Living with indoor plants
Indoor plants can help soften sterile environments and may have remarkable impacts on our health, as interior designer and healthy home consultant Megan Norgate explains.
In Australia, 80 per cent of us live in urban areas, spending up to 90 per cent of our time indoors. As a result, many of us are looking for ways to bring the outdoors in.
As a design tool, plants are a multipurpose, adaptable and easily retrofittable element for the home or office. Plantscaping can be used not only for sculptural and aesthetic effect but to screen, buffer noise, filter light, purify the air and provide ambience. Recent studies also show that their place in indoor environments can have multiple benefits for our health and wellbeing.
Our survival is inextricably linked with that of the world’s trees; ‘the lungs of our planet’ capture energy from the sun’s rays and absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to produce their own chemical energy, conveniently releasing the waste product of oxygen. It’s no surprise then that photosynthesizing indoor plants are good for air quality.
But perhaps the most remarkable aspect of indoor plants is their capacity for air purification through phytoremediation. Plants can absorb and metabolise airborne contaminants such as particulate matter (fine dust), exhaust emissions and the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released from our furnishings, paints, adhesives, building materials, paper, textiles and plastics, found in high concentrations in well-sealed indoor environments. These contaminants mean most of our indoor environments are more polluted than the outdoors.
A University of Technology Sydney (UTS) study on plants and indoor air quality found that plants’ ability to remove VOCs works by a symbiotic relationship between soil and the plant; indoor contaminants are pulled into the root zone where soil microorganisms convert them into food. The researchers also found that pot size, species and light and dark did not affect the rate of removal. Carbon dioxide levels were found to be reduced by between 10 to 25 per cent and carbon monoxide by up to 90 per cent.
Lead researcher of the project and plant scientist at UTS, Dr Margaret Burchett, has no doubt that greening the ‘great indoors’ with living plants could play an important part in enabling the sustainable urban communities of the future. She says that increasing our green space indoors could improve energy efficiency through insulation and temperature control, reduce air pollution, raise spirits and work performance and improve concentration and attention span.
The study also found significant improvements in stress and negative feelings with the introduction of plant life (up to 50 and 58 per cent respectively when testing for anxiety, depression, fatigue and confusion.) “They are also a great way to bring more nature to plant-scarce cities without taking up too much space.”
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