Agrigirl’s Blog of Practical Houseplants

There’s a small red clay pot by my kitchen window. Inside grows a lovely pink flowering impatien. It’s a low maintenance variety. I pinch off leaves to make it grow more full and put a few drops of water on it daily – typically from a glass that someone didn’t finish. This little plant has a story.

Eleven years ago, my grandparents celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in Branson, MO. While on that trip, Grandma spied a large beautiful impatien growing in front of their hotel. She pinched off a leaf, kept it safe in a damp cloth and later sprouted it at home. Today it’s offspring sits in my kitchen as a testament to true enduring love.

I’m not an expert on houseplants but over time, I’ve learned what I’m most capable of keeping alive and green. I enjoy the aesthetic qualities that living plants add to a room and more importantly, my family is enjoying health benefits from those plants.

AΒ 2-year study conducted by NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) found that common houseplants such as philodendron and spider plants not only make spaces more attractive, they also help purify the air. While the research was conducted to find ways to improve the air in orbiting space stations, it has beneficial implications for us on earth as well.

As energy conservation increases in importance, our homes and offices are becoming more tightly sealed to avoid energy loss. That’s not a bad thing since we’re saving energy but synthetic building materials can sometimes produce pollutants that remain trapped inside our homes and workplace. That can result in what is referred to as Sick Building Syndrome.

Most of us remember from science class that plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen through photosynthesis. The NASA/ALCA study showed that different common houseplants remove harmful elements such as trichloroethylene, benzene, and formaldehyde from the air. What’s more, other studies have shown a 28% increase in productivity when living plants are introduced into the work environment.

Here’s a list of recommended plants. Don’t be put off by the scientific names. I’ve added a photo reference to each and think you’ll recognize most.

1. Philodendron scandens `oxycardium’, heartleaf philodendron
2. Philodendron domesticum, elephant ear philodendron
3. Dracaena fragrans `Massangeana’, cornstalk dracaena
4. Hedera helix, English ivy
5. Chlorophytum comosum, spider plant
6. Dracaena deremensis `Janet Craig’, Janet Craig dracaena
7. Dracaena deremensis `Warneckii’, Warneck dracaena
8. Ficus benjamina, weeping fig
9. Epipiremnum aureum, golden pothos
10. Spathiphyllum `Mauna Loa’, peace lily
11. Philodendron selloum, selloum philodendron
12. Aglaonema modestum, Chinese evergreen
13. Chamaedorea sefritzii, bamboo or reed palm
14. Sansevieria trifasciata, snake plant
15. Dracaena marginata , red-edged dracaena

Research recommends a variety of at least 15 plants (6-inch containers or larger) for the average 2,000 square feet home. This sounds like a lot but keep a sprouting jar in your kitchen and you’ll get there in no time. Better yet, next time you need a hostess gift, skip cut flowers and take a living plant. You’ll be offering a gift of wellness.

Which rooms in your home or office would benefit from the addition of a plant or three?

Leave a comment


  1. It’s remarkable to me sometimes how plant cuttings can bring forth more plants years and years later.

    I used to keep lots of houseplants, but I’ve been worse at caring for them lately, so my numbers have been dwindling. I stored some at my parents’ house several years ago, so I could always pick some up there. Our kitchen could do with some plants.

    • Start small. A cutting or two and then the potting. You’ll improve your air quality in no time.

    • I need to get some more indoor plants, thanks for the reminder! I love bamboo and have a medium sized one on my patio, I think they are okay indoors — do you know? I should get some for inside. I also love the Japanese maple trees which are also on my patio. I need more :^)

  2. Lisa H

     /  July 10, 2010

    This is a lovely post. I love to take cuttings, sometimes taking them without anyone noticing. Many friends have given me cuttings through the years, and as they grow, the plant becomes known by the person who gave them to me. One plant lasted two trips cross country, finally resting with a friend in her office that once was mine. Not only did she inherit my job, but also the plants in my office! Of course, I also took a cutting to take with me to start my life in a new city.
    I’m surprised at the number (15) of plants that should be in a 2,000 sq ft home. Guess I better add some more!
    One of my favorite joys of gardening is taking cuttings from my garden (mint, basil, oregano), starting them in my south window, and then passing them on to friends. I also buy living herbs to keep in the window to cut when needed for cooking, but not necessarily in season for the garden.
    The best part of the cuttings are the stories that follow the plant.

  3. This is great information. I knew that keeping a lot of houseplants was good for purifying the air, but I’d never seen anything specific about how many are needed. I have lots of indoor plants both at home and at work; in addition to purifying the air, having so much green indoors is wonderful. I also find that big plants are easier and more forgiving than small ones. So many of the plants you list are easily available at big home center stores, inexpensively, and they’re really easy plants to take care of. Most of my plants go outside to a shady spot for the summer, and come back in the fall, greener and healthier than ever!

