You don’t have to tell us that houseplants are beautiful, and that tending to them can quickly become a hobby and, for some of us, an obsession. No matter who we are or where we come from, from the smallest apartment to the most lavish sunroom, a plant makes a difference. It seems to instantly wake up a room, literally breathing life into any space and imbuing it with a strange, incomparable beauty. To make room for a little nature in our homes is to make room for the unpredictable, the tender, the wild — and it turns out it does us a world of good, because, perhaps surprisingly, there are numerous health benefits of houseplants.
When reality starts to blur after too many hours spent looking at screens, navigating traffic, and juggling priorities, a plant is a living thing that gently requires our attention, a grounding and cheerful reminder of the here and now. Nothing brings us back to the reality of time passing quite like the rhythmic mutability of nature, whether we observe flowers in the park bloom and fall with the seasons, or a new leaf unfurl on our favorite houseplant.
Perhaps the recent resurgence of interest in houseplants has a little to do with how far from the natural world our evolution has carried us. In an increasingly modernized and manmade world, can you blame us for turning our homes and offices into miniature jungles?
But why exactly do our houseplants make us feel so good? It might surprise you to discover how many subtle and mysterious ways in which our minds and bodies interact with plants, and how, in illuminating the health benefits of houseplants, science proves that our obsession is a healthy one!
Health Benefits of Houseplants
Plants improve air quality
Without plant life, human life quite simply could not exist on earth as we know it. Through their natural processes of photosynthesis and transpiration, plants produce fresh oxygen, purify the air of toxins, and raise the humidity of our world (and therefore our homes too!).
How does this work, exactly? When plants produce energy for themselves through the process of photosynthesis, they happen to helpfully convert the carbon dioxide we exhale into fresh oxygen. Respected institutions such as NASA have proven that plants absorb more than just carbon dioxide however; they have also been shown to filter dangerous toxins such as benzene, formaldehyde, and mold particles from the air.
Likewise, plants produce humidity as they transpire (sort of like we perspire), releasing the water you add to the soil through the leaves once it has travelled through the roots and stems. This moisture evaporates into the air, raising the ambient humidity of a space to a more comfortable level and helping us breathe a little easier.
It should be noted that a Nasa laboratory is different from your bedroom at home, and while plants are not quite a miracle solution for unclean air, they do help. The more plants you have (and the bigger the leaves), the more they can do for your air quality, so don’t feel too bad when you bring more home from the nursery than you planned.
Here are a few plants known to work especially well for air purification, which all happen to be exceptionally easygoing and low maintenance:
- Sansevieria (Snake Plant)
- Pothos (Devil’s Ivy)
- Dracaena (Dragon Tree)
- Spathiphyllum (Peace Lily)
- Clorophytum (Spider Plant)
Plants help us stay calm and focused
Do you have a plant for your desk yet? Studies have shown that keeping plants in our workspaces improves focus and productivity — one of many mental health benefits of houseplants. They also help alleviate stress and promote feelings of wellbeing, generally helping us feel more at home in our surroundings.
In a Washington University study, participants were significantly calmer and more productive with plants present at their workspaces than without. In another study, participants with plants in a variety of work environments were able to find more creative, innovative, and original solutions to test problems than those without.
There have even been studies that show that large plants (or large groupings of plants) can absorb and soften a surprising amount of background noise, making them especially calming presences in our offices and studios.
Plants help us heal
When you bring a friend in the hospital a bouquet of flowers or a potted plant, you’re doing more than you might think. With their cheerful bedside manner, plants encourage a meaningful appreciation for life and help us focus on the positive, an important part of any recovery. This is more than a nice thought; studies have shown that we actually heal and recover from illness and injury faster when there are plants present. Patients in one study requested fewer pain meds, had lower heart rates and blood pressure, and experienced less fatigue than patients that didn’t have plants in their recovery rooms.
Horticultural therapy is an ancient and yet increasingly popular method widely used to help people who have experienced trauma or are struggling with mental health issues. As far back as ancient Egypt, garden walks were prescribed for patients struggling with mental illness. After World Wars I and II, recovering veterans tended gardens to effectively rehabilitate their bodies and minds.
Tending to plants frees us from ourselves for a moment, focusing our attention outward and helping to improve our outlook and sharpen our cognitive abilities. Scientists are still making new discoveries about the benefits of working with plants and getting our hands dirty (literally! Science suggests a complicated interaction between bacteria in soil and our immune response that can improve our gut health and even change our brain chemistry, acting as a natural antidepressant!).
Plants keep us happy and mindful
Even if you live in an Airstream and all you have is a tiny cactus, you probably know how much a plant can become a part of your life. They move with us, sometimes for years, through different stages of our lives. Different jobs, cities, relationships. They experience growth spurts and setbacks just as we do, and sometimes must hold tight through less than ideal circumstances before getting the chance to thrive.
Tending to a living thing is an exercise in hope and gentleness; it brings a soft sense of purpose and reminds us to tune into our surroundings and stay present in the moment. Of all the health benefits of houseplants, this one is perhaps the key.
When we tend to our houseplants, we tend to ourselves too.