Greenhouse Canada

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From the Editor: October 2012

September 25, 2012  By Dave Harrison

Growers, retailers and consumers constantly monitor the health of their plants.

Growers, retailers and consumers constantly monitor the health of their plants. Are they growing strongly? Are the leaves curling or discoloured? What about the blooms? Any signs of disease or pest infestations?

We take good care of plants. And that’s only fair, because plants take such good care of us.


Everyone has bought into the “Five-to-10-A-Day” campaign of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, the Canadian Cancer Society and the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Fruits and vegetables, besides tasting great, contribute to our overall health and vitality, and have also been found to help reduce the risk of some types of cancer.
Houseplants are primarily valued for their aesthetics. They’ve been welcomed in Chinese homes since about 1,000 BC The early Romans decorated atriums with potted plants.

But they’re more than a pretty face. They also play a major role in our well-being, and should be recognized for it. The scientific literature is extensive. Houseplants improve indoor air quality, reduce “sick building” syndrome, boost employee productivity, ease stress levels and reduce absenteeism due to illness.

Plants and their associated soil micro-organisms are effective in reducing indoor air pollutants produced by paints, varnishes, adhesives, furnishings, clothing, solvents and common building materials. A long list of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including benzene, xylene, hexane, heptane, octane, decane, trichloroethylene and methylene chloride, have been shown to cause health problems. Illnesses such as asthma and nausea, and chronic diseases such as cancer and respiratory conditions, have been linked to exposure to VOCs.

A University of Georgia report in 2009 found a number of houseplants (purple waffle plant, English ivy, variegated wax plant and asparagus fern, among others) significantly lower VOC levels.

NASA has also done extensive testing and confirmed the effectiveness of plants in air purification. The agency recommends 15 to 18 houseplants (six- to eight-inch pots) are sufficient to improve air quality in an average 1,800-square-foot house.

Houseplants are healthy for us, but the word is not getting out.

  • Families would be healthier with a few plants around the house, thanks to their effective air filtration.
  • Students do much better with plants in the classroom (demonstrated in studies at Washington State University’s Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, and the Royal College of Agriculture in the U.K., among others).
  • Employers would eagerly invest more in office plants if they knew productivity and creativity would rise and absenteeism rates would drop.

Health Canada should market these health benefits the same way they do fruits and vegetables in the Canada Food Guide.

At the very least, governments should direct a portion of tax revenues collected on ornamental horticulture into research and, yes, health promotion.

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