GREENSPACE: The Ficus That Came in From The Cold

Now that most of us have trimmed back our perennials and otherwise put our gardens to bed for the winter, we’ll be spending more time inside.

Published November 7, 2015 6:07 PM
3 min read

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Now that most of us have trimmed back our perennials and otherwise put our gardens to bed for the winter, we’ll be spending more time inside.

greenspace

Now that most of us have trimmed back our perennials and otherwise put our gardens to bed for the winter, we’ll be spending more time inside. For outdoors-lovers, this is a somewhat gloomy proposition. So, why not brighten things up and bring the green inside this winter?  

Although I love gardening outdoors, indoor plants have always intimidated me. I enjoy going to homes that boast beautiful indoor plants, and appreciate how the indoor/outdoor line is more fluid in those spaces; however, I used to worry about the delicate light, water, and airborne moisture needs of these plants. My own experience has been that I usually fail to strike the right balance, more often than not killing the beautiful plants that people give me as holiday gifts. Some of my recent reading has provided me with the motivation I need to try again this winter.  

What have I read? Well, information that’s been out there for a while, but is new – and alarming – to me. It’s about the indoor air quality of our homes. Randomized tests of homes in developed countries show that indoor air has anywhere from 2 to 100 times more contaminants than outdoor air. In fact, there are so many chemicals that have been detected in indoor air, that there are some that cannot even be identified! The more energy-efficient your home, the worse it is due to lack of air exchange. Living in cold climates means that it’s less practicable to air out our homes on a consistent basis.  

Where did all of these chemicals come from? They come from so many sources that it’s dizzying. There are chemicals, many of them with known health risks, emitting from simple things like furniture, paint, wallpaper, appliances, rugs, and other flooring, to name a few. The off-gassing of these items doesn’t only happen when they’re new; for example, compressed particle board (the stuff that’s used to make those gorgeous bunk beds from your favorite kids store) is estimated to off-gas for about ten years.

Now for the good news… there’s something that we can do about it! It’s easy, and it’s not expensive. Thanks to studies first conducted by NASA in the late ‘80s, we now know that certain houseplants can clean our air. These plants, many of which are aesthetically beautiful, filter out the most common volatile organic compounds (VOCs) including formaldehyde (categorized as a carcinogen by European authorities), benzene, and trichloroethylene. Lists abound on the Internet. I have successfully – and easily – kept the following lovely plants alive for the past month and a half: peace lily, bamboo palm, golden pothos, Chinese evergreen, and weeping ficus (with a bit more difficulty).  

When we think of all of the amazing feats of plants that make our existence on this planet possible – they use sunlight to create the nourishment that is the foundation the entire food web on Earth, produce oxygen, sequester carbon, build topsoil and stabilize it, clean water, and cushion the shocks of extreme weather, among other things – is it any wonder that they can filter out the chemicals that we have released and introduced into our homes? 

 

— Rye Garden Club Conservation Committee

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