Deb Babcock: Houseplants: Natural air filters

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Deb Babcock

Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today.

Find more gardening columns here.

It seems every winter that half of Steamboat Springs seems to come down with what a lot of locals call "The Crud." I would describe it as a rattling, persistent cough that just hangs on forever. Although it probably is caught by being around people who are carriers of the virus, it may hang around for such a long time because we tend to stay in enclosed spaces for longer periods of time during the cold months.

Dust, dander and other particles in the air and fumes from carpeting, cleaning supplies, our hobbies, cooking, etcetera, have nowhere to go when we leave windows and doors tightly sealed. So we breathe these harmful particles and fumes in. And increase our recovery time from "The Crud."

Although some people swear by electronic air filters, consider a natural alternative. Houseplants make natural, effective air filters that don't consume energy, look great, and freshen the air.

Research at NASA has found that indoor plants will benefit you more than just from enjoying their beauty. They filter the air. The fumes and air-borne particles can cause allergic reactions as well as general lethargy. The good news from the space center study is that potted plants can remove toxic gases from the air very effectively. Pollutants are attracted to the leaf surfaces of plants and then are either washed into the soil when you water them overhead, or through photosynthesis and evapotranspiration (natural plant processes) air is filtered through the plant, cleaned, cooled and released back into the atmosphere.

Which potted plants work well? For low light areas, consider such foliage plants as Philodendron 'Burgundy,' Cast-iron plant (Aspidistra elatior), Ti plant (Cordyline terminalis), Rex begonia (Begonia x rex-cultorum) or dumbcane (Dieffenbachia maculata). If your home or office has bright light, consider the Sago palm (Cycas revoluta), Dracaena marginata 'Tricolor,' Rubber plant (Ficus elastica 'Decora') or Fiddle leaf fig (Ficus lyrata). For more ideas on which plants will work well in your home or office, check with the staff at one of our local florist shops.

You also might consider flowering plants or even fresh flower displays for a touch of color. Two vases stocked with a few stems can be used as bookends, or a pencil holder filled with flowers will make a colorful paperweight.

Flowering plants that work well as filters include African violets (Saintpaulia ionantha), Peace lily (Spathiphyllum 'Mauna Loa'), Cape primrose (Streptocarpus x hybridus) and geraniums of all types (Pelargonium). If flowering plants aren't your bag, consider plants that sport either variegated or colored foliage. This includes Croton (Codiaeum variegatum pictum), Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum 'Vittatum'), Polka-dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya), or Beefsteak plant (Iresine herbstii).

To maximize the filtering effect of live plants in your home or office, it is suggested that you place one 6-inch plant for every 100 feet of office space.

Indoor plants add a touch of elegance and elan to your home or office by brightening a space and making the environment more welcoming to visitors as well as to yourself.

Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call 879-0825.

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