Annie Calovich: Houseplants good for the soul and body

01/14/2012 12:00 AM

01/12/2012 1:46 PM

I have a peace lily that I keep around because it was a gift to me after my mother died. It doesn’t flourish, and any other plant that looked this scraggly would have been tossed long ago, but I keep it for sentimental reasons.

One houseplant that I do own that does well is a philodendron my sister gave me after it was banned, along with other plants, from her place of business. It seems someone complained of flying insects, and the office plants got the blame. And the boot.

I didn’t hesitate to take the philodendron up to The Eagle newsroom, figuring it could greenify my desk the way Bonnie Bing’s healthy “Phyllis” had done for hers. Bonnie had been pouring leftover coffee into Phyllis’ soil for years, and it sat far from our windows overlooking Old Town, and yet it was healthy as could be. When the Oklahoma earthquake rattled Wichita one Monday evening in early November, it was Phyllis shimmying three stories up that grabbed my attention.

I may not be able to let go of my houseplants in a timely manner, but that doesn’t make me a huge fan of them. So when I buy them for myself, I do it for health reasons — better indoor air.

I picked ivy from a list of plants that the University of Georgia says best remove indoor pollutants. Ward Upham, horticulturist for Kansas State University Research and Extension, has reported on UGA’s testing of houseplants for their ability to remove organic volatiles from indoor environments. The pollutants include benzene, toluene, octane and tricholoroethylene (TCE).

The plants were rated according to their ability to remove all volatiles. Here are the rankings:

Superior removal efficiency

•  Hemigraphis alternata: Red ivy
•  Hedera helix: English ivy
•  Tradescantia pallida: Wandering Jew
•  Hoya carnosa: Porcelain flower

Intermediate removal efficiency

•  Ficus benjamina: Weeping fig
•  Polyscia fruticosa: Ming aralia
•  Fittonia argyroneura: Silver nerve plant
•  Sansevieria trifasciata: Mother-in-law’s tongue
•  Gusmania sp.: Type of bromeliad
•  Anthurium andreanum: Flamingo flower
•  Schefflera elegantissima: False aralia

Poor removal efficiency

•  Peperomia clusiifolia: Peperomia
•  Chlorophytum comosum: Spider plant
•  Howea belmoreana: Sentry palm
•  Spathiphyllum wallisii: Peace lily
•  Schefflera arboricola: Hawaiian elf schefflera
•  Codiaeum variegatum: Croton
•  Calathea roseopicta: Peacock plant
•  Aspidistra elatior: Cast iron plant
•  Maranta leuconeura: Prayer plant
•  Dracaena fragrans: Corn plant
•  Ficus elastica: India rubber plant
•  Dieffenbachia seguine: Dumbcane
•  Philodendron scandens: Philodendron
•  Syngonium podophyllum: Nephytis, arrowhead vine
•  Epipremnum aureum: Pothos
•  Pelargonium graveolens: Rose geranium

Phyllis and phriends may not be the most exciting plants. And they may not remove pollutants — that we know of — at The Eagle or in our houses. But they do add a shot of liveliness indoors and are so embarrassingly easy to care for that I can’t but be grateful to them. And to the thought behind the gift of the scraggly, sentimental peace lily. Even indoors, plants ground us.

About Annie Calovich

Annie writes about home and garden, including her Bit of Earth column on Saturdays. She has been at The Eagle since 1985, working as a copy editor, a nation/world editor and a reporter. She’s a KU graduate who started out at The Coffeyville Journal.

Contact Annie at 316-268-6596 or

Follow Annie on Twitter: @AnnieCalovich

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