Aahhh… AaaaH-ChOO! Quick! Get me a Potted Palm!

Winter is on its way.  I’m already planning our Christmas light display for this year and deciding where we’ll put the tree.  Decorations of red and green aren’t the first sign of dropping temperatures around here though; for us it’s the instantaneous jungle that happens in the living room overnight as soon as I hear the dreaded words “Frost warning advisory” on the evening news.
I confess; I’m a rescuer. I can’t walk by a poor, sad looking, 30%-off plant for sale in the store and NOT bring it home to nurture it back to life. This is how I gradually acquired the small forest that is parked behind our couch each winter; one sad little orphan at a time, I brought them home to nurse them back to health and watched most of them flourish under a bit of attention. We haven’t had curtains over our bay window since we moved in. There’s no need for window treatments with a miniature Amazon forest completely filling the view.  My husband has been good natured (pardon the pun) about my obsession so far, but has admitted to having Jumanji fears about some of my more aggressive growers.
In defense of my frond habit, houseplants are good for you. It gives seasonal gardeners a little something to do during the deep winter months, other than planning beds spring and browsing seed catalogs.  A much quoted NASA study claims that houseplants reduce indoor air pollution and improve air quality. (They wanted to know their effect on air quality on board space stations) Scientific American claims “Houseplants make you smarter! Research suggests that the mere presence of plants can boost attention span.” Ask any good home stager; houseplants are a quick and economical way to brighten, add color and life into an otherwise dull room. Plants are said to reduce stress, increase room humidity in dry climes and fight fatigue.  
Anyone that has been zapped by a sibling intentionally dragging their feet across the carpet in January and then touching your innocent, unsuspecting earlobe to watch the spark and hear you yelp should understand the value of having houseplants.  It may sound contradictory to have a houseful of plants and dirt in an allergy sufferer’s home, but if your allergies are to dust mites and mold, plants can help.
Dry winter air can set off asthma and allergy attacks faster than a field full of ragweed. My allergist once told me a rather disgusting fact as to why this is the case: Dust mites live in your carpet and on other cloth surfaces in your home- like curtains, furniture, throw pillows, rugs, etc. Molds can grow in your ventilation during the summer with the cool, humid air provided by your air conditioner. When you turn on the dry winter heat, the mold dries out too and the fine particles are blown right out of you vents and into the air of your home. Dust mites die and their bodies fall into the carpet padding and furniture. When there is sufficient humidity, most of the dried out little exoskeletons stay where they drop until you vacuum them up.  In winter, they are more likely to become airborne, since every time you sit or walk on the carpet, you dislodge some of the dried out bits into the air. Plants are nature’s natural humidifiers; ergo they help keep nasty dust mite bodies from floating out of your carpet and up your nose. Plants act as a natural filter to those pollutants that do become airborne.
The more draft-proof and energy efficient your home is the better chance of trapping pollutants inside. In addition to inhaling dust mite parts and molds, you may be breathing a chemical combo of gases released from the building materials, carpet, furniture finishes and fabrics in your home. Houseplants not only convert carbon dioxide to oxygen- they’ve been found to remove elements like formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene from the air. 
Of the plants tested in the NASA article, the following are the top best for filtering toxins and improving air quality. (Of which I have several, I’m pleased to add)

  1. Philodendron scandens `oxycardium’, heartleaf philodendron
  2. Philodendron domesticum, elephant ear philodendron
  3. Dracaena fragrans `Massangeana’, cornstalk dracaena
  4. Hedera helix, English ivy
  5. Chlorophytum comosum, spider plant
  6. Dracaena deremensis `Janet Craig’, Janet Craig dracaena
  7. Dracaena deremensis `Warneckii’, Warneck dracaena
  8. Ficus benjamina, weeping fig
  9. Epipiremnum aureum, golden pothos
  10. Spathiphyllum `Mauna Loa’, peace lily
  11. Philodendron selloum, selloum philodendron
  12. Aglaonema modestum, Chinese evergreen
  13. Chamaedorea sefritzii, bamboo or reed palm
  14. Sansevieria trifasciata, snake plant
  15. Dracaena marginata , red-edged dracaena

Most of these are fairly easy to grow, even for a novice. Philodendron and spider plants are virtually indestructible. Almost all will grow under fairly low light or much filtered light conditions, which means you can place them around the room in you home- not just crowded in front of windows. They are considerably cheaper and more fun to look at than a commercial air purifier.
If you have small children in house, be sure to teach them never to eat houseplants and not to crush the stems or leaves. Some, like the leaves of English Ivy can be skin irritants are also poisonous if eaten. For a good comprehensive list of poisonous house plants, check out http://www.guide-to-houseplants.com/poisonous-house-plants.html. Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias are not one of them, but the sap can be irritating if you get it on your skin.
My daughter was more partial to eating the dirt out of our houseplants than the plants themselves. I actually tried it once to see what the attraction was; I’m not much of a gourmand, but it’s not high on my list of recommended cuisine.

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