Bad Green: Some Indoor Plants Release Volatile Organic Compounds


The Peace Lily. By Paparutzi, via Flickr.

Run for your lives. It turns out that house plants like the Peace Lily may be waging war on your indoor air.

That's a slight exaggeration, but new research published in an American Society for Horticultural Science journal says you should take care when picking house plants.Many common varieties can remove volatile organic compounds from indoor air, like the smells given off by chemicals in cleaners, paints, cosmetics and furniture.

We know plants take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen, too.

But at least four popular varieties of house plants emit their own VOCs, according to the University of Georgia's Department of Horticulture. Scientists there studied plants in glass jars and found 23 VOCs in the Peace Lily, 16 in the Areca Palm, 13 in the Weeping Fig and 12 in the Snake Plant.

Sources included pesticides used in production of the plants, micro-organisms living in the soil and the plastic pots the plants called home, researchers say. The emission rates were higher during the day than at night, and several of the VOCs detected are known to harm animals.

The impact of these "plant emissions" on humans is still unknown. So it's probably not time to dump your plants. They still do a lot of good.

The Peace Lily? Maybe if we talked to our plants more.

The full study is online at the HortScience web site.

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