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Plants From Space: How NASA Helped Us Go Green

  • By Tricia Rich
  • 5th March 2015
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As part of our efforts to make Free Word more environmental friendly, we wanted to buy a lot of plants. But where to start? Tricia Rich explains how NASA, of all people, came to our rescue.

NASA lists English Ivy as the number one best houseplant for filtering the air.

Hang on, NASA? The National Aeronautical and Space Administration, the people who build rockets and shoot them into space, who go to the moon, study our stars and take pictures like this and this, those very same people have taken time out of their lives to see which plants best clean our air?

Why? Are there plants in space?

Well yes, a quick Google does tell me that there are in fact plants in space. Not in a ‘life on another planet’ kind of way (not yet anyway), but in a ‘refreshing the air for astronauts cooped up in a space ship’ kind of way. Who knew?

Now I’m not writing this just to tell you how amazing it is that there are actually plants in space (it is amazing, but probably less so than actual human beings in space, after all). No, what I’m interested in is the list itself. The list of plants that best help clean our air.

At Free Word, we’ve been exploring ways that we, as a small London-based arts organisation, can be green, or at least greener. We all care deeply about our planet and so we want to see what small things we can do in big the face of climate change.

And one of the small things we thought we could do is get some damn nice plants.

Plants, as Mr Finch my biology teacher taught me, turn our expelled carbon dioxide into oxygen: they are the original recyclers, taking our rubbish and making it useful again. They are also excellent at getting rid of bad smells and other toxins in the air – making the air we breathe nicer.

We have a lovely bright foyer here at Free Word, with big windows which would be a perfect place for a few lovely plants – but we had no idea which ones we should get. That’s how we found NASA’s list – and lists here and here, that told me which plants do the best for the air we breathe. After all, we want to get the most clean-air bang for our greenery buck.

The plants we chose are ones that are easy to keep and don’t require much water (see below). And they also look pretty lovely too. We spent about £70 (+p&p) on seven healthy specimens that help keep our air fresh and filter out chemicals. (Though I tried not to wonder why exactly I would need to filter out chemicals like formaldehyde from the air I’m breathing in the first place). 

While this may not be the most practical green thing that we do (providing recycling bins everywhere is obviously more helpful) it is a way of brightening up our building at the same time as eliminating pollutants and making our air more pleasant on the nose without needing to rely on chemical-based air fresheners.

Anyway – here’s what we bought:

Aloe Vera

Aloe Vera

Keeps air clean by removing benzene and formaldehyde, both found in cleaning products.
Also well-known for the gel inside its leaves which helps to heal cuts and burns.
All of which make Aloe Vera an easy way to grow both fresh air and plasters.
From: www.houseofplants.co.uk | £13

Spider Plant

Chlorophytum Comosum

This is one of NASA’s top plants for air purification. It keeps the air clean by fighting pollutants: removing benzene, formaldahyde (both found in cleaning products) and xylene (a solvent used in printing) from the air.
Spider plants are easy to look after and don’t need much water.
From: www.gardens4you.co.uk | £7.95 each

Rubber Plant

Ficus Elastica

Rubber plants – a species of fig – are excellent at cleaning the air. They are a powerful eliminator of toxins and air purifier.
They are low mainentance and easy to look after, thriving in cooler climates and not needing very much water.
From: www.houseofplants.co.uk | £14.50

Peace Lily

Spathiphyllum Wallisii

NASA names the Peace Lily as the number one plant at removing three of the most common air pollutants: benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene.
On top of this, they are easy to look after, doing well in the shade and requiring little water.
From: www.houseofplants.co.uk | £9.50

Mother-in-law tongue

Sanservieria Trifasciata Laurentii

Also known as Snake Plants, these work well at night. While other plants are inactive they are at work turning CO2 into fresh oxygen and removing formadehyde from the air.
They are easy to look after and don’t require lots of light.
From: www.houseofplants.co.uk | £15

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