  4. Hannah

     /  July 10, 2010

    What a beautiful story! I never grew up with fresh plants in the house, but my new housemate is obsessed with fresh flowers – we currently have five different full vases in our TINY, TINY unit. But it is nice πŸ™‚

  5. What a great post, Tammy! I love this, totally touched home with the flower girl (florist) I am!

    Your recommendations are great, I actually have 10 out of the 15 πŸ™‚
    (I’m in trouble when we receive new plants at the shop… I always find ways of bringing home a few, thought I control myself way better than when I started working there) πŸ˜›

    I received a Spathiphyllum `Mauna Loa’ from my fiancΓ© in May on my birthday and he made me laugh with his comment: “Because the other one is broken…” (meaning it doesn’t have flowers right now) πŸ˜‰

  6. Flowers in the house reduces stress. : )

    So do plants and flowers outside.

    Nature . . . it’s what we need.

  7. Not having to look at the photos was pretty cool indeed πŸ™‚
    The shop is downtown here in KolozsvΓ‘r, Romania where I live. I especially love days when we receive plants and the little close to empty room turns into a magical wonderland πŸ˜‰

  8. You have an award on my blog (sure, only if you want to join in) πŸ™‚

  9. Thank you for this inspiration. We’re only a third of the way there – but you’ve inspired me to add more houseplants to our home environment. If only to breathe a little easier.

  10. Lovely story of the ‘little impatient that could’! πŸ™‚

    I just counted and we have 15 houseplants in our 1,700 sq ft home – some are pretty large! So, I guess we have some ‘good air’ in here! πŸ™‚

    I HAVE to have live things around me. I buy flowers in winter just to brighten things up; even herbs on the kitchen counter do wonders.

    Warmer months are spent outdoors (well, you’ve seen our landscape, so you know) and it does the spirit good to see how nature grows and changes. We’re all connected for sure and what we put in we get back in spades.

  11. To give you an idea of my abilities (and my husband’s) with green, living plants, I offer the following ode, written last month:

    Ode to My Black Thumb

    Whenever I take a morning walk
    On a bright and sunny day
    I usually take the time to talk
    to my plants along the way.
    I speak with gentle tone, for
    They’re dying from neglect
    There’s much I must atone for-
    They’ve lacked for my respect.
    For though each seed was planted
    With all my best intent
    It seems I took for granted
    That they would be content
    To grow, without a second thought
    from me to fill their needs
    and do the daily things I ought
    Like adding water or pulling weeds.
    The day of reckoning is here
    I bow my head in shame
    Before the ones I held so dear
    And to each gave a name.
    Of these withered leaves I ask:
    Forgive, please, my mistake!
    No more will I take on a task
    That needs a hoe or rake.
    Vowing this, my slate is clean –
    My floral sins forgiven.
    And so, to keep my garden green
    To this idea I’m driven:
    (And pardon me if this sounds sarcastic) –
    From here on in, I’m buying plastic!

    We have lots of plants outside, in various states of distress, but we are trying! I’ve found that plastic melts in the hot sun! πŸ˜€ Inside, we have 5, hanging on for dear life! Love your post, and we know it’s true!

  12. Lisa H

     /  July 11, 2010

    You’ve inspired, me Tammy. I’ve added two more plants to our home today!

  13. I love this post. I have nine spider plants in my house so I guess I’m on my way!

  14. I love the history behind your impatient – what a sweet reminder of your family’s love.

  15. Wonderful idea for a blog, house plants, balcony plants and garden plants, all with their place, role and assisting us to enjoy our life more. Will look through the photo references too.

    • And I took the blog title from TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s book of practical cats. It was sitting on my table as I was writing.

  16. Tammy: we have had a huge assortment of plants over the years…our problem is not so much that we CAN’T grow them, but that we DON’T. We are awful about intentions…we get easily distracted by other interests, and downright foolish in estimating (rather OVERestimating) our physical capabilities at this point in our lives!

    Also, as a sidenote – isn’t the plant an “impatiens” rather than “impatient, or impatients?” I could be wrong, but that’s the way I remember it – or maybe it’s both!

    • No, I think you spelled it right. Impatien. I’ll go in and fix it. I actually put a 30 minutes appt on my calendar every Saturday morning to take care of the plants.

  17. Brum Darling

     /  July 11, 2010

    Yeah, I like pinching off a few buds from my house plants too.

  18. Hmm, you’re making me think. I used to have a lot of plants in my house (and both my former partners loved gardening/plants). I’m not a green thumb – more the black. And my little cat has a WAY sensitive tummy and eats plants (and then throws up – I think this is somehow natural, but it just doesn’t seem like it could be plesant for me, and surely isn’t for me!).

    I educated myself in the past about which plants were poisonous for cats (more than you’d think – but by no means all) and I guess Caity has been my excuse to have only 5 plants. Maybe I’ll give this a bit more thought. Thanks for another thought-provoking blog entry, Tammy!

    • Diane, I am hopeful that somehow through this blog experience we will someday have a chance to meet! We have so many common interests. I am a cat person and one of my favorites was named Caity. I have a brand new kitty named Topaz who is a little angry at getting shots today. My previous cats loved lemongrass and spider plants (and one threw up all the time).

  19. Doreen, The Garden Goddess

     /  July 11, 2010

    When I lived in IL in the 1980’s I had an apartment filled with houseplants. In fact there was a house party circuit going around that sold house plants – kind or like Tupperware but with live plants. All my friends and my mom and I would root new starts on the window sill, pot them up and give them away.

    Now that I am an out side gardener with lots to tend, I have moved away form the ones inside. I do have many in the dracaena family just because it keeps having babies and I just cut them off and pot them up!

    What I also find is that many of the plants i used to grow indoors in IL now grow outside in Phoenix! At first it was odd to grow them in the ground outside – but now I enjoy seeing them outside amongst the larger landscape plants!

    I love the idea of a hostess gift – I tend to bring fresh cut herbs from my garden – but now I may bring a potted plant – from my own ‘collection.

    • Yeah! I would love to receive a houseplant as a hostess gift rather than cut flowers although they bring me a great deal of joy also. Love the idea of the tupperware party for plants!

  20. I have alovera outside my kitchen door and mostly eatable plant in my small garden… I have to try some of these beautiful flowers to make it more attractive πŸ™‚

  21. I love house plants. An apartment without plant is sad…



  22. I wish I could have a plant in every room that we use the most. That would be about 5 to 6 rooms. The sun doesn’t shine sufficiently in those rooms for the type of flowers I prefer 😦 PLUS… I so DO NOT have a green thumb.

  23. Great review, and I’ve loaded my home and my husband’s office with plants, that we endeavor to keep alive. Its funny but the rooms just feel better too.

    I can’t say that I have a green thumb, from no lack of effort, its a bit brown, not all survive, and we seem to go through cycles where I swear I do not change my routine but leaves are just dropping like flies.

    I’ve been having luck growing some herbs and peppers so that I can keep my little garden year round.

  24. I love plants! We have bamboo in our bathroom and it makes me smile every time I see it πŸ™‚ I want more plants in our living room, though…just need to keep puppy from eating the dirt and making a huge mess!

  25. Lovely post, Tammy. What a wonderful story. We have two impatiens hanging in baskets outside our front door. New ones which we bought when a plant salesman traveled to our rural area from downstate. They brighten up the house, that’s for sure.

  26. What a lovely thing to have a plant from your grandmother! One of the things I have always loved about gardening is the sharing of botanical treasure with and from friends and family. And thanks so much for your nice comment on my last blog – I am honored!

  27. Tiffany Anderson

     /  July 13, 2010

    I’m looking at Lady D in a different way now. That’s my office bamboo. She was given to me by my friend Diane after I single-handedly sabotaged the first one. Whether you’re trimming off the brown leaves or letting go, start again. I will be giving my fighter of a potho, Tula at home some cousins very soon, I think.

  28. I ALWAYS bring home cuttings from most places we visit! It helps me remember the trip….
    A great post. Thanks for sharing the inspirational story behind the plant outside your window..

  29. GKH

     /  July 16, 2010

    Can I have one for my room?

  30. oh those are so pretty!

  31. Funny – as I finally have a deck and ample backyard for plants, flowers, and even vegetables, this post is an excellent reminder to make sure I keep a few plants inside the house as well. Appreciate the research cited!

  32. One item on my very long list of things to do for the new house is “buy plants”. However the item immediately following that is “learn how not to kill plants”. Every plant I’ve ever had has died in my care. Maybe you can do an entry on how to take care of house plants? πŸ˜‰

  33. Fascinating post! I hate to say it, but I’m a terrible gardener. We also own cats, and that doesn’t help with keeping inside plants alive. It appears I should keep persisting!

  34. Julia

     /  July 21, 2010

    Great blog Tammy! We love having lots of plants in our house, and I am happy to find out that many of the ones we have are on your clean air list! One thing we are trying now is an indoor herb garden! It is doing well so far. We’ll see…

    • Good for you Julia and thanks for reading the blog. I wasn’t as successful with indoor herbs as many of them needed more light than I could give them. For some reason (their own efficiencies), the houseplants do better.

      • We’re lucky to have a few really sunny windows, and so that’s why we’ve had success with herbs so far… But they do need a lot of attention, and so we’ll see if they last. The houseplants are much more low maintenance!

  35. Thank you for the list! I have a philodendron selloum that my mom is currently plant-sitting. It’s probably about 15 years old by now! We don’t have a lot of room for indoor plants in our tiny apartment in Paris, but we have lots of plants in windowboxes just outside. I especially like having herbs – they’re pretty and tasty! πŸ™‚

  36. Very informative post and timely for me. I’ve been meaning to replace and refresh some of my indoor plants since we’re going to be indoors more as the seasons change. Just wasn’t sure what to get. Now I know I want the Weeping Fig and the selloum philodendron.

  37. Here is another resource for those of you who are interested in this popular post:

  38. Tammy, you have inspired me to get some more house plants. My home is 2,700 SF and I have only two house plants! I used to have three, but one died in my recent double-move. I’m embarassed to say that I have more silk/fake plants than real ones. Guess I know what I’m doing this weekend!

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