Category Archives: Houseplants

Plastic or the Real Thing

aloeRemember how supermarket cashiers used to say ‘paper or plastic?’ Now, thrifty shoppers bring their own bags. We’re encouraged to cut down on disposable plastic. Young, environmentally-conscious waitresses don’t want to give you straws. People frown on plastic bottled water and carry their own reusable carafes.

Still, so much that we use to decorate our homes is made of plastic and chemicals. Upholstery and carpets give off fumes from flame retardants, stain protectors, and moth repellents. Cabinets come plastic-coated.  It’s just part of modern manufacturing.

houseplant plastic

Photo by Madison Inouye

In the spring, when you walk into Home Goods or Michaels, (After the Christmas plastic has been moved out) you’re greeted by plastic spring plants in every size. Some look really good. It’s tempting to decorate a dark corner with a man-made rubber tree that will never drop a leaf. And succulents! The real ones even look like plastic. I’m positive someone in China could make a plastic kalanchoe that would fool a bee.

I must confess I bought a Christmas tree from Balsam Hill. They make beautiful fakes.  Mine looked like a perfectly grown spruce with natural-looking winter decorations artfully perching on the limbs. Only when you reach out to feel a bough do you realize you’re petting plastic. And of course no woodland scent wafts through the room. That I miss.

Artists have been copying nature for centuries in jewelry design, china and silver patterns, wallpaper and fabric. Why not? Nature is artfully beautiful.  They work in every medium, so why would they not use plastic as a medium?

This is my question. Do you really want to add more plastic to your home? If you have space for a real plant, get one even if it’s a philodendron or snake plant. I posted previously on plants’ amazing ability to clean the air. I can’t emphasize that enough.


Do Houseplants Really Clean the Air?


I had to find some way to show my husband  that my obsession with plants is something good. I found it – Phytoremediation. The more plants I bring into the house, the healthier our home will be. Plants clean the air. NASA said so In 1989. They were looking for a way to scrub the air inside space stations for the health of astronauts. They wanted to get rid of formaldehyde and benzene and other cancer causing compounds that are part of our indoor manufactured environment. . Experiments showed that plants actually do the job, some better than others. So I’m off to the races with my obsession.

Boston fernMy Boston fern (Nephrolepis exalta Bostoniensis) in the sun room has thrived through the heat of last summer and the damp cold of this winter. It’s on the list of the ten most effective plants in devouring formaldehyde which gets into our houses in plastic garbage bags, paper towels, facial tissues, rugs, adhesives, gas heating and tobacco smoke. Whew. Would a Boston fern in every room be going overboard?

For many years in another house, a Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) lived a very long time with very little attention. In twenty years it grew to six feet. I reluctantly passed it on to a young plant-loving neighbor when we moved. I’ve just gotten another which is much shorter. I’m urging it onward and upward with my new grow light.

houseplants1I’ve had Umbrella Trees before (Schefflera arboricola) and always liked their lush foliage. I added one next to an east window. It should get enough light there for photosynthesis. Then I couldn’t resist a palm. It’s funny, when you buy small houseplants at home centers, they don’t bother to list the botanical name on the tag. They just say “tropical.” I can tell it’s a palm, but the variety is a mystery. I’m hoping it’s an Areca (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens) because that palm is supposed to be the best at eating up the chemicals that come in paint thinners, nail polish remover, glue and the solvents used in the printing, rubber and leather industries. Sounds good to me.

aloeA friend moving to Florida gifted me with a little Aloe Vera plant . This lovely is also known as the “first aid plant.” Great for sun burns at the beach. It’s also on the list of air-improving plants. It is thriving in a sunny window in a guest bedroom.

Kamel Meattle, a New Delhi businessman did a TED Talk on how he cleaned the air in his office building, air that was making him sick. He has been a pioneer in the movement to make work spaces more healthful. He promotes three plants that can change the quality of indoor air: Areca Palm –converts carbon dioxide into oxygen during the day, Mother-in-law’s Tongue -converts carbon dioxide into oxygen at night (good for the bedroom) and Money Plant – devours formaldehyde and VOCs. If these studies are true, that’s wonderful. But if the claims are a little overblown, I still love my houseplants. Their beauty is enough.