So what really can be done to improve air quality that’s been compromised by vog? Not much it seems, except reduce human activity. On bad air days especially, you can cut down on driving, don’t mow the lawn or use other small gas powered engines to manicure your yard, don’t barbecue. But what about indoors? Health officials advise us to keep our windows and doors closed on high vog days. If you work in an air-conditioned building with windows that don’t open, that choice has already been made for you. However, such tightly enclosed spaces may also harbor high levels of air pollutants from the off-gassing of synthetic materials used in furniture, carpets, building materials, electronic equipment and more.
Luckily, there is a cheap, naturally green solution to clean air indoors: Houseplants. Sure, you think I’m just saying this because I’m a container gardening freak. Nope – there is indeed solid scientific research that was done in NASA's International Space Station that shows the benefits of houseplants on indoor air quality. Plants actually absorb volatile compounds from the air through their leaves and break them down in their roots, thus purifying the air. Amazing!
University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture professor and landscape architect Dr. Andrew Kaufman recently co-authored a helpful and informative extension publication on using houseplants to clean indoor air that you can download here.
The bulletin includes a list of houseplants with ratings of effectiveness from 1 to 10, 10 being excellent. Nothing listed scores a 10, but those plants receiving a rating of 9 include:
Bamboo palmMore important than ratings, however, is to choose something low maintenance if you lead a busy life, and if it appeals to you aesthetically you’re more likely to pay attention to it and keep it alive. Although there haven’t been any studies done on them yet, native Hawaiian houseplants such as papala kepau, ‘ala ‘ala wainui, and palapalai probably help clear the air, too. A Sharper Image ionizer might be more effective, but my greener air cleaners are hundreds of dollars cheaper. And, as my 80-year-old gardening guru says, “Plants are very forgiving.” Though I think if my neglected but still thriving Ficus benjimina and the peace lily in my living room could talk, I'm sure they'd have me arrested for houseplant abuse.
Dwarf date palm
Kimberley queen fern