According to World Health Organization reports, indoor air pollution causes several lower respiratory infections, along with a host of other health issues. In 2000, indoor air pollution was estimated to have caused more than 1.5 million deaths worldwide.
Closer to home, a group of researchers in the UAE found that air-pollution levels have increased by about 50 per cent in the country because of particulate matter borne by wind from industrial petrochemical sources. The UAE is trying to mitigate this in several ways, but as individuals we can all play a small part in combating this issue.
On a more personal level, who doesn’t wish that life indoors could be as green and fresh as it is in the countryside? On previous assignments in places such as Bahrain, India and southern Africa, planting indoors proved to be an enlightening venture for me. I realised that irrespective of what country or culture you come from, it’s fundamentally human to be positively affected by the presence of plants.
It’s well known that plants create a more relaxed and comforting environment, reducing stress and improving productivity. Plants produce oxygen, which reduces pollution and helps us to breathe better. Research has proven that indoor plants can remove nearly 87 per cent of indoor pollutants, although this depends on the number and species. Research by the Nasa scientist B C Wolverton claims certain palms placed indoors, such as Areca, remove chemical toxins from the air.
Indoor plants have acoustic benefits, too. When it was discovered noise bouncing off the walls in the atrium of Abbotsford Hospital in Vancouver was causing a significant disturbance, six large fig trees were installed in the atrium, with positive effects on the well-being of those using the facility. Ficus benjamina, which can be all green or variegated and can grow up to three metres high, is an excellent option for larger indoor spaces.
The best thing about indoor plants is that they create camouflage and privacy. When people feel they’re too exposed in the workplace, or their offices are too empty, the answer isn’t always to buy more furniture; plants are a much more attractive solution. They’re vibrant and fill up the room, and add life to drab colour schemes.
So which species to choose? It’s better to opt for plants that need less light and water and that don’t need their nutrients to be replenished as often.
Some options include: Cycas revoluta, or sago palm, which tolerates low light and dry conditions; Sansevieria trifasciata, or snake plant, which can tolerate warm or cool conditions, water or drought, and sun or shade – it prefers warm, dry air, but is easy either way; Aglaonema, or Chinese evergreen, which can be largely ignored for long periods of time – cultivated in China, these plants have moved across the globe thanks to their sturdy survival instincts, and can eliminate toxins such as toluene and xylene; Beaucarnea guatemalensis, or ponytail palm, is very slow growing, so is unlikely to bolt on you, and is used to arid conditions; while the Zamioculcas zamiifolia, or Zanzibar gem, is drought-tolerant and thrives in low-lit spaces.
That doesn’t discount the use of the brighter coloured and conspicuous leafy plants; crotons, rubber plants, bamboo, orchids and ferns, to mention just a few, are equally welcome indoors.
Usha Rani has a master’s in landscape architecture and teaches in the department of architectural engineering at the University of Sharjah.