Bring nature indoors for an au courant update to your space, all while reaping the array of benefits indoor plants offer

BY LIZ PETONIAK
PHOTOGRAPHS BY MICHAEL FORNATARO
STYLING BY LIZ PETONIAK + SAMANTHA MAY

Houseplants are having a moment right now, integral in contemporary décor as ever. As we crave green life toward winter’s end, it’s easy to see why. “Plants add to the atmosphere,” says Carmel Vandale, owner of Mt. Lebanon Floral. “For me, it’s more visual, but seeing something green and growing lifts my spirits.”

This love for and attraction to living things, known as biophilia, is perhaps as natural to us as breathing. And, the benefits of keeping plants indoors are too major to ignore. Margie Radebaugh, director of horticulture and education at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, says, “In addition to the connection to nature by having plants close to you, and just the beauty of them, they also help to clean the air as they grow. They actually take the toxins out of the air and improve the environment.”

In the ‘80s, NASA discovered that plants purify the air by pulling contaminants into soil, where root zone microorganisms convert volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into food for the plant.

Radebaugh rattled off a list of specimens, dubbed “clean-air plants,” which both purify the air and remove toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde, naturally found in our homes nowadays, a result of the products and furniture located within. Though she didn’t get through all 50 plants on her list, I found myself surprised to learn that the catalog of clean-air greenery included a number of commonly kept houseplants, like pothos, English Ivy, peace lilies, spider plants, rubber plants, philodendron, and mother-in-law’s tongue, rather than exotic varieties. To truly experience the clean-air effect, she recommends one plant in a six- to eight-inch pot per 10 square feet. “You can use them to provide decorative accents while they clean the air,” she says. It may seem like overload, but what’s more beautiful than being surrounded by lush greens?

Vandale says, “I like to create little groupings, and I like to work them into collections. I’ll place succulents with Asian figurines, taller plants behind a couch or chair, use them to fill a corner, or to hide an [electrical] outlet.” Additionally, Bayer Advanced discloses that certain plants are better suited to specific indoor environments, such as a peace lilies, known to remove mold from the air, making them the perfect choice for bathrooms. For your bedroom, consider keeping orchids, succulents, and epiphytic bromeliads, because unlike most household plants, they release oxygen during the night.

And, if you’re gunning for a raise, your workspace could use some green, too! A recent study completed at the University of Exeter in England concluded that keeping office plants increased workers’ sense of wellbeing by 47 percent, creativity by 45 percent, and productivity by 30 percent. There’s plenty of options for those lacking a green thumb, so don’t stress if you forget to water your little green friend. “For a cubicle, succulents and air plants are low maintenance. They can bloom with no natural light. You just dunk them in water once a week,” Vandale says. “With most of these indoor plants, watering is minimal — every three or four days. Over-care seems to be the worst thing for them.”

But for us, simply caring for one plant at our desk can be enough to spruce up our spirits. Radebaugh says that employees at the new Phipps Conservatory Center for Sustainable Landscapes, which boasts tons of natural light and more than one plant per 10 square feet, seem to truly enjoy their work space. “The horticulture staff generally takes care of all the plants, but each employee has been offered the chance to care for an individual plant and to foster that connection with nature.” Discover what fostering a relationship with plants can do for you, and check out our spread of houseplants, along with tips for care, here.


A FEW TIPS:

  • Plants increase humidity levels indoors, adding moisture to the air and helping hydrate our skin and decrease the instance of respiratory illness. In one research study, Bayer Advanced reported that sickness rates fell by more than 60 percent in offices that added plants to their space.
  • The Drew Mathieson Center advises placing orchids near east-facing windows, as the plants like morning light. Avoid these common mistakes to keep your phalaenopsis orchids blossoming:

Overwatering — Orchids only need to be watered once a week or so, when the media (be it fir bark, coconut husk, or sphagnum moss) is completely dry. Soak the plant in the sink and let it drain completely. Letting it sit in water can rot the roots.

Too much heat — To encourage your orchid to re-bloom, you need to allow for a 10- to 15-degree difference between nighttime and daytime temperature.


Bayer Advanced, bayeradvanced.com.
Bill Chisnell Productions, 1111 Penn Ave., Strip District. 412.251.5601. billchisnellproductions.com.
Drew Mathieson Center, 1600 Metropolitan St., North Side. 412.231.7200. manchesterbidwell.org.
Mt. Lebanon Floral, 725 Washington Road, Mt. Lebanon. 412.561.2500. mtlebanonfloral.net.
Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, One Schenley Park, Oakland. 412.622.6914. phipps.conservatory.org.
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