Want Cleaner Air Now?

Click cover for more Wolverton

Okay this may be a too quickly pressed blog post but it might be of use to those of you dreading being stuck indoors with your windows shut tight to conserve that very expensive heat keeping your fingers and toes from experiencing some form of frostbite (or not if climate change is being ‘kinder’ to you with the onset of a mild winter season).  In my part of the biosphere it’s a roller-coaster ride of high temperatures dropping to the lows and then rising again.  Some plant bulbs are clearly confused as they’ve sent up green shoots again when they ought to be hibernating.  When the heat first turned itself “on” and the doors shut against the cold that trapped with stale air sensation sent me in search of relief.  I figured there had to be a way to get some green nature indoors even in my very shady indoor habitat. One of the most useful resources, so far, has been Dr. B.C. Wolverton’s book How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 Houseplants that Purify Your Home or Office (aka Eco Friendly Houseplants).  Part of my delight in this book is its usefulness for those of us who haven’t played much with indoor plants with success.  At this point in time I doubt anyone will dispute the sick building concept that Wolverton relates. Nor is there the much point in arguing about the results of the NASA plant study.  What’s of interest to humans with no plant experience is the book’s presentation of the 50 plants. They’re rated for ability to clean inside air of toxins that have no business in your lungs yet are everywhere indoors.  There are great photographs of each plant.  Common and botanical names are offered. The entries include light, temperature, pest, care and growing media information. Yes, it’s handy to take along when you venture into unfamiliar territory such as a nursery, grocery store, florist, to find what will suit your air cleaning needs–and to show precisely what you want and why to whoever is staffing the unfamiliar grounds.  Also, armed with this textual resource it’s easier to fend off being sold something that will not suit your air cleaning desires. We’re not talking air fresheners that mask odor here. We’re talking real air cleansing via real living plants.  You don’t have to start large either. Little plants that have the potential for growth will grow in the right conditions and with some mindfulness at time of selection. This does not have to be an expensive investment in good healthcare.  Look at your indoor environment, take an inventory of the lighting, do a little online research regarding further information about plants you think will fit your air purification needs according to Wolverton. It’s good to know that some plants are not pet friendly if your felines like to chew things. Unless, of course, you’re looking to send a troublesome pet on its way via natural resources.

There must be other such user-friendly, compact and direct plant information resources. If you know of something really useful–and un-intimidating for beginners– in hard copy, online, or electronically PLEASE share them!!!! Yes, there are many many websites online regarding indoor plants. Some are really useful and others just repeat the same information again and again while pitching expensive items for sale.

FYI–Wolverton also published a book about another vital resource for living well, water:  Growing Clean Water, Nature’s Solution to Water Pollutionhttp://www.wolvertonenvironmental.com/book1.htm

So, if anyone has newer and more useful information resources about using plants to clean our filthy indoor air, please share. This is just what came my way on the fly. I also got lucky with the little florist department at my local grocery as it stocks little four-inch starter plants in addition to larger more mature specimens.  It helps that the staff is very friendly and patient. Good luck to any other indoor plant newbies seeking some air relief.

PS.  As Eco Friendly Houseplants this book is available in German, Spanish, Finnish, Korean and other languages. Surf the link for more international publishing information.



  1. November 7, 2012 at 3:28 am

    As as (unevolved?) child of the ’70s, my house is still full of plants, even after it was no longer considered in vogue. I love them. Other than the spider plant, I haven’t read that others clean the air – but I’ve always believed they do. I’ll have to check this book out and find out. Thanks.

  2. November 7, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    Hello very evolved Cindy. 🙂 Your spider plant gets a 5.4 rating –and was NASA endorsed as an air cleaner way back in 1984. The highest overall rating by Wolverton is 8.5 for the Areca Palm. After you check out the book do share how many of these 50 plants you’ve been co-habitating with in your home. How’s your stock in Peace Lily, Golden Pothos, Boston Fern, Janet Craig, Corn Plant, and Snake Plant? Please do tell!

  3. November 8, 2012 at 12:40 am

    I have 2 very large Boston Ferns, but not the others. I have to admit that although I’m a little obsessive about learning the names of local native plants, I have no idea what half of my house plants are called.

    • November 8, 2012 at 3:47 pm

      Well, Boston Ferns are among the 50 rated by Wolverton. You probably have more than you “know”–LOL. Interesting that you are clued into your local native plants. Do you cultivate any of them indoors?

      • November 22, 2012 at 12:55 pm

        No, not really. They are foothills/boreal forest plants and would not be happy in my centrally heated home. Many of them rely on relationships with other plants and fungi as well, so are difficult to provide soil for.

      • November 23, 2012 at 4:28 pm

        Understood, Cindy. Thanks for your reply. 🙂
        I take note of your awareness of the need for a certain “context” for these plants.

      • November 26, 2012 at 4:44 pm

        So you live in/near a boreal forest. Cindy! Wow! Lucky you.

  4. November 16, 2012 at 5:32 pm

    Come across any plants that clean the air and can live with a significant amount of neglect!? I’ve never been great with houseplants.

    • November 16, 2012 at 9:06 pm

      Hello Al. Yes, as a matter of fact I have encountered such hardy plants. There’s this delightful plant called a “Snake Plant” aka “Mother-in-Law’s Tongue” which seems to enjoy being left to its own devices. Golden Pothos also likes a considerable amount of undisturbed meditation. “Peace Lily” is a great air cleanser and once in a location it enjoys seems to be very low maintaince. The main tricks of this houseplant circus seem to be finding the best location for each plant in regards to light and NOT overwatering them. (Take note: I have learned a tad about overwatering from experience with some “Squirrel Foot” ferns. IF you catch that you’ve committed the sin of overwatering- soon enough–as in your ferms start dropping their crinkled oxygen deprived fronds– it is possible to attempt plant CPR. Thanks to an OLD book on houseplants I was able to realize I’d unwittingly attempted fern-icide and there was a course of action to take: Remove the plants from their insidious plastic containers and allow them to air dry for a couple of days. In addition, I wrapped the soil/root ball in newspaper in order to leach the extra water out of the media and into the paper. Secured the newspaper with a loose rubber band. As the newspaper wrappers became soaked I removed them and replaced with with dry wrappers. After several rounds the soil/root color returned to a healthy brown and the change of weight from the released water could be felt immediately. Also I placed the plants in cool room with semi-shade in order to reduce the chance of unwanted things growing in a warm moist plant media. Much thanks to the author of the OLD houseplant care book whom apparently did not view such cases as totally hopeless immediately as do so many online advisors who simply tell you to toss out the overwatered individual. Yes, all the little Squirrel Feets have recuperated nicely from nearly accidentally drowning. I realize that timing played a part in this revival –as in I was paying attention to these ferns as I’d never had them before and thus saw there was a problem soon enough to ward off fatalities. My next step is to repot all in porous clay containers with drainage holes.) Hmm, perhaps this should be a real post all by itself?

      • November 16, 2012 at 9:58 pm

        Sounds like you have a bunch of experience in this field! Does it matter if the newspapers have a liberal or conservative view point too! Just kidding on that one!

      • November 16, 2012 at 10:18 pm

        Well now that you mention it, Al, the plants really enjoyed dumping excess H2O on the ….
        Yeah…couldn’t resist at least starting down that path.
        Btw, if you get a copy of this book from your library it does provide enough support to pick the cleansing plants that will survive “neglect’.
        To be honest I’m on a learning curve here myself. I’ve set out to have cleaner indoor air this winter season and hence am gradually gathering as many of the 50 plants profiled which might survive in my plant tough abode. So this will be an ongoing adventure for moi.

  5. Meg said,

    November 23, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    Our house has aloe and palms and a variety of other plants, but for me it is the christmas cactus that graces my bedroom, it seems to love the location as it is already well into the namesake of its bloom.

    On another note, whenever the outdoors is above 50 degrees I will turn off the heat and open the windows for however long I can, an hour, or several. I try to plan it around a good baking so that later when it comes time to turn the heat back on the house is warming for other reasons at the same time.

    I also swear by the fresh air for illness, if I have a cold, no matter how sick I am, you will find me walking slowly up and down the street, if I am too sick to walk, wrapped under a warm blanket in the sunniest most sheltered place outside the house. I swear by this remedy, its as good as chicken soup, or hot water with honey and lemon.

    My neighbors, elderly German ladies, recently were chiding me for sitting outside though I was ill, I told them about my cure for illness, and then one of them got a look on her face and said, My mother used to open all the windows in the house whenever we were sick, she would bundle up the sick one, and the rest of us would be cold, but she did it every time.

    • November 23, 2012 at 4:22 pm

      Hello Meg! Thank you for the wonderful advice and story too! I agree that fresh air all year round is a must for health. I found a little one of those christmas cacti at a grocery store earlier this week. It’s still adjusting to “here.” Do you have any tips for making it feel more welcome for the long term?

      • Meg said,

        November 23, 2012 at 4:59 pm

        I thoroughly water them only every three weeks or so. They like light but not bright, a north facing window, or I have mine in an east window but the one that is happiest is the one high on a bookshelf above the window. And in the summer take it out, put it on a nice shaded veranda and don’t bring it in until there is a threat of a frost. It likes cold nights but not being frozen. One of mine was my Mom’s and is probably 30 years old!!

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