Benefits of Plants
Written and Illustrated by Megan Mullaly
The popularity of house plants is on the rise, and it’s not just because of their aesthetic appeal. In this article, we investigate the research-backed health benefits of plants, what kind you should bring into your home, and the best places to find quality house plants in the Cleveland area
When I first moved into my own apartment, I couldn’t stop buying plants. Though the home and garden centers of Walmart and Home Depot were enchanting, Urban Planting Cleveland was where the magic really happened. A plant would draw me in, and I felt as if we couldn’t live apart. If I knew the plant’s name as soon as I laid eyes on it, that plant was getting buckled into the passenger seat minutes later.
I felt bad for my roommate; I had already taken over the living room with succulents, orchids, and the top of a piece of corn that I thought might be growing into a stalk, but new plants kept popping up each week. I filled our apartment with bamboo, a dragon finger snake plant, and a money tree (named Lice, Draco and Luigi, respectively). I was given a collection of succulents for my birthday, and my grandma gifted me her four-foot-tall fiddle-leaf fig. I bought Wario, a three-foot-tall yucca tree; Starshine, a neon pothos; and John, a calathea ornata.
Frugal is basically my middle name, and my obsession with plants finally hit the point where I felt guilty for spending money. Why was I spending so much time, money and energy to buy and take care of plants — or glorified dust collectors, as my mom likes to call them? It turned out that research from the Washington State University Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture can explain why I, like so many others, was compelled to surround myself with plants. Their research shows that plants provide numerous benefits that improve a person's health and well-being. This leads to increased happiness and fosters a higher quality of life.
Due to the increase of urbanization and lack of exposure to nature, the importance of house plants is growing because they offer significant benefits that are hard to find in a modern world.
Memory and Concentration
One of the biggest benefits that plants provide is increased memory retention and concentration. House plants mimic the calming influence of nature, which has been proven to lead to better and more accurate work. Because of their calming influence, productivity can increase by up to twelve percent when in the presence of plants. A study from the University of Michigan showed that memory retention can also increase by up to twenty percent when a person is in the presence of plants. Due to their calming influence, plants allow for us to easily concentrate on the task at hand and better recall that information in the future.
Another important benefit of plants is their ability to decrease stress levels. Plants, especially those that flower, provide a feeling of security and relaxation that helps to reduce the stress levels of those in the immediate vicinity. This can be particularly beneficial to those with mental illness, as it can reduce the severity of issues like anxiety and depression. A study by Washington State University concluded that subjects’ blood pressure levels were lower when surrounded by plants. Low blood pressure directly corresponds with reduced stress levels, which the secure and relaxing influence of plants can provide.
One benefit that plants are most often used for is their acceleration of the healing process. According to a study by Seong-Hyan Park and Richard Mattson, patients who recovered in a hospital room with living plants were reported to have lower blood pressure, pain, anxiety and fatigue than those in rooms without. Living plants also positively impacted patients’ mindsets, which boosted their willingness to participate in the healing process. Nurturing plants can also benefit those who have suffered mental or physical trauma. By consciously partaking in the nurturing of a plant, a patient begins to subconsciously recognize and take part in self-care practices. Because of their ability to accelerate the healing process, plants have become an incredibly popular aid during medical treatment.
Plants can also improve a person’s relationships because that person is subconsciously practicing empathy and respect when caring for a plant. The keeping and nurturing of plants fosters other important skills such as social-awareness, the willingness to help others, and compassion. These skills grow as a person nurtures a plant and eventually carry over into their everyday life and human relationships. When a person possesses the ability to show empathy and respect, their relationships tend to grow stronger and last longer than those who do not. Because the nurturing of plants allows a person to practice empathy and respect, they develop the necessary skills that allow for the growth of strong and healthy human relationships.
Quality of Life
Having house plants can also provide an aesthetic that is associated with a high quality of life. When nature is brought into the home or office, a person’s perceived quality of life increases because humans associate nature and well-maintained landscapes with a better living environment. A person’s overall mood and mindset become more positive when their perceived quality of life increases, which can also lead to the development of an optimistic outlook on life. Because houseplants increase a person’s perceived quality of life, their mood, mindset and outlook improve when they are in the presence of plants.
Another incredibly useful benefit of plants is their ability to act as natural sound absorbers. When a person brings a plant into their home or workspace, they are decreasing the noise levels in their immediate vicinity. This can lead to increased concentration levels and decreased stress. The use of plants as sound absorbers is especially useful in an office setting because they allow employees to work in close proximity to one another while maintaining appropriate noise levels. Using plants for sound absorption is also beneficial for those that live in noisy areas. Plants help control noise levels that can often be a nuisance when living in an apartment complex or near a busy road.
Finding The Best Plant For You
Purchasing plants can be overwhelming because of the many options available. While some plants require meticulous care that can be tricky to navigate, there are a number of gentler plants that are perfect for a first time plant purchaser.
"While they may cost a few extra dollars, these plants have been grown in facilities that mimic the indoor atmosphere they are intended for and will live significantly longer than their Walmart and Home Depot counterparts."
Some of the best beginner plants include lucky bamboo, snake plants and pothos.
Lucky bamboo requires low light, which allows it to prosper in a variety of locations within the home. Its leaves turn yellow when exposed to excessive sunlight, so it is best to keep lucky bamboo away from bright windows. This plant does require a significant amount of clean, fresh water, and it should not be left to sit in stagnant water for extended periods of time.
Snake plants are one of the easiest plants to take care of because they can survive in a variety of light conditions and do not need water often. Snake plants thrive in bright, indirect light, but can also live in direct sunlight, moderate light, or even a shady corner. These plants also require little water, as they are prone to root rot. It is best to let the soil dry out between waterings and completely soak the plant’s soil about once a month.
Another beginner plant is pothos, which comes in a variety of colors and patterns. Like a snake plant, pothos are able to survive in a variety of lighting conditions, but they prosper in bright, indirect light. A pothos plant also thrives when its soil dries out between waterings and can survive a sporadic watering routine, but it is best to water pothos every other week.
Plants that require a bit more skill to take care of are jade plants, peace lilies and yucca trees.
Jade plants are one of the easier succulents to grow. People often misinterpret succulents as easy to care for because they are known for their ability to survive dry conditions. This is a common issue when caring for succulents, as they are often underwatered. Jade plants require watering after the top few inches of soil has dried, which is about once every three to four weeks. Jade plants also require very bright, indirect light, making it difficult to grow in some homes and offices. It is best to place them in a south-facing window, as this is where the plant will receive the most light. If you don’t have a south-facing window, you should place your jade plant in the brightest spot in your home or office.
Another plant that requires a moderate amount of skill is a peace lily. They require bright, indirect light and their leaves may burn if they remain in direct afternoon sun for too long. Peace lilies can be difficult to care for because they are extremely sensitive to their watering conditions. Their soil should be consistently moist, but not oversaturated. These plants can survive some dry spells, but their leaves may turn brown if neglected for too long. Peace lilies are also sensitive to the temperature of and chemicals within water, so it is best to water them with room-temperature, filtered tap water.
More difficult to care for, the yucca tree thrives in full sunlight and may struggle if not in a well lit location. While direct sunlight is best, yucca trees can also survive in bright, indirect light. These plants are easy to overwater, making them difficult to care for. Like jade plants, yucca trees should be left to dry out between waterings. They also tend to thrive when neglected, as too much moisture can lead to root rot. Yucca trees grow best when they are potted in soil with a sand-like consistency and in a pot with plenty of drainage holes.
Advanced skill is required when taking care of plants such as an orchid or fiddle-leaf fig.
Orchids are one of the most popular flowers for people to have around the home or office because they can live up to 100 years, but that does not mean they are easy to grow. Different kinds of orchids require different amounts of sunlight, but most thrive in bright, indirect light. If you are unsure what is best for your orchid, place it in bright, indirect light, monitor its reaction over the course of a few days, and adjust its placement from there. Orchids also require far less water than expected. These plants should be completely soaked and then left to dry out between waterings. Make sure excess water drains out through the bottom of the pot, as letting the orchid sit in stagnant water can be fatal .
Like orchids, fiddle-leaf figs are a plant many people desire but have difficulty caring for. These plants thrive in direct sunlight, which is the biggest obstacle people have when trying to provide a suitable environment. Placing them in a southern- or western-facing window that receives direct, afternoon sunlight is ideal, as six or more hours of direct sunlight allows the fiddle-leaf fig to thrive. Fiddle-leaf figs should also be left to dry between waterings and the soil should be saturated when watered, but not soaked. What makes these plants so difficult to care for is their sensitivity to humidity, drafts and pests. If you are looking to care for a fiddle-leaf fig, it is best to do extensive research to be prepared for any issues that may arise.
Finding Plants in the Cleveland Area
When looking to purchase plants, do so from a source that provides healthy, high-quality plants that were grown in the proper conditions. While the Walmart and Home Depot Garden Centers offer a variety of plants at a low cost, it is best to purchase plants from local shops and nurseries that provide higher-quality plants for only a few extra dollars.
Big box retailers often market low-cost plants for indoor use, even though these plants were grown outdoors. While the low cost is appealing, these plants will not live long when transferred to an indoor environment. Because they are used to getting over eight hours of direct sunlight a day, these plants will go into shock when transferred to an indoor environment where they are unable to get nearly the same amount of light.
Instead of purchasing cheap plants from a big box retailer, look into local shops and nurseries that specialize in indoor plants. While they may cost a few extra dollars, these plants have been grown in facilities that mimic the indoor atmosphere they are intended for and will live significantly longer than their Walmart and Home Depot counterparts. Because plants from local shops and nurseries are grown in a secluded atmosphere, they are accustomed to the lower amount of sunlight available when placed within an indoor environment.
Plant shops and nurseries in the Cleveland area:
Bremec on the Heights Garden Center
Lakewood Garden Center
The Grow Wizard
Charlie’s Plant Place
Lakewood Plant Company
Cleveland Garden Center
Old Brooklyn Greenhouse
Gale’s Garden Center
My personal favorite local plant shop is Urban Planting Cleveland. They have a wide variety of succulents, cacti and tropical and domestic houseplants that work for every budget. Because their plants are grown in the proper facilities, the transition into a new home is seamless. I also love how often they get new plants; they always have something different and exciting every time I visit.
Plants offer a variety of benefits that can improve the quality of life for those in the plant’s vicinity. They can improve memory and concentration, the healing process and relationships. They can lower stress levels and absorb excess noise. Because plants provide so many valuable benefits, everyone should try and bring a plant or two into their home!