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For some reason, indoor plants are back in. But if you’re anything like me, mistakes have been made. So here’s a list of characters that can withstand all sorts of abuse.
Recently we had a look at why getting acquainted with green stuff, or that brown stuff they call soil, is so incredibly good for us. From releasing feel-good hormones to increasing brain power to counteracting the effects of our Faustian urban lives, communing with even the smallest, growing patch of nature is one of the easiest ways to ward off the headspace doldrums.
But hey, it’s winter – so are you feeling just a little too fragile to face the great outdoors? Like to curl up inside gazing at the fan heater while waiting for a binge season of Game of Thrones to load? I hear you. So the answer to your wintery conundrum is to seek out some lively companionship in the form of indoor plants. Once the interior design darlings of the 1970s, along with green net curtains and macramé wall hangings, indoor plants are back big time. As they should be, because, just like their outdoor colleagues, indoor plants also bring a spadeful of health benefits.
Once again the science community (yes, honestly – including NASA scientists) has come to the aid of Gotham City and demonstrated how plants growing indoors can reduce airborne toxins, absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen, and most importantly – not answer back when you’re having a bit of a rant. And they look good. Provided they aren’t dead. Aha! There’s the catch. Many of you, like me, will have invested in some glossy, green goddess plants from the nursery, paid a bomb for a chic pot or two and then despaired when these beauties wilted without a word. But there is hope, as there are several species of plants that will put up with a variety of insults and neglect and keep returning those benefits.
You don’t need to pack the house with enough greenery to resemble a tossed salad. Just a few strategically located plants within your average lounge room/kitchen area will suffice. Interestingly, what those thoughtful types at NASA discovered was that the soil in a pot plant alone contained enough beneficial microorganisms to absorb and neutralise toxins such as formaldehyde and benzene.
Many of you, like me, will have invested in some glossy, green goddess plants from the nursery, paid a bomb for a chic pot or two and then despaired when these beauties wilted without a word. But there is hope, as there are several species of plants that will put up with a variety of insults and neglect and keep returning those benefits.
These nasties are just two of the more common VOCs (volatile organic compounds) released into the air by typical modern building materials such as laminate, paint, plastics, gyprock, carpets, light fixtures and gas and electrical appliances. Greened-up interiors in commercial buildings are all the go now to counteract these VOCs and even more popular since our beloved scientists proved that indoor plants can improve concentration levels and raise worker productivity. Google’s office in Dublin has embraced this research to create a jungle of an office for their wild workers.
However, it is one of the great ironies of the horticultural world that the easiest plants to grow and that will survive our earnest neglect are also the ones that become environmental weeds and, if “released into the wild” will overrun natural plant communities. Just about every significant weed in Australia started life as an innocuous-looking house plant or garden escapee. Some of these plants such as Spider Plant and even the now hugely trendy Mother-in-Law’s-Tongue are still being sold, but beware, as these are rogues that have escaped our humble homes and turned terrorist out there in our dwindling areas of native bushland.
Now that’s out of the way, here are a few of the hardest-to-kill indoor plants that are still behaving themselves.
The Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior) is aptly named, as this plant will withstand low light and infrequent watering. It likes to be crowded in the pot and will reward you with refusing to die so long as you water it every couple of weeks. Give it a drizzle of weak liquid fertiliser once or twice in the warmer months and not let it stand in a saucer full of water.
The Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata Bostoniensis) looks great sitting on a benchtop or hanging from the ceiling. These plants love humidity so do well in bathrooms or any other steamy room (!) in the house. Having said that, they’ll do well in any brightly lit room that’s not overheated. Water them every alternate week and feed them a very weak liquid fertiliser in the warmer months. Invest in a cheap spray bottle and spritz them with water every now and then to make them feel loved. Keep the spray bottle handy to spritz your annoying TV-watching companion who feels the need to chat through Game of Thrones.
The Heartleaf Philodendrum (Philodendrum cordatum) is an obliging plant that will drape over the sides of a hanging basket or, if planted in a pot with a post, will clamber up the post to form a green tepee with wavering tendrils that make a grab for you when you walk past. Treat it like the Boston Fern and you’ll be batting back those tendrils in no time. But a word of warning – don’t let the kids or Frankie the French bulldog or your horse either (should you keep one in the lounge room) chomp on your Philodendrum, as these plants contain calcium oxalate, which if eaten in sufficient quantities can be a tad poisonous.
So tear yourself away from your warm, cosy but probably toxically-laden VOC-emitting house today and seek out some of these lovelies to improve your health and mind. And remember, even if you completely neglect them and they turn up their toes, the soil in the pots is still giving you some benefit!