Succulents That Help Clean The Air

Have you gone through a spell where every time you are indoors, you start to experience allergy symptoms like sore throat, itchy eyes, headaches, skin issues, and nausea? This may not be proof of your body’s hypersensitivity but rather a reaction to poor indoor air quality.

Many everyday substances contribute to polluting indoor air such as air fresheners, chemical-based cleaners, and detergents, or furniture and fittings coated with paint or glue. These volatile organic compounds (VOC) include:

  • Benzine and Xylene found in paint products, plastics, and varnishes
  • Formaldehyde found inside insulation materials and laminate flooring
  • Trichloroethylene found in dry cleaning products and adhesives

While it may be impractical to stop using cleaning materials or build a totally eco-friendly building, you can make use of mother nature to freshen up the air you breathe. Plants release oxygen, help prevent diseases such as dry coughs and sore throats by improving the humidity, and even perk up concentration and brain capabilities.

Thanks to NASA’s extensive research trying to find the best environment for astronauts, they discovered that certain succulents are capable of getting rid of about 87% of VOC’s in the air.  We take a look at four of these special succulents.

The Snake Plant

The Snake Plant is one of the most resilient succulents known to man. It is a flowering plant that has its roots buried deep in tropical West Africa, spreading from eastern Nigeria to the Congo. The botanical name for the Snake Plant is Sansevieria trifasciata but it is known colloquially as Mother-In-Law’s Tongue, Viper’s Bowstring Hemp, and Saint George’s Sword.

These evergreen perennials feature firm, dark green leaves with a green-grey crossbanding that grow vertically from a basal rosette. The leaves may have a yellow border along with them depending on the variety.

This die-hard plant can comfortably endure partial neglect and poor watering schedules like a champ. The Snake Plant prefers well-draining soils and should be watered only when the soil is completely dry.

Unlike most plants, the Snake Plant exchanges oxygen and carbon dioxide only at night to prevent water from evaporating. NASA’s Clean Air Study found that the Snake Plant can effectively filter benzene, formaldehyde, xylene, trichloroethylene, and toluene that have been causes of sick building syndrome.

Aloe vera

Referred to scientifically as Aloe barbadensis miller, Aloe vera has developed a good reputation for its anti-inflammatory properties and has found its way into food flavouring, food supplements, cosmetics as well as herbal remedies.

Originally from the Arabian Peninsula, Aloes sprout naturally in semi-tropical and arid climates and the genus contains more than 500 different species of flowering plants. This short-stemmed succulent has thick and fleshy green leaves that sometimes have white flecks on the upper and lower stem surfaces. The leaf margins are serrated and during the summer, they produce yellow pendulous flowers on a spike.

Aloes appreciate the bright direct sun and a cactus soil mixture. They cannot tolerate frost and snow and may die if overwatered. Potted Aloes can get overcrowded with pups and should be divided and repotted for better development, and to prevent pest infestations.

This stylish and practical plant not only has healing properties but it has the additional benefit of filtering out benzene and formaldehyde from the air over a period of time. Aloe is also considered an ‘oxygen bomb’ plant as it takes in high levels of carbon dioxide at night and releases a burst of oxygen when exposed to light. Additionally, Aloe vera act as an indicator because they grow brown spots on their leaves when there is a high amount of harmful chemicals in the air around them.

Red-edged dracaena

The Red-edged dracaena goes by the scientific name Dracaena marginata and the informal name Madagascar Dragon Tree. Yes, it is native to Madagascar and as its common name suggests, the pale green leaves of this succulent have a striking red tint around the edges. This evergreen succulent has multiple thick, twisted, and woody stems and can often be confused with a palm tree.

A mature plant can grow up to 6 feet indoors or 10 feet (1 to 3 meters) outdoors, easily becoming a focal point in any enclosed space. The Red-edged dracaena likes a space with partial shade and it is not overly sensitive about soil conditions. It does not like frost or water on its leaves.

With over 40 different varieties of Dracaena plants, the Red-edged dracaena is the superior choice for air purification among other dracaena plants as it greatly decreases the levels of formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, benzene, xylene, and toluene from the air. According to NASA’s scientific study, the Red-edged dracaena can remove up to 27,292 micrograms of Trichloroethylene per day.

A point to note is this low-maintenance plant is highly toxic to both cats and dogs.

Dracaena ‘Janet Craig’

Dracaena ‘Janet Craig’ is a slow-growing shrub that originates throughout tropical Africa, budding from South Sudan to Mozambique, west of Côte d’Ivoire and down to southwest Angola. This plant goes by the botanical name Dracaena fragrans and is sometimes referred to as Cornstalk dracaena.

This multi-stemmed succulent is a respectable houseplant that given the right conditions can grow up to 15m (49 ft) tall. It has rigid slender branches and glossy green leaves that grow vertically and droop as the plant gets older. Dracaena ‘Janet Craig’ produces clusters of highly fragrant individual flowers that are pink at first then turn white with a thin red or purple central line on the lobes. It produces an orange-red berry that contains several seeds.

On the air purifying plant chart, Dracaena ‘Janet Craig’ is placed 5th on NASA’s ranking with a score of 7.8 out of 10. This plant has been proven to remove formaldehyde at a rate of 1,328 micrograms per hour and Xylene at 154 micrograms per hour. Dracaena ‘Janet Craig’ has been noted as one of the best houseplants tested for removing trichloroethylene and controlling the humidity inside a room. This plant will do wonders for the air in a newly furnished or carpeted room.

Healthy succulents equal healthy lives

While many modern buildings are successfully designed to be energy efficient, the number of toxic gasses that accumulate in these structures can be extremely harmful, even in incredibly small amounts. Investing in some great succulents is a simple and low-cost method of improving the air quality under your roof while bringing a green aspect indoors, all year long.

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