Bringing Nature Indoors: The Myths and Realities of Plants in Buildings
Some proponents of indoor plants promise that they will clean the air and promote occupant health and productivity. But will they? Scientific backing for these claims is still being developed, but some of the results are promising.
by Allyson Wendt
They maintain humidity, increase productivity, and reduce stress. They even scrub the air of dangerous chemicals. Whatever problems we create for ourselves in our buildings, plants are there to help cure them. Or are they? Although some promising studies have led to glowing accounts in the popular press, scientific study of the role of plants in the indoor environment is still young.
Studies supporting the use of plants for cleaning indoor air come with serious caveats, and some indoor-air experts argue that plants may do more harm than good. At the same time, there is both scientific and anecdotal evidence that plants can improve workplace and household conditions. People like having plants around.
Despite their widespread use, plants are an afterthought in most buildings—a decoration to be considered, along with hanging pictures, after the building is already designed and even built. Interior landscapers, as well as building scientists, suggest that considering plants earlier in the design process and educating building owners and tenants are necessary to maximize the benefits of indoor plants while minimizing the risks of moisture and air quality problems.