Growing good air

Going green
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  February 18, 2009

For me, going green is as much about my surroundings as it is about my actions. That's why I've spent many a weekend this winter adventuring into the "wild" — to remind myself of what I'm working to protect — and it's why I occasionally attend Greendrinks or TNC Next events — to be around people who also care about environmental and energy issues. It's also why I laid down some cash recently for several houseplants — Creeping Wire Vine, Zebrina pendula (the shockingly un-PC common name for this specimen is "Wandering Jew"), and a pot of cat grass.

Of course, merely laying eyes on green plants isn't going to change my carbon footprint. But being around them has the subconscious effect of making me feel closer to nature — and that, in turn, must make me more conscious of my eco-related decisions.

More importantly, the addition of vegetation to my home could have several physical benefits, according to experts at NASA (seriously, they study this). The NASA report suggests that by producing additional oxygen and absorbing some airborne compounds and particles, plants help reduce indoor air pollution and its associated health hazards, such as respiratory and sinus problems, or headaches. (In my case, I hope it'll help me wake up feeling slightly less stuffed up — or, as one guest put it, as though he'd slept "in an old factory.") The top plants for air purification, according to NASA and Treehugger.com, are English Ivy, Spider Plant, Peace Lily, Chinese Evergreen, and Bamboo Palm. Neither of the plants I bought are at the top of the list, but, as the guy at the greenhouse told me, any plant will better the air to some degree. Plus, I wanted plants that looked good hanging from the ceiling, since my cats will devour any foliage I leave within their reach (this is also why I got the cat grass).

I've taken previous steps to address my own indoor air quality, including cleaning with green products to limit the amount of chemicals in the air, keeping the windows open on warmer days to increase airflow, and purchasing an ionic air purifier. (In a classic green-consumer conundrum, I later learned that the type of air filter I purchased might emit its own harmful pollutant: ozone. Sigh. It's never simple.) But none of these measures is as naturally effective, or aesthetically pleasing, as a plant.

And I haven't even mentioned the health benefits recorded in a recent study by scientists from the department of horticulture, recreation, and forestry at Kansas State University. These researchers found that contact with plants helps improve the psychological and medical health of hospital patients by lowering stress and therefore reducing pain, anxiety, and blood-pressure levels.

If you're thinking of following my lead and filling your house with greenery, here are two additional tips: First, if you have pets, check out aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/plants to make sure that the flora you're buying isn't toxic to animals; secondly, consider making your purchase at Morrison Developmental Center, on US Route 1 at the Portland-Falmouth border. The Seedlings greenhouse there, which serves in part as a day program for Morrison patients with various mental and physical disabilities, is a bright and warm place with a helpful staff and beautiful selection. Plus, it's super Buy-Local friendly — the plants are grown from Maine seedlings — and cheap (I got my three plants for just $22). For once, it is easy being green.

Deirdre Fulton can be reached atdfulton@phx.com.

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