to help with the inevitable sunburn. It lives in my bathroom window. Here is a list of four other plants that do well indoors, that have healing properties.
  1. Mint: Mint grows like a weed and its leaves make a wonderful cure for tummy aches.
  2. Yarrow: This plant likes full sun and it is used to treat fevers and chest congestion.
  3. Lemon Balm: A tea made from lemon balm leaves is a great stress reliever.
  4. Sage: This is a great culinary herb that when gargled as a tea can soothe sore throats.
I am really tempted to get rid of all of my decorative plants and go totally functional. But I honestly can't bare to do it. Some of these plants have traveled with me from house to house over the years, and in a lot of ways they make a new place feel like home. We have history together...and they may just be eye candy, but even bimbo plants have feelings too.

Good Life Quest # 4 / Pick a Plant
Find a room in your home that has a window, but does not have a plant. Go to your local nursery, or root around outside of your house, and find a plant you would like to invite to live with you. Adopt the plant, bring it home. Put it in a nice pot, thrift stores are great places to find cheap planters. Set it near the window and give it a good drink. Does the room feel better than it did before?


Marcy Gordon said...

How are the plants I left doing?

Nan said...

They have assimilated well with the other plants, although I thought the alligator aloe and the money tree were gonna have it out in the kitchen...but things have seemed to have settled down a bit. They are all fantastic